Dr Thorne did not at once go home to his own house. When he reached the Greshamsbury gates, he sent his horse to its own stable by one of the people at the lodge, and then walked on to the mansion. He had to see the squire on the subject of the forthcoming loan, and he had also to see the Lady Arabella.
The Lady Arabella, though she was not personally attached to the doctor with quite so much warmth as some others of her family, still had reasons of her own for not dispensing with his visits to the house. She was one of his patients, and a patient fearful of the disease with which she was threatened. Though she thought the doctor to be arrogant, deficient as to properly submissive demeanour towards herself, an instigator to marital parsimony in her lord, one altogether opposed to herself and her interest in Greshamsbury politics, nevertheless she did feel trust in him as a medical man. She had no wish to be rescued out of his hands by any Dr Fillgrave, as regarded that complaint of hers, much as she may have desired, and did desire, to sever him from all Greshamsbury councils in all matters not touching the healing art.
Now the complaint of which the Lady Arabella was afraid, was cancer: and her only present confidant in this matter was Dr Thorne.
The first of the Greshamsbury circle whom he saw was Beatrice, and he met her in the garden.
‘Oh, doctor,’ said she, ‘where has Mary been this age? She has not been up here since Frank’s birthday.’
‘Well, that was only three days ago. Why don’t you go down and ferret her out in the village?’
‘So I have done. I was there just now, and found her out. She was out with Patience Oriel. Patience is all and all with her now. Patience is all very well, but if they throw me over —’
‘My dear Miss Gresham, Patience is and always was a virtue.’
‘A poor, beggarly, sneaking virtue after all, doctor. They should have come up, seeing how deserted I am here. There’s absolutely nobody left.’
‘Has Lady de Courcy gone?’
‘Oh, yes! All the De Courcys have gone. I think, between ourselves, Mary stays away because she does not love them too well. They have all gone, and taken Augusta and Frank with them.’
‘Has Frank gone to Courcy Castle?’
‘Oh, yes; did you not hear? There was rather a fight about it. Master Frank wanted to get off, and was as hard to catch as an eel, and then the countess was offended; and papa said he didn’t see why Frank was to go if he didn’t like it. Papa is very anxious about his degree, you know.’
The doctor understood it all as well as though it had been described to him at full length. The countess had claimed her prey, in order that she might carry him off to Miss Dunstable’s golden embrace. The prey, not yet old enough and wise enough to connect the worship of Plutus with that of Venus, had made sundry futile feints and dodges in the vain hope of escape. Then the anxious mother had enforced the De Courcy behests with all a mother’s authority. But the father, whose ideas on the subject of Miss Dunstable’s wealth had probably not been consulted, had, as a matter of course, taken exactly the other side of the question. The doctor did not require to be told all this in order to know how the battle had raged. He had not yet heard of the great Dunstable scheme; but he was sufficiently acquainted with Greshamsbury tactics to understand that the war had been carried on somewhat after this fashion.
As a rule, when the squire took a point warmly to heart, he was wont to carry his way against the De Courcy interest. He could be obstinate enough when it so pleased him, and had before now gone so far as to tell his wife, that her thrice-noble sister-inlaw might remain at home at Courcy Castle — or, at any rate, not come to Greshamsbury — if she could not do so without striving to rule him and every one else when she got here. This had of course been repeated to the countess, who had merely replied to it by a sisterly whisper, in which she sorrowfully intimated that some men were born brutes, and always would remain so.
‘I think they all are,’ the Lady Arabella had replied; wishing, perhaps, to remind her sister-inlaw that the breed of brutes was as rampant in West Barsetshire as in the eastern division of that county.
The squire, however, had not fought on this occasion with all his vigour. There had, of course, been some passages between him and his son, and it had been agreed that Frank should go for a fortnight to Courcy Castle.
‘We mustn’t quarrel with them, you know, if we can help it,’ said the father; ‘and, therefore, you must go sooner or later.’
‘Well, I suppose so; but you don’t know how dull it is, governor.’
