On the Tuesday morning Mark did receive his wife’s letter, and the ten-pound note, whereby a strong proof was given of the honesty of the post-office people in Barsetshire. That letter, written as it had been in a hurry, while Robin post-boy was drinking a single mug of beer — well, what of it if he half filled a second time? —-was nevertheless eloquence of his wife’s love and of her great triumph. ‘I have only half a moment to send the money,’ she said, ‘for the postman is here waiting. When I see you, I’ll explain why I am so hurried. Let me know you get it safe. It is all right now, and Lady Lufton was here not a minute ago. She did not quite like it; about Gatherum Castle, I mean; but you’ll hear nothing about it. Only remember that you must dine at Framley Court on Wednesday week. I have promised that for you. You will, won’t you, dearest? I shall come and fetch you away if you attempt to stay longer than you have said. But I’m sure you won’t. God bless you, my own one! Mr Jones gave us the same sermon he preached the second Sunday after Easter. Twice in the same year is too often. God bless you! The children are quite well. Mark sends you a big kiss. —-Your own F.’
Robarts, as he read this letter and crumpled the note up into his pocket, felt that it was much more satisfactory than he deserved. He knew that there must have been a fight, and that his wife, fighting loyally on his behalf, had got the best of it; and he knew also that her victory had not been owing to the goodness of her cause. He frequently declared to himself that he would not be afraid of Lady Lufton; but nevertheless these tidings that no reproaches were to be made to him afforded him great relief. On the following Friday they all went to the duke’s, and found that the bishop and Mrs Proudie were there before them; as were also sundry other people, mostly of some note either in the estimation of the world at large or that of West Barsetshire. Lord Boanerges was there, an old man who would have his own way in everything, and who was regarded by all men — apparently even the duke himself — as an intellectual king, by no means of the constitutional kind — as an intellectual emperor, rather, who took upon himself to rule all questions of mind without the assistance of any ministers whatever. And Baron Brawl was of the party, one of Her Majesty’s puisne Judges, as jovial a guest as ever entered a county house; but given to be rather sharp withal in his jovialities. And there was Mr Green Walker, a young but rising man, the same who lectured not long since on a popular subject to his constituents at the Crewe Junction. Mr Green Walker was a nephew of the Marchioness of Hartletop, and the Marchioness of Hartletop was a friend of the Duke of Omnium’s. Mr Mark Robarts was certainly elated when he ascertained who composed the company of which he had been so earnestly pressed to make a portion. Would it have been wise in him to forgo this on account of the prejudices of Lady Lufton?
As the guests were so many and so great, the huge front portals of Gatherum Castle were thrown open and the vast hall, adorned with trophies — with marble busts from Italy and armour from Wardour Street — was thronged with gentlemen and ladies, and gave forth unwonted echoes to many a footstep. His grace himself, when Mark arrived there with Sowerby and Miss Dunstable — for in this instance Miss Dunstable did travel in the phaeton, while Mark occupied a seat in the dicky — his grace himself was at this moment in the drawing-room and nothing could exceed his urbanity.
‘Oh, Miss Dunstable!’ he said, taking that lady by the hand, and leading her up to the fire, ‘now I feel for the first time that Gatherum Castle has not been built for nothing.’
‘Nobody ever supposed it was, your grace,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘I am sure the architect did not think so when his bill was paid.’ And Miss Dunstable put her toes on the fender to warm them with as much self-possession as though her father had been a duke also, instead of a quack doctor.
‘We have given the strictest orders about the parrot — ’ said the duke.
‘Ah! but I have not brought him after all;’ said Miss Dunstable.
‘— and I have had an aviary built on purpose — just such as parrots are used to in their own country. Well, Miss Dunstable, I do call that unkind. Is it too late to send for him?’
‘He and Dr Easyman are travelling together. The truth was, I could not rob the doctor of his companion.’
‘Why? I have had another aviary built for him. I declare, Miss Dunstable, the honour you are doing me is shorn of half its glory. But the poodle — I still trust in the poodle.’
