At last the great Miss Dunstable came. Frank, when he heard that the heiress had arrived, felt some slight palpitation at his heart. He had not the remotest idea in the world of marrying her; indeed, during the last week past, absence had so heightened his love for Mary Thorne that he was more than ever resolved that he would never marry any one but her. He knew that he had made her a formal offer for her hand, and that it behoved him to keep to it, let the charms of Miss Dunstable be what they might; but, nevertheless, he was prepared to go through a certain amount of courtship, in obedience to his aunt’s behests, and he felt a little nervous at being brought up in that way, face to face, to do battle with two hundred thousand pounds.
‘Miss Dunstable has arrived,’ said his aunt to him, with great complacency, on his return from an electioneering visit to the beauties of Barchester which he made with his cousin George on the day after the conversation which was repeated at the end of the last chapter. ‘She has arrived, and is looking remarkably well; she has quite a distingue air, and will grace any circle to which she may be introduced. I will introduce you before dinner, and you can take her out.’
‘I couldn’t propose to her tonight, I suppose?’ said Frank, maliciously.
‘Don’t talk nonsense, Frank,’ said the countess angrily. ‘I am doing what I can for you, and taking on an infinity of trouble to endeavour to place you in an independent position; and now you talk nonsense to me.’
Frank muttered some sort of apology, and then went to prepare himself for the encounter.
Miss Dunstable, though she had come by train, had brought with her her own carriage, her own horses, her own coachman and footman, and her own maid, of course. She had also brought with her half a score of trunks, full of wearing apparel; some of them nearly as rich as that wonderful box which was stolen a short time since from the top of a cab. But she brought these things, not in the least because she wanted them herself, but because she had been instructed to do so.
Frank was a little more than ordinarily careful in dressing. He spoilt a couple of white neckties before he was satisfied, and was rather fastidious as the set of his hair. There was not much of the dandy about him in the ordinary meaning of the word. But he felt that it was incumbent on him to look his best, seeing what it was expected he should now do. He certainly did not mean to marry Miss Dunstable; but as he was to have a flirtation with her, it was well that he should do so under the best possible auspices.
When he entered the drawing-room he perceived at once that the lady was there. She was seated between the countess and Mrs Proudie; and mammon, in her person, was receiving worship from the temporalities and spiritualities of the land. He tried to look unconcerned, and remained in the farther part of the room, talking with some of his cousins; but he could not keep his eye off the future possible Mrs Frank Gresham; and it seemed as though she was as much constrained to scrutinize him as he felt to scrutinize her.
Lady de Courcy had declared that she was looking extremely well, and had particularly alluded to her distingue appearance. Frank at once felt that he could not altogether go along with his aunt in this opinion. Miss Dunstable might be very well; but her style of beauty was one which did not quite meet with his warmest admiration.
In age she was about thirty; but Frank, who was no great judge in these matters, and who was accustomed to have very young girls round him, at once put her down as being ten years older. She had a very high colour, very red cheeks, a large mouth, big white teeth, a broad nose, and bright, small, black eyes. Her hair also was black and bright, but very crisp, and strong, and was combed close round her face in small crisp black ringlets. Since she had been brought out into the fashionable world some of her instructors in fashion had given her to understand that curls were not the thing. ‘They’ll always pass muster,’ Miss Dunstable had replied, ‘when they are done up with bank-notes.’ It may therefore be presumed that Miss Dunstable had a will of her own.
‘Frank,’ said the countess, in the most natural and unpremeditated way, as soon as she caught her nephew’s eye, ‘come here. I want to introduce you to Miss Dunstable.’ The introduction was then made. ‘Mrs Proudie, would you excuse me? I must positively go and say a few words to Mrs Barlow, or the poor woman will feel herself huffed’; and so saying, she moved off, leaving the coast clear for Master Frank.
He of course slipped into his aunt’s place, and expressed a hope that Miss Dunstable was not fatigued by her journey.
‘Fatigued!’ said she, in a voice rather loud, but very good-humoured, and not altogether unpleasing; ‘I am not to be fatigued by such a thing as that. Why, in May we came through all the way from Rome to Paris without sleeping—that is, without sleeping in a bed—and we were upset three times out of the sledges coming over the Simplon. It was such fun! Why, I wasn’t to say tired even then.’
‘All the way from Rome to Paris!’ said Mrs Proudie—in a tone of astonishment, meant to flatter the heiress —‘and what made you in such a hurry?’
‘Something about money matters,’ said Miss Dunstable, speaking rather louder than usual. ‘Something to do with the ointment. I was selling the business just then.’
Mrs Proudie bowed, and immediately changed the conversation. ‘Idolatry is, I believe, more rampant than ever in Rome,’ said she; ‘and I fear there is no such thing at all as Sabbath observance.’
‘Oh, not in the least,’ said Miss Dunstable, with rather a joyous air; ‘Sundays and week-days are all the same there.’
‘How very frightful!’ said Mrs Proudie.
‘But it’s a delicious place. I do like Rome, I must say. And as for the Pope, if he wasn’t quite so fat he would be the nicest old fellow in the world. Have you been in Rome, Mrs Proudie?’
Mrs Proudie sighed as she replied in the negative, and declared her belief that danger was apprehended from such visits.
‘Oh!—ah!—the malaria—of course—yes; if you go at the wrong time; but nobody is such a fool as that now.’