‘Don’t I!’ said Gresham.
‘There’s a Miss Dunstable to be there; did you ever hear of her, sir?’
‘She’s a girl whose father used to make ointment, or something of that sort.’
‘Oh, yes, to be sure; the ointment of Lebanon. He used to cover all the walls of London. I haven’t heard of him this year past.’
‘No; that is because he’s dead. Well, she carries on the ointment now, I believe; at any rate, she has got all the money. I wonder what she’s like?’
‘You’d better go and see,’ said the father, who now began to have some inkling of an idea why the two ladies were so anxious to carry his son off to Courcy Castle at this exact time. And so Frank had packed up his best clothes, given a last fond look at the new black horse, repeated his last special injunctions to Peter, and had then made one of the stately cortege which proceeded through the county from Greshamsbury to Courcy Castle.
‘I am very glad of that, very,’ said the squire, when he heard that the money was to be forthcoming. ‘I shall get it on easier terms from him than elsewhere; and it kills me to have continual bother about such things.’ And Mr Gresham, feeling that that difficulty was tided over for a time, and that the immediate pressure of little debts would be abated, stretched himself on his easy chair as though he were quite comfortable; — one may say almost elated.
How frequent it is that men on their road to ruin feel elation such as this! A man signs away moiety of his substance; nay, that were nothing; but a moiety of the substance of his children; he puts his pen to the paper that ruins him and them; but in doing so he frees himself from a source of immediate little pestering, stinging troubles: and, therefore, feels as though fortune has been almost kind to him.
The doctor felt angry with himself for what he had done when he saw how easily the squire adapted himself to this new loan. ‘It will make Scatcherd’s claim upon you very heavy,’ said he.
Mr Gresham at once read all that was passing through the doctor’s mind. ‘Well, what else can I do?’ said he. ‘You wouldn’t have me allow my daughter to lose this match for the sake of a few thousand pounds? It will be well at any rate to have one of them settled. Look at that letter from Moffat.’
The doctor took the letter and read it. It was a long, wordy, ill-written rigmarole, in which that amorous gentleman spoke with much rapture of his love and devotion for Miss Gresham; but at the same time declared, and most positively swore, that the adverse cruelty of his circumstances was such, that it would not allow him to stand up like a man at the hymeneal altar until six thousand pounds hard cash had been paid down at his banker’s.
‘It may be all right,’ said the squire; ‘but in my time gentlemen were not used to write such letters as that to each other.’
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. He did not know how far he would be justified in saying much, even to his friend the squire, in dispraise of his future son-inlaw.
‘I told him that he should have the money; and one would have thought that that would have been enough for him. Well: I suppose Augusta likes him. I suppose she wishes the match; otherwise, I would give him such an answer to that letter as would startle him a little.’
‘What settlement is he to make?’ said Thorne.
‘Oh, that’s satisfactory enough; couldn’t be more so; a thousand a year and the house at Wimbledon for her; that’s all very well. But such a lie, you know, Thorne. He’s rolling in money, and yet he talks of this beggarly sum as though he couldn’t possibly stir without it.’
‘If I might venture to speak my mind,’ said Thorne.
‘Well?’ said the squire, looking at him earnestly.
‘I should be inclined to say that Mr Moffat wants to cry off, himself.’
‘Oh, impossible; quite impossible. In the first place, he was so very anxious for the match. In the next place, it is such a great thing for him. And then, he would never dare; you see, he is dependent on the De Courcys for his seat.’
‘But suppose he loses his seat?’
‘But there is not much fear of that, I think. Scatcherd may be a very fine fellow, but I think they’ll hardly return him at Barchester.’
‘I don’t understand much about it,’ said Thorne; ‘but such things do happen.’
‘And you believe that this man absolutely wants to get off the match; absolutely thinks of playing such a trick as that on my daughter; — on me?’
‘I don’t say he intends to do it; but it looks to me as though he were making a door for himself, or trying to make a door: if so, your having the money will stop him there.’