‘And your grace’s trust shall not in that respect be in vain. Where is he, I wonder?’ And Miss Dunstable looked round as though she expected that somebody would certainly have brought her dog in after her. ‘I declare I must go and look for him — only think if they were to put him among your grace’s dogs — how his morals would be destroyed!’
‘Miss Dunstable, is that intended to be personal?’ but the lady had turned away from the fire, and the duke was able to welcome his other guests. This he did with much courtesy. ‘Sowerby,’ he said, ‘I am glad you have survived the lecture. I can assure you I had fears for you.’
‘I was brought back to life after considerable delay by the administration of tonics at the Dragon of Wantly. Will your grace allow me to present to you Mr Robarts, who on that occasion was not so fortunate. It was found necessary to carry him off to the palace, where he was obliged to undergo very vigorous treatment.’ And then the duke shook hands with Mr Robarts, assuring him that he was most happy to make his acquaintance. He had often heard of him since he came into the county; and then he asked after Lord Lufton, regretting that he had been unable to induce his lordship to come to Gatherum Castle.
‘But you had a diversion at the lecture, I am told,’ continued the duke. ‘There was a second performance, was there not, who almost eclipsed poor Harold Smith?’ And then Mr Sowerby gave an amusing sketch of the little Proudie episode.
‘It has, of course, ruined your brother-inlaw for ever as a lecturer,’ said the duke, laughing.
‘If so, we shall feel ourselves under the deepest obligations to Mrs Proudie,’ said Mr Sowerby. And then Harold Smith himself came up and received the duke’s sincere and hearty congratulations on the success of his exercise at Barchester. Mark Robarts had now turned away, and his attention was suddenly arrested by the loud voice of Miss Dunstable, who had stumbled across some very dear friends in her passage through the rooms, and who by no means hid from the public her delight upon the occasion.
‘Well — well — well!’ she exclaimed, and then she seized upon a very quiet-looking well-dressed, attractive young woman who was walking towards her, in company with a gentleman. The gentleman and lady, as it turned out, were husband and wife. ‘Well — well — well! I hardly hoped for this.’ And then she took hold of the lady and kissed her enthusiastically, and after that grasped both the gentleman’s hands, shaking them stoutly.
‘And what a deal I shall have to say to you!’ she went on. ‘You’ll upset all my other plans. But, Mary, my dear, how long are you going to stay here? I go — let me see — I forget when, but it’s all put down in a book upstairs. But the next stage is at Mrs Proudie’s. I shan’t meet you there, I suppose. And now, Frank, how’s the governor?’ The gentleman called Frank declared that the governor was all right —‘mad about the hounds, of course, you know.’
‘Well, my dear, that’s better than the hounds being mad about him. But talking of hounds, Frank, how badly they manage their foxes at Chaldicotes! I was out hunting all one day —’
‘You out hunting!’ said the lady called Mary.
‘And why shouldn’t I go out hunting? I’ll tell you what, Mrs Proudie was out hunting too. But they didn’t catch a single fox; and, if you must have the truth, it seemed to me to be rather slow.’
‘You were in the wrong division of the county,’ said the gentleman called Frank.
‘Of course I was. When I really want to practise hunting I’ll go to Greshambury; not a doubt about that.’
‘Or go to Boxall Hill,’ said the lady; ‘you’ll find quite as much zeal there as at Greshambury.’
‘And more discretion, you should add,’ said the gentleman.
‘Ha! Ha! Ha!,’ laughed Miss Dunstable; ‘your discretion indeed! But you have not told me a word about Lady Arabella.’
‘My mother is quite well,’ said the gentleman.
‘And the doctor? By the by, my dear, I’ve had such a letter from the doctor; only two days ago. I’ll show it to you upstairs tomorrow. But, mind, it must be a positive secret. If he goes on in this way he’ll get himself into the Tower or Coventry, or a blue-book, or some dreadful place.’
‘Why? what has he said?’