‘But, Thorne, don’t you think he loves the girl? If I thought not —’
The doctor was silent for a moment, and then he said, ‘I am not a love-making man myself, but I think that if I were much in love with a young lady, I should not write such a letter as that to her father.’
‘By heavens! If I thought so,’ said the squire —‘but, Thorne, we can’t judge of those fellows as one does of gentlemen; they are so used to making money, and seeing money made, that they have an eye to business in everything.’
‘Perhaps so, perhaps so,’ muttered the doctor, showing evidently that he still doubted the warmth of Mr Moffat’s affection.
‘The match was none of my making, and I cannot interfere now to break it off: it will give her a good position in the world; for, after all, money goes a great way, and it is something to be in Parliament. I can only hope she likes him. I do truly hope she likes him;’ and the squire also showed by the tone of his voice that, though he might hope that his daughter was in love with her intended husband, he hardly conceived it to be possible that she should be so.
And what was the truth of the matter? Miss Gresham was no more in love with Mr Moffat than you are — oh, sweet, young, blooming beauty! Not a whit more; not, at least, in your sense of the word, nor in mine. She had by no means resolved within her heart that of all the men whom she had ever seen, or ever could see, he was far away the nicest and the best. That is what you will do when you are in love, if you be good for anything. She had no longing to sit near to him — the nearer the better; she had no thought of his taste and his choice when she bought her ribbons and bonnets; she had not indescribable desire that all her female friends should be ever talking to her about him. When she wrote to him, she did not copy her letters again and again, so that she might be, as it were, ever speaking to him; she took no special pride in herself because he had chosen her to be his life’s partner. In point of fact, she did not care one straw about him.
And yet she thought she loved him; was, indeed, quite confident that she did so; told her mother that she was sure Gustavus would wish this, she knew Gustavus would like that, and so on; but as for Gustavus himself, she did not care one chip about him.
She was in love with her match just as farmers are in love with wheat and eighty shillings a quarter; or shareholders — innocent gudgeons — with seven and half per cent interest on their paid up capital. Eighty shillings a quarter, and seven and half per cent interest, such were the returns which she had been taught to look for in exchange for her young heart; and, having obtained them, or being thus about to obtain them, why should not her young heart be satisfied? Had she not sat herself down obediently at the feet of her lady Gamaliel, and should she not be rewarded? Yes, indeed, she shall be rewarded.
And then the doctor went to the lady. On their medical secrets we will not intrude; but there were other matters bearing on the course of our narrative, as to which Lady Arabella found it necessary to say a word of so to the doctor; and it is essential that we should know what was the tenor of those few words so spoken.
How the aspirations, and instincts, and feelings of a household become changed as the young birds begin to flutter those feathered wings, and have half-formed thoughts of leaving the parental nest! A few months back, Frank had reigned almost autocratic over the lesser subjects of the kingdom of Greshamsbury. The servants, for instance, always obeyed him, and his sisters never dreamed of telling anything which he directed should not be told. All his mischief, all his troubles, and all his loves were confided to them, with the sure conviction that they would never be made to stand in evidence against him.
Trusting to this well-ascertained state of things, he had not hesitated to declare his love for Miss Thorne before his sister Augusta. But his sister Augusta had now, as it were, been received into the upper house; having duly profited by the lessons of her great instructress, she was now admitted to sit in conclave with the higher powers: her sympathies, of course, became changed, and her confidence was removed from the young and giddy and given to the ancient and discreet. She was as a schoolboy, who, having finished his schooling, and being fairly forced by necessity into the stern bread-earning world, undertakes the new duties of tutoring. Yesterday he was taught, and fought, of course, against the schoolmaster; today he teaches, and fights as keenly for him. So it was with Augusta Gresham, when, with careful brow, she whispered to her mother that there was something wrong between Frank and Mary Thorne.
‘Stop it at once, Arabella: stop it at once,’ the countess had said; ‘that, indeed, will be the ruin. If he does not marry money, he is lost. Good heavens! the doctor’s niece! A girl that nobody knows where she comes from!’
‘He’s going with you tomorrow, you know,’ said the anxious mother.
‘Yes; and that is so far well: if he will be led by me, the evil may be remedied before he returns; but it is very, very hard to lead young men. Arabella, you must forbid that girl to come to Greshamsbury again on any pretext whatever. The evil must be stopped at once.’
‘But she is here so much as a matter of course.’
‘Then she must be here as a matter of course no more: there has been folly, very great folly, in having her here. Of course she would turn out to be a designing creature with such temptation before her; with such a prize within her reach, how could she help it?’
‘I must say, aunt, she answered him very properly,’ said Augusta.
‘Nonsense,’ said the countess; ‘before you of course she did. Arabella, the matter must not be left to the girl’s propriety. I never knew the propriety of a girl of that sort to be fit to be depended on yet. If you wish to save the whole family from ruin, you must take steps to keep her away from Greshamsbury now at once. Now is the time; now that Frank is going away. Where so much, so very much depends on a young man’s marrying money, not one day ought to be lost.’
Instigated in this manner, Lady Arabella resolved to open her mind to the doctor, and to make it intelligible to him, that under present circumstances, Mary’s visits at Greshamsbury had better be discontinued. She would have given much, however, to have escaped this business. She had in her time tried one or two falls with the doctor, and she was conscious that she had never yet got the better of him: and then she was in a slight degree afraid of Mary herself. She had a presentiment that it would not be so easy to banish Mary from Greshamsbury: she was not sure that that young lady would not boldly assert her right to her place in the school-room; appeal loudly to the squire, and perhaps, declare her determination of marrying the heir, out before them all. The squire would be sure to uphold her in that, or in anything else.
And then, too, there would be the greatest difficulty in wording her request to the doctor; and Lady Arabella was sufficiently conscious of her own weakness to know that she was not always very good at words. But the doctor, when hard pressed, was never at fault: he could say the bitterest things in the quietest tone, and Lady Arabella had a great dread of these bitter things. What, also, if he should desert her himself; withdraw from her his skill and knowledge of her bodily wants and ailments now that he was so necessary to her? She had once before taken that measure of sending to Barchester for Dr Fillgrave, but it had answered with her hardly better than with Sir Roger and Lady Scatcherd.
When, therefore, Lady Arabella found herself alone with the doctor, and called upon to say out in what best language she could select for the occasion, she did not feel to very much at her ease. There was that about the man before her which cowed her, in spite of her being the wife of the squire, the sister of an earl, a person quite acknowledged to be of the great world, and the mother of a very important young man whose affections were now about to be called in question. Nevertheless, there was the task to be done, and with a mother’s courage she essayed it.
‘Dr Thorne,’ said she, as soon as their medical conference was at an end, ‘I am very glad you came over today, for I have something special which I wanted to say to you:’ so far she got, and then stopped; but, as the doctor did not seem inclined to give her any assistance, she was forced to flounder on as best she could.
‘Something very particular indeed. You know what a respect and esteem, and I may say affection, we all have for you,’— here the doctor made a low bow —‘and I may say for Mary also;’ here the doctor bowed himself again. ‘We have done what little we could to be pleasant neighbours, and I think you’ll believe me when I say that I am a true friend to you and dear Mary —’
The doctor knew that something very unpleasant was coming, but he could not at all guess what might be its nature. He felt, however, that he must say something; so he expressed a hope that he was duly sensible of all the acts of kindness he had ever received from the squire and the family at large.
‘I hope, therefore, my dear doctor, you won’t take amiss what I am going to say.’
‘Well, Lady Arabella, I’ll endeavour not to do so.’
‘I am sure I would not give any pain if I could help it, much less to you. But there are occasions, doctor, in which duty must be paramount; paramount to all other considerations, you know, and, certainly, this occasion is one of them.’
‘But what is the occasion, Lady Arabella?’
‘I’ll tell you, doctor. You know what Frank’s position is?’