‘Never mind, Master Frank; I don’t mean to show you this letter, you may be sure of that. But if your wife will swear three times on a poker and tongs that she won’t reveal, I’ll show it to her. And you are quite settled at Boxall Hill, are you?’
‘Frank’s horses are settled; and the dogs nearly so,’ said Frank’s wife; ‘but I can’t boast much of anything else yet.’
‘Well, there’s a good thing coming. I must go and change my things now. But, Mary, mind you get near me this evening; I have such a deal to say to you.’ And then Miss Dunstable marched out of the room.
All this had been said in so loud a voice that it was, as a matter of course, overheard by Mark Robarts — that part of the conversation of course I mean which had come from Miss Dunstable. And then Mark learned that this was young Frank Gresham of Boxall Hill, son of old Mr Gresham of Greshambury. Frank had lately married a great heiress; a greater heiress, men said, even than Miss Dunstable; and as the marriage was hardly as yet more than six months old the Barsetshire world was still full of it.
‘The two heiresses seem to be very loving, don’t they?’ said Mr Supplehouse. ‘Birds of a feather flock together, you know. But they did say some little time ago that young Gresham was to have married Miss Dunstable herself.
‘Miss Dunstable! why, she might almost be his mother,’ said Mark.
‘That made little difference. He was obliged to marry money, and I believe there is no doubt that he did at one time propose to Miss Dunstable.’
‘I have a letter from Lufton,’ Mr Sowerby said to him the next morning. ‘He declares that the delay was all your fault. You were to have told Lady Lufton before you did anything, and he was waiting to write about it till he heard from you. It seems that you never said a word to her ladyship on the subject.’
‘I never did, certainly. My commission from Lufton was to break the matter to her when I found her in a proper humour for receiving it. If you knew Lady Lufton as well as I do, you would know that it is not every day that she would be in a humour for such things.’
‘And so I was to be kept waiting indefinitely because you two between you were afraid of an old woman! However, I have not a word to say against her, and the matter is settled now.’
‘Has the farm been sold?’
‘Not a bit of it. The dowager would not bring her mind to suffer such profanation for the Lufton acres, and so she sold five thousand pounds out of the funds and sent the money to Lufton as a present; — sent it to him without saying a word, only hoping that it would suffice for his wants. I wish I had a mother, I know.’
Mark found it impossible at the moment to make any remark upon what had been told him, but he felt a sudden qualm of conscience and a wish that he was back at Framley instead of Gatherum Castle at the present moment. He knew a good deal respecting Lady Lufton’s income and the manner in which it was spent. It was very handsome for a single lady, but then she lived in a free and open-handed style; her charities were noble; there was no reason why she should save money, and her annual income was usually spent within the year. Mark knew this, and he knew also that nothing short of an impossibility to maintain them would induce her to lessen her charities. She had now given away a portion of her principal to save the property of her son — her son, who was so much more opulent than herself — upon whose means, too, the world made fewer effectual claims. And Mark knew, too, something of the purpose for which this money had gone. There had been unsettled gambling claims between Sowerby and Lord Lufton, originating in affairs of the turf. It had now been going on for four years, almost from the period when Lord Lufton had become of age. He had before now spoken to Robarts on the matter with much bitter anger, alleging that Mr Sowerby was treating him badly, nay, dishonestly — that he was claiming money that was not due to him; and then he declared more than once that he would bring the matter before the Jockey Club. But Mark, knowing that Lord Lufton was not clear-sighted in these matters, and believing it to be impossible that Mr Sowerby should actually endeavour to defraud his friend, had smoothed down the young lord’s anger, and remonstrated him to get the case referred to some private arbiter. All this had afterwards been discussed between Robarts and Mr Sowerby himself, and hence had originated their intimacy. The matter was so referred, Mr Sowerby naming the referee; and Lord Lufton when the matter was given against him, took it easily. His anger was over by that time. ‘I’ve been clean done among them,’ he said to Mark, laughing; ‘but it does not signify; a man must pay for his experience. Of course, Sowerby thinks it all right; I am bound to suppose so.’ And then there had been some further delay as to the amount, and part of the money had been paid to a third person, and a bill had been given, and Heaven and the Jews only knew how much money Lord Lufton had paid in all; and now it was ended by his handing over to some wretched villain of a money-dealer, on behalf of Mr Sowerby, the enormous sum of five thousand pounds, which had been deducted from the means of Lady Lufton!