‘Why his position in life; an only son, you know.’
‘Oh, yes; I know his position in that respect; an only son, and his father’s heir; and a very fine fellow, he is. You have but one son, Lady Arabella, and you may well be proud of him.’
Lady Arabella sighed. She did not wish at the present moment to express herself as being in any way proud of Frank. She was desirous rather, on the other hand, of showing that she was a good deal ashamed of him; only not quite so much ashamed of him as it behoved the doctor to be of his niece.’
‘Well, perhaps so; yes,’ said Lady Arabella, ‘he is, I believe, a very good young man, with an excellent disposition; but, doctor, his position is very precarious; and he is just at that time of life when caution is necessary.’
To the doctor’s ears, Lady Arabella was now talking of her son as a mother might of her infant when whooping-cough was abroad our croup imminent. ‘There is nothing on earth the matter with him, I should say,’ said the doctor. ‘He has every possible sign of perfect health.’
‘Oh yes; his health! Yes, thank God, his health is good; that is a great blessing.’ And Lady Arabella thought of her four flowerets that had already faded. ‘I am sure I am most thankful to see him growing up so strong. But it is not that I mean, doctor.’
‘Then what is it, Lady Arabella?’
‘Why, doctor, the squire’s position with regard to money matters.’
Now the doctor undoubtedly did know the squire’s position with regard to money matters — knew it much better than Lady Arabella; but he was by no means inclined to talk on that subject to her ladyship. He remained quite silent, therefore, although Lady Arabella’s last speech had taken the form of a question. Lady Arabella was a little offended at this want of freedom on his part, and become somewhat sterner in her tone — a thought less condescending in her manner.
‘The squire has unfortunately embarrassed the property, and Frank must look forward to inherit it with very heavy encumbrances; I fear very heavy indeed, though of what exact nature I am kept in ignorance.’
Looking at the doctor’s face, she perceived that there was no probability whatever that her ignorance would be enlightened by him.
‘And, therefore, it is highly necessary that Frank should be very careful.’
‘As to his private expenditure, you mean?’ said the doctor.
‘No; not exactly that: though of course he must be careful as to that, too; that’s of course. But that is not what I mean, doctor; his only hope of retrieving his circumstances is by marrying money.’
‘With every other conjugal blessing that a man can have, I hope he may have that also.’ So the doctor replied with imperturbable face; but not the less did he begin to have a shade of suspicion of what might be the coming subject of the conference. It would be untrue to say that he had ever thought it probable that the young heir should fall in love with his niece; that he had ever looked forward to such a chance, either with complacency or with fear; nevertheless, the idea had of late passed through his mind. Some word had fallen from Mary, some closely watched expression of her eye, or some quiver in her lip when Frank’s name was mentioned, had of late made him involuntarily think that such a thing might not be impossible; and then, when the chance of Mary becoming the heiress to so large a fortune had been forced upon his consideration, he had been unable to prevent himself from building happy castles in the air, as he rode slowly home from Boxall Hill. But not a whit the more on that account was he prepared to be untrue to the squire’s interest or to encourage a feeling which must be distasteful to all the squire’s friends.
‘Yes, doctor; he must marry money.’
‘And worth, Lady Arabella; and a pure feminine heart; and youth and beauty. I hope he will marry them all.’
Could it be possible, that in speaking of a pure feminine heart, and youth and beauty, and such like gewgaws, the doctor was thinking of his niece? Could it be that he had absolutely made up his mind to foster and encourage this odious match?
The bare idea made Lady Arabella wrathful, and her wrath gave her courage. ‘He must marry money, or he will be a ruined man. Now, doctor, I am informed that things — words that is — have passed between him and Mary which never ought to have been allowed.’
And now the doctor was wrathful. ‘What things? what words?’ said he, appearing to Lady Arabella as though he rose in his anger nearly a foot in altitude before her eyes. ‘What has passed between them? and who says so?’
‘Doctor, there have been love-makings, you may take my word for it; love-makings of a very, very advanced description.’