Mark, as he thought of all this, could not but feel a certain animosity against Mr Sowerby — could not but suspect that he was a bad man. Nay, must he not have known that, he was very bad? And yet he continued walking with him through the duke’s grounds, still talking about Lord Lufton’s affairs, and still listening with interest to what Sowerby told him of his own. ‘No man was ever robbed as I have been,’ said he. ‘But I shall win through yet, in spite of them all. But those Jews, Mark!’— he had become very intimate with him in these latter days —‘whatever you do, keep clear of them. Why, I could paper a room with their signatures; and yet I never had a claim upon one of them, though they always have claims in me!’
I have said that this affair of Lord Lufton’s was ended, but it now appeared to Mark that it was not quite ended. ‘Tell Lufton, you know,’ said Sowerby, ‘that every bit of paper with his name has been taken up, except what that ruffian Tozer has. Tozer may have one bill, I believe — something that was not given up when it was renewed. But I’ll make my lawyer Gumption get that up. It may cost ten pounds or twenty pounds, not more. You’ll remember that when you see Lufton, will you?’
‘You’ll see Lufton, in all probability, before I shall.’
‘Oh, did not I tell you? He’s going to Framley Court at once; you’ll find him there when you return.’
‘Find him at Framley?’
‘Yes; this little cadeau from his mother has touched his filial heart. He is rushing home to Framley to pay back the dowager’s hard moidores in soft caresses. I wish I had a mother; I know that.’ And Mark still felt that he feared Mr Sowerby, but he could not make up his mind to break away from him.
And there was much talk of politics just then at the castle. Not that the duke joined in with any enthusiasm. He was a Whig — a huge mountain of a colossal Whig — all the world knew that. No opponent would have dreamed of tampering with his Whiggery, nor would any brother Whig have dreamed of doubting it. But he was a Whig who gave very little practical support to any set of men, and very little practical opposition to any other set. He was above troubling himself with such sublunar matters. At election time he supported, and always carried, Whig candidates; and in return he had been appointed lord lieutenant of the county by one Whig minister, and had received the Garter from another. But these things were a matter of course to a Duke of Omnium. He was born to be a lord lieutenant and a Knight of the Garter. But not the less on account of his apathy, or rather quiescence, was it thought that Gatherum Castle was a fitting place in which politicians might express to each other their present hopes and future aims, and concoct together little plots in a half-serious and half-mocking way. Indeed it was hinted that Mr Supplehouse and Harold Smith, with one or two others, were at Gatherum for this express purpose. Mr Fothergill, too, was a noted politician, and was supposed to know the duke’s mind well; and Mr Green Walker, the nephew of the marchioness, was a young man whom the duke desired to have brought forward. Mr Sowerby also was the duke’s own member, and so the occasion suited well for the interchange of a few ideas.
The then prime minister, angry as many men were with him, had not been altogether unsuccessful. He had brought the Russian war to a close, which, if not glorious, was at any rate much more so than Englishmen at one time ventured to hope. And he had had wonderful luck with that Indian Mutiny. It is true that many of those even who voted with him would declare that this was in no way attributable to him. Great men had risen in India and done all that. Even his minister there, the Governor whom he had sent out, was not allowed in those days any credit for the success which was achieved under his orders. There was great reason to doubt the man at the helm. But nevertheless he had been lucky. There is no merit in a public man like success! But now, when the evil days were wellnigh over, came the question whether he had not been too successful. When a man has nailed fortune to his chariot-wheels he is apt to travel about in rather a proud fashion. There are servants who think that their masters cannot do without them; and the public also may occasionally have some such servant. What if this too successful minister were one of them! And then a discreet, commonplace, zealous member of the Lower House does not like to be jeered at, when he does his duty by his constituents and asks a few questions. An all-successful minister who cannot keep his triumph to himself, but must needs drive about in a proud fashion, laughing at commonplace zealous members — laughing even occasionally at members who are by no means commonplace, which is outrageous! —-may it not be as well to ostracize him for a while?’
‘Had we not better throw in our shells against him?’ says Mr Harold Smith.
‘Let us throw in our shells by all means,’ says Mr Supplehouse, mindful of the Juno of his despised charms. And when Mr Supplehouse declares himself an enemy, men know how much it means. They know that that much-belaboured head of affairs must succumb to the terrible blows which are now in store for him. ‘Yes, we will throw in our shells.’ And Mr Supplehouse rises from his chair with gleaming eyes. ‘Has not Greece as noble a son as him? Aye, and much nobler, traitor that he is. We must judge a man by his friends,’ says Mr Supplehouse; and he points away to the East, where our dear allies the French are supposed to live, and where our head of affairs is supposed to have too close intimacy.
They all understand this, even Mr Green Walker. ‘I don’t know that he is any good to any of us at all, now,’ says the talented member for the Crewe-Junction. ‘He’s a great deal too uppish to suit my book; and I know a great many people that think so too. There’s my uncle —’
‘He’s the best fellow in the world,’ said Mr Fothergill, who felt, perhaps, that that coming revelation about Mr Green Walker’s uncle might not be of use to them; ‘but the fact is one gets tired of the same man always. One does not like his partridge every day. As for me, I have nothing to do with it myself; but I would certainly like to change the dish.’
‘If we’re merely to do as we are bid, and have no voice of our own, I don’t see what’s the good of going to the shop at all,’ said Mr Sowerby.
‘Let’s have a change, then,’ said Mr Sowerby. ‘The matter’s pretty much in our own hands.’
‘Altogether,’ said Mr Green Walker. ‘That’s what my uncle always says.’
‘The Manchester men will only be too happy for the chance,’ said Harold Smith.
‘And as for the high and dry gentlemen,’ said Mr Sowerby, ‘it’s not very likely that they will object to pick up the fruit when we shake the tree.’
‘As to picking up the fruit, that’s as may be,’ said Mr Supplehouse. Was he not the man to save the nation? and if so, why should he not pick up the fruit himself? Had not the greatest power in the country pointed him out as such a saviour? What though the country at the present moment needed no more saving, might there not, nevertheless, be a good time coming? Were there not rumours of other wars still prevalent? —-if indeed the actual war then going on was being brought to a close without his assistance by some other species of salvation? He thought of that country to which he had pointed, and of that friend of his enemies, and remembered that there might be still work for a mighty saviour. The public mind was now awake, and understood what it was about. When a man gets into his head an idea that the public voice calls for him, it is astonishing how great becomes his trust in the wisdom of the public. Vox populi, vox Dei. ‘Has it not been so always?’ he says to himself, as he gets up and as he goes to bed. And then Mr Supplehouse felt that he was the master mind there at Gatherum Castle, and that those there were all puppets in his hands. It is such a pleasant thing to feel that one’s friends are puppets, and that the strings are in one’s own possession. But what if Mr Supplehouse himself were a puppet? Some months afterwards, when the much-belaboured head of affairs was in very truth made to retire, when unkind shells were thrown against him in great numbers, when he exclaimed, ‘Et tu, Brute!’ till the words were stereotyped upon his lips, all men in all places talked much about the great Gatherum Castle confederation. The Duke of Omnium, the world said, had taken into his high consideration the state of affairs, and seeing with his eagle’s eye that the welfare of his countrymen at large required that some great step should be initiated, he had at once summoned to his mansion many members of the Lower House, and some also of the House of Lords — mention was here especially made of the all-venerable and all-wise Lord Boanerges; and men went on to say that there, in deep conclave, he had made known to them his views. It was thus agreed that the head of affairs, Whig as he was, must fall. The country required it, and the duke did his duty. This was the beginning, the world said, of that celebrated confederation, by which the ministry was overturned, and — as the Goody Twoshoes added — the country saved. But the Jupiter was not far wrong. All the credit was due to the Jupiter — in that, as in everything else.