This, the doctor could not stand. No, not for Greshamsbury and its heir; not for the squire and all his misfortunes; not for Lady Arabella and the blood of the De Courcys could he stand quiet and hear Mary accused. He sprang up another foot in height, and expanded equally in width as he flung back the insinuation.
‘Who says so? Whoever says so, whoever speaks of Miss Thorne in such language, says what is not true. I will pledge my word —’
‘My dear doctor, my dear doctor, what took place was quite clearly heard; there was no mistake about it, indeed.’
‘What took place? What was heard?’
‘Well, then, I don’t want, you know, to make more of it than can be helped. The thing must be stopped, that is all.’
‘What thing? Speak out, Lady Arabella. I will not have Mary’s conduct impugned by innuendoes. What is that eavesdroppers have heard?’
Dr Thorne, there have been no eavesdroppers.’
‘And not talebearers either? Will you ladyship oblige me by letting me know what is this accusation which you bring against my niece?’
‘There has been most positively an offer made, Dr Thorne.’
‘And who made it?’
‘Oh, of course I am not going to say but what Frank must have been very imprudent. Of course he has been to blame. There has been fault on both sides, no doubt.’
‘I utterly deny it. I positively deny it. I know nothing of the circumstances; have heard nothing about it —’
‘Then of course you can’t say,’ said Lady Arabella.
‘I know nothing of the circumstance; have heard nothing about it,’ continued Dr Thorne; ‘but I do know my niece, and am ready to assert that there has not been fault on both sides. Whether there has been any fault on any side, that I do not know.’
‘I can assure you, Dr Thorne, that an offer was made by Frank; such an offer cannot be without its allurements to a young lady circumstanced like your niece.’
‘Allurements!’ almost shouted the doctor, and, as he did so, Lady Arabella stepped back a pace or two, retreating from the fire which shot out of his eyes. ‘But the truth is, Lady Arabella, you do not know my niece. If you will have the goodness to let me understand what it is that you desire I will tell you whether I can comply with your wishes.’
‘Of course it will be very inexpedient that the young people should be thrown together again; — for the present, I mean.’
‘Frank has now gone to Courcy Castle; and he talks of going from thence to Cambridge. But he will doubtless be here, backwards and forwards; and perhaps it will be better for all parties — safer, that is, doctor — if Miss Thorne were to discontinue her visits to Greshamsbury for a while.’
‘Very well!’ thundered out the doctor. ‘Her visits to Greshamsbury shall be discontinued.’
‘Of course, doctor, this won’t change intercourse between us; between you and the and the family.’
‘Not change it!’ said he. ‘Do you think that I will break bread in a house from whence she has been ignominiously banished? Do you think that I can sit in friendship with those who have spoken of her as you have now spoken? You have many daughters; what would you say if I accused them one of them as you have accused her?’
‘Accused, doctor! No, I don’t accuse her. But prudence, you know, does sometimes require us —’
‘Very well; prudence requires you to look after those who belong to you. And prudence requires me to look after my one lamb. Good morning, Lady Arabella.’
‘But, doctor, you are not going to quarrel with us? You will come when we want you; eh! won’t you?’
Quarrel! quarrel with Greshamsbury! Angry as he was, the doctor felt that he could ill bear to quarrel with Greshamsbury. A man past fifty cannot easily throw over the ties that have taken twenty years to form, and wrench himself away from the various close ligatures with which, in such a period, he has become bound. He could not quarrel with the squire; he could ill bear to quarrel with Frank; though he now began to conceive that Frank had used him badly, he could not do so; he could not quarrel with the children, who had almost been born into his arms; nor even with the very walls, and trees, and grassy knolls with which he was so dearly intimate. He could not proclaim himself an enemy to Greshamsbury; and yet he felt that fealty to Mary required of him that, for the present, he should put on an enemy’s guise.
‘If you want me, Lady Arabella, and send for me, I will come to you; otherwise, if you please, share the sentence which has been passed on Mary. I will now wish you good morning.’ And then bowing low to her, he left the room and the house, and sauntered slowly away to his own home.