In the meantime the Duke of Omnium entertained his guests in the quiet princely style, but did not condescend to have much conversation on politics either with Mr Supplehouse or with Mr Harold Smith. And as for Lord Boanerges, he spent the morning on which the above-mentioned conversation took place in teaching Miss Dunstable to blow soap-bubbles on scientific principles.
‘Dear, dear!’ said Miss Dunstable, as sparks of knowledge came flying in upon her mind. ‘I always thought that a soap-bubble was a soap-bubble, and I never asked the reason why. One doesn’t, you know, my lord.’
‘Pardon me, Miss Dunstable,’ said the old lord, ‘one does; but nine hundred and ninety-nine do not.’
‘And the nine hundred and ninety-nine have the best of it,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘What pleasure can one have in a ghost after one has seen the phosphorus rubbed on?’
‘Quite true, my dear lady. “If ignorance be bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” It all lies in the “if”.’
Then Miss Dunstable began to sing:-
‘“Did I not own Jehovah’s power
How vain were all I know.”’
‘Exactly, exactly, Miss Dunstable,’ said his lordship; ‘but why not own the power and trace the flower as well? Perhaps one might help the other.’ Upon the whole, I am afraid that Lord Boanerges got the best of it. But, then, that is his line. He has been getting the best of it all his life.
It was observed by all that the duke was especially attentive to young Mr Frank Gresham, the gentleman on whose wife Miss Dunstable seized so vehemently. This Mr Gresham was the richest commoner in the county, and it was rumoured that at the next election he would be one of the members for the East Riding. Now the duke had little or nothing to do with the East Riding, and it was well known that young Gresham would be brought forward as a strong Conservative. But, nevertheless, his acres were so extensive and his money so plentiful that he was worth a duke’s notice. Mr Sowerby, also, was almost more than civil to him, as was natural, seeing that this very young man by a mere scratch of his pen could turn a scrap of paper into a bank note of almost fabulous value.
‘So you have the East Barsetshire hounds at Boxall Hill; have you not,’ said the duke.
‘The hounds are there,’ said Frank. ‘But I am not the master.’
‘Oh! I understood —’
‘My father has them. But he finds Boxall Hill more centrical than Greshambury. The dogs and horses have to go shorter distances.’
‘Boxall Hill is very centrical.’
‘And your young gorse coverts are doing well?’
‘Pretty well — gorse won’t thrive everywhere, I find. I wish it would.’
‘That’s just what I say to Fothergill; and then where there’s much woodland you can’t get the vermin to leave it.’
‘But we haven’t a tree at Boxall Hill,’ said Mr Gresham.
‘Ah, yes; you’re new there, certainly; you’ve enough of it at Greshambury in all conscience. There’s a larger extent of wood there than we have; isn’t there, Fothergill?’ Mr Fothergill said that the Greshambury woods were very extensive, but that, perhaps, he thought —
‘Oh, ah! I know,’ said the duke. ‘The Black Forest in its old days was nothing to Gatherum woods, according to Fothergill. And then, again, nothing in East Barsetshire could be equal to anything in West Barsetshire. Isn’t that it; eh, Fothergill?’ Mr Fothergill professed that he had been brought up in that faith and intended to die in it.
‘Your exotics at Boxall Hill are very fine, magnificent!’
‘I’d sooner have one full-grown oak standing in its pride alone,’ said young Gresham, rather grandiloquently, ‘than all the exotics in the world.’
‘They’ll come in due time,’ said the duke.
‘But the due time won’t be in my days. And so they’re going to cut down Chaldicotes Forest, are they, Mr Sowerby.’
‘Well, I can’t tell you that. They are going to disforest it. I have been ranger since I was twenty-two, and I don’t yet know whether that means cutting down.’
‘Not only cutting down, but rooting up,’ said Mr Fothergill.