What was he to say to Mary? He walked very slowly, down the Greshamsbury avenue with his hands clasped behind his back, thinking over the whole matter; thinking of it, or rather trying to think of it. When a man’s heart is warmly concerned in any matter, it is almost useless for him to endeavour to think of it. Instead of thinking, he gives play to his feelings, and feeds his passion by indulging it. ‘Allurements!’ he said to himself, repeating Lady Arabella’s words. ‘A girl circumstanced like my niece! How utterly incapable is such a woman as that to understand the mind, and the heart, and soul of such a one as Mary Thorne!’ And then his thoughts recurred to Frank. ‘It has been ill done of him; ill done of him: young as he is, he should have had feeling enough to spared me this. A thoughtless word has been spoken which will now make her miserable!’ And then, as he walked on, he could not divest his mind of the remembrance of what had passed between him and Sir Roger. What, if after all, Mary should become the heiress to all that money? What, if she should become, in fact, the owner of Greshamsbury? for, indeed it seemed too possible that Sir Roger’s heir would be the owner of Greshamsbury.
The idea was one which he disliked to entertain, but it would recur to him again and again. It might be, that a marriage between his niece and the nominal heir to the estate might be of all the matches the best for young Gresham to make. How sweet would be the revenge, how glorious the retaliation on Lady Arabella, if, after what had now been said, it should come to pass that all the difficulties of Greshamsbury should be made smooth by Mary’s love, and Mary’s hand! It was a dangerous subject on which to ponder. And, as he sauntered down the road, the doctor did his best to banish it from his mind — not altogether successfully.
But as he went he again encountered Beatrice. ‘Tell Mary I went up to her today,’ said she, ‘and that I expect her up here tomorrow. If she does not come here, I shall be savage.’
‘Do not be savage,’ said he, putting out his hand, ‘even though she should not come.’
Beatrice immediately saw that his manner with her was not playful, and that his face was serious. ‘I was only in joke,’ said she; ‘of course I was only joking. But is anything the matter? Is Mary ill?’
‘Oh, no; not ill at all; but she will not be here tomorrow, nor probably for some time. But, Miss Gresham, you must not be savage with her.’
Beatrice tried to interrogate him, but he would not wait to answer her questions. While she was speaking he bowed to her in his usual old-fashioned courteous way, and passed on out of hearing. ‘She will not come up for some time,’ said Beatrice to herself. ‘Then mamma must have quarrelled with her.’ And at once in her heart she acquitted her friend of all blame in the matter, whatever it might be, and condemned her mother unheard.
The doctor, when he arrived in his own house, had in nowise made up his mind as to the manner in which he would break the matter to Mary; but by the time that he had reached the drawing-room, he had made up his mind to this, that he would put off the evil hour till the morrow. He would sleep on the matter — lie awake on it, more probably — and then at breakfast, as best he could, tell her what had been said of her.
Mary that evening was more than usually inclined to be playful. She had not been quite certain till the morning, whether Frank had absolutely left Greshamsbury, and had, therefore, preferred the company of Miss Oriel to going up to the house. There was a peculiar cheerfulness about her friend Patience, a feeling of satisfaction with the world and those in it, which Mary always shared with her; and now she had brought home to the doctor’s fireside, in spite of her young troubles, a smiling face, if not a heart altogether happy.
‘Uncle,’ she said at last, ‘what makes you so sombre? Shall I read to you?’
‘No; not to-night, dearest.’
‘Why, uncle; what is the matter?’
‘Ah, but it is something, and you shall tell me;’ getting up, she came over to his arm-chair, and leant over his shoulder.
He looked up at her for a minute in silence, and then, getting up from his chair, passed his arm round her waist, and pressed her closely to his heart.
‘My darling!’ he said, almost convulsively. ‘My best own, truest darling!’ and Mary looked up into his face, saw that big tears were running down his cheeks.
But still he told her nothing that night.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01