‘It’s a murderous shame,’ said Frank Gresham; ‘and I will say one thing, I don’t think any but a Whig government would do it.’
‘Ha, ha, ha!’ said his grace. ‘At any rate, I’m sure of this,’ he said, ‘that if a Conservative government did do so, the Whigs would be just as indignant as you are now.’
‘I’ll tell you what you ought to do, Mr Gresham,’ said Sowerby; ‘put in an offer for the whole of the West Barsetshire Crown property; they will be very glad to sell it.’
‘And we should be delighted to welcome you on this side of the border,’ said the duke. Young Gresham did feel rather flattered. There were not many men in the county to whom such an offer could be made without an absurdity. It might be doubted whether the duke himself could purchase the chase of Chaldicotes with ready money; but that he, Gresham, could do so — he and his wife between them — no man did doubt. And then Mr Gresham thought of a former day when he had once been at Gatherum Castle. He had been poor enough then, and the duke had not treated him in the most courteous manner in the world. How hard it is for a rich man not to lean upon his riches! harder, indeed, than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
All Barsetshire knew — at any rate all West Barsetshire — that Miss Dunstable had been brought down in those parts in order that Mr Sowerby might marry her. It was not surmised that Miss Dunstable herself had had any previous notice of this arrangement, but it was supposed that the thing would turn out as a matter of course. Mr Sowerby had no money, but then he was witty, clever, good-looking, and a member of Parliament. He lived before the world, represented an old family, and had an old place. How could Miss Dunstable possibly do better? She was not so young now, and it was time that she should look about her. The suggestion, as regarded Mr Sowerby, was certainly true, and was not the less so as regarded some of Mr Sowerby’s friends. His sister, Mrs Harold Smith, had devoted herself to the work, and with this view had run up a dear friendship with Miss Dunstable. The bishop had intimated, nodding his head knowingly, that it would be a very good thing. Mrs Proudie had given her adherence. Mr Supplehouse had been made to understand that it must be a case of ‘Pawn off’ with him, as long as he remained in that part of the world; and even the duke himself had desired Mr Fothergill to manage it.
‘He owes me an enormous sum of money,’ said the duke, who held all Mr Sowerby’s title-deeds, ‘and I doubt whether the security will be sufficient.’
‘Your grace will find the security quite insufficient,’ said Mr Fothergill; ‘but nevertheless it would be a good match.’
‘Very good,’ said the duke. And then it became Mr Fothergill’s duty to see that Mr Sowerby and Miss Dunstable became man and wife as speedily as possible. Some of the party, who were more wide awake than others, declared that he had made the offer; others that he was just going to do so; and one very knowing lady went so far at one time as to say that he was making it that moment. Bets also were laid as to the lady’s answer, as to the terms of the settlement, and as to the period of the marriage — of all which poor Miss Dunstable of course knew nothing. Mr Sowerby, in spite of the publicity of his proceedings, proceeded in this matter very well. He said little about it, to those who joked with him, but carried on the fight with what best knowledge he had in these matters. But so much it is given to us to declare with certainty, that he had not proposed on the evening previous to the morning fixed for the departure of Mark Robarts. During the last two days Mr Sowerby’s intimacy with Mark had grown warmer and warmer. He had talked to the vicar confidentially about the doings of these bigwigs now present at the castle, as though there were no other guests there with whom he could speak in so free a manner. He confided, it seemed, much more in Mark than in his brother-inlaw, Harold Smith, or in any of his brother members of Parliament, and had altogether opened his heart to him in this affair of his anticipated marriage. Now Mr Sowerby was a man of mark in the world, and all this flattered our young clergyman not a little. On that evening before Robarts went away Sowerby asked him to come up to his bedroom when the whole party was breaking up, and there got him into an easy chair while he, Sowerby, walked up and down the room.
‘You can hardly tell, my dear fellow,’ said he, ‘the state of nervous anxiety in which this puts me.’
‘Why don’t you ask her and have done with it? She seems to me to be fond of your society.’
‘Ah, it is not that only; there are wheels within wheels;’ and then he walked once or twice up and down the room, during which Mark thought that he might as well go to bed.
‘Not that I mind telling you everything,’ said Sowerby. ‘I am infernally hard up for a little ready money, just at the present moment. It may be, and indeed I think it will be, the case that I shall be ruined in this matter for the want of it.’
‘Could not Harold Smith give it to you?’
‘Ha, ha, ha! you don’t know Harold Smith. Did you ever hear of his lending a man a shilling in his life?’
‘Lord love you. You see me and Supplehouse together here, and he comes and stays at my house, and all that; but Supplehouse and I are no friends. Look you here, Mark — I would do more for your little finger than for his whole hand, including the pen which he holds in it. Fothergill indeed might — but then I know Fothergill is pressed himself at the present moment. It is deuced hard, isn’t it? I must give up the whole game if I can’t put my hand upon L400, within the next two days.’
‘Ask her for it, herself.’
‘What, the woman I wish to marry! No, Mark, I’m not quite come to that. I would sooner lose her than that.’ Mark sat silent, gazing at the fire and wishing that he was in his own bedroom. He had an idea that Mr Sowerby wished him to produce the L400, and he knew also that he had not L400 in the world, and that if he had he would be acting very foolishly to give it to Mr Sowerby. But, nevertheless, he felt half fascinated by the man, and half afraid of him.
‘Lufton owes it to me to do more than this,’ continued Mr Sowerby, ‘but then Lufton is not here.’
‘Why, he has just paid five thousand pounds to you.’
‘Paid five thousand pounds to me! Indeed he has done no such thing; not a sixpence of it came into my hands. Believe me, Mark, you don’t know the whole of that yet. Not that I mean to say a word against Lufton. He is the soul of honour; though so deucedly dilatory in money matters. He thought he was right all through that affair, but no man was ever so confoundedly wrong. Why, don’t you remember that that was the very view you took yourself.’
‘I remember saying that I thought he was mistaken.’
‘Of course he was mistaken. And dearly that mistake cost me. I had to make good the money for two or three years. And my property is not like his — I wish it were.’
‘Marry Miss Dunstable, and that will set it all right for you.’
‘Ah! so I would if I had this money. At any rate I would bring it to the point. Now, I tell you what, Mark, if you’ll assist me at this strait I’ll never forget it. And the time will come round when I may be able to do something for you.’
‘I have not got a hundred, no, not fifty pounds by me in the world.’
‘Of course you’ve not. Men don’t walk about the streets with L400 in their pockets. I don’t suppose there is a single man here in the house with such a sum at his banker’s, unless it is the duke.’
‘What is it you want, then?’
‘Why, your name, to be sure. Believe me, my dear fellow, I would not ask you really to put your hand into your pocket to such a tune as that. Allow me to draw on you for that amount at three months. Long before that time I shall be flush enough.’ And then, before Mark could answer, he had a bill stamp and pen and ink out on the table before him, and was filling in the bill as though his friend had already given his consent.
‘Upon my word, Sowerby, I had rather not do that.’
‘Why? what are you afraid of?’— Mr Sowerby asked this very sharply. ‘Did you ever hear of my having neglected to take up a bill when it fell due?’ Robarts thought that he had heard of such a thing; but in his confusing he was not exactly sure, and so he said nothing.
‘No, my boy; I have not come to that. Look here: just you write, “Accepted, Mark Robarts,” across that, and then you shall never hear of the transaction again; and you will have obliged me for ever.’
‘As a clergyman it would be wrong of me,’ said Robarts.
‘As a clergyman! Come, Mark. If you don’t like to do as much as that for a friend, say so; but don’t let me have that sort of humbug. If there be one class of men whose names would be found more frequent on the backs of bills in the provincial banks than another, clergymen are that class. Come, old fellow, you won’t throw me over when I am so hard pushed.’ Mark Robarts took the pen and signed the bill. It was the first time in his life that he had ever done such an act. Sowerby then shook him cordially by the hand, and he walked off to his own bedroom a wretched man.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01