‘I was thinking of the soul, Miss Dunstable,’ said the lady-bishop, in her peculiar grave tone. ‘A place where there are no Sabbath observances —’
‘And have you been at Rome, Mr Gresham?’ said the young lady, turning almost abruptly round to Frank, and giving a somewhat uncivilly cold shoulder to Mrs Proudie’s exhortation. She, poor lady, was forced to finish her speech to the Honourable George, who was standing near to her. He having an idea that bishops and all their belongings, like other things appertaining to religion, should, if possible, be avoided; but if that were not possible, should be treated with much assumed gravity, immediately put on a long face, and remarked that —‘it was a deuced shame: for his part he always liked to see people go quiet on Sundays. The parsons had only one day out of seven, and he thought they were fully entitled to that.’ Satisfied with which, or not satisfied, Mrs Proudie had to remain silent till dinner-time.
‘No,’ said Frank; ‘I never was in Rome. I was in Paris once, that’s all.’ And then, feeling not unnatural anxiety as to the present state of Miss Dunstable’s worldly concerns, he took an opportunity of falling back on that part of her conversation which Mrs Proudie had exercised so much tact in avoiding.
‘And was it sold?’ said he.
‘Sold! what sold?’
‘You were saying about the business—that you came back without going to bed because of selling the business.’
‘Oh!—the ointment. No; it was not sold. After all, the affair did not come off, and I might have remained and had another roll in the snow. Wasn’t it a pity?’
‘So,’ said Frank to himself, ‘if I should do it, I should be owner of the ointment of Lebanon: how odd!’ And then he gave her his arm and handed her down to dinner.
He certainly found that his dinner was less dull than any other he had sat down to at Courcy Castle. He did not fancy that he should ever fall in love with Miss Dunstable; but she certainly was an agreeable companion. She told him of her tour, and the fun she had in her journeys; how she took a physician with her for the benefit of her health, whom she generally was forced to nurse; of the trouble it was to her to look after and wait upon her numerous servants; of the tricks she played to bamboozle people who came to stare at her; and, lastly, she told him of a lover who followed her from country to country, and was now in hot pursuit of her, having arrived in London the evening before she left.
‘A lover?’ said Frank, somewhat startled by the suddenness of the confidence.
‘A lover—yes—Mr Gresham; why should I not have a lover?’
‘Oh!—no—of course not. I dare say you have had a good many.’
‘Only three or four, upon my word; that is, only three or four that I favour. One is not bound to reckon the others, you know.’
‘No, they’d be too numerous. And so you have three whom you favour, Miss Dunstable;’ and Frank sighed, as though he intended to say that the number was too many for his peace of mind.
‘Is not that quite enough? But of course I change them sometimes;’ and she smiled on him very good-naturedly. ‘It would be very dull if I were always to keep the same.’
‘Very dull indeed,’ said Frank, who did not quite know what to say.
‘Do you think the countess would mind my having or two of them here if I were to ask her?’
‘I am quite sure she would,’ said Frank, very briskly. ‘She would not approve of it; nor should I.’
‘You—why, what have you to do with it?’
‘A great deal—so much so that I positively forbid it; but, Miss Dunstable —’
‘Well, Mr Gresham?’
‘We will contrive to make up for the deficiency as well as possible, if you will permit us to do so. Now for myself —’
‘Well, for yourself?’
At this moment the countess gleamed her accomplished eye round the table, and Miss Dunstable rose from her chair as Frank was preparing his attack, and accompanied the other ladies into the drawing-room.
His aunt, as she passed him, touched his arm lightly with her fan, so lightly that the action was perceived by no one else. But Frank well understood the meaning of the touch, and appreciated the approbation which it conveyed. He merely blushed however at his own dissimulation; for he felt more certain that ever that he would never marry Miss Dunstable, and he felt nearly equally sure that Miss Dunstable would never marry him.
Lord de Courcy was now at home; but his presence did not add much hilarity to the claret-cup. The young men, however, were very keen about the election, and Mr Nearthewinde, who was one of the party, was full of the most sanguine hopes.
‘I have done a good one at any rate,’ said Frank; ‘I have secured the chorister’s vote.’
‘What! Bagley?’ said Neathewinde. ‘The fellow kept out of my way, and I couldn’t see him.’
‘I haven’t exactly seen him,’ said Frank; ‘but I’ve got his vote all the same.’
‘What! by a letter?’ said Mr Moffat.
‘No, not by letter,’ said Frank, speaking rather low as he looked at the bishop and the earl; ‘I got a promise from his wife: I think he’s a little in the henpecked line.’
‘Ha—ha—ha!’ laughed the good bishop, who, in spite of Frank’s modulation of voice, had overheard what had passed. ‘Is that the way you manage electioneering matters in our cathedral city?’ The idea of one of his choristers being in the henpecked line was very amusing to the bishop.
‘Oh, I got a distinct promise,’ said Frank, in his pride; and then added incautiously, ‘but I had to order bonnets for the whole family.’
‘Hush-h-h-h!’ said Mr Nearthewinde, absolutely flabbergasted by such imprudence on the part of one of his client’s friends. ‘I am quite sure that you order had no effect, and was intended to have no effect on Mr Bagley’s vote.’
‘Is that wrong?’ said Frank; ‘upon my word I thought it was quite legitimate.’
‘One should never admit anything in electioneering matters, should one?’ said George, turning to Mr Nearthewinde.
‘Very little, Mr de Courcy; very little indeed—the less the better. It’s hard to say in these days what is wrong and what is not. Now, there’s Reddypalm, the publican, the man who has the Brown Bear. Well, I was there, of course: he’s a voter, and if any man in Barchester ought to feel himself bound to vote for a friend of the duke’s he ought. Now, I was so thirsty when I was in that man’s house, that I was dying for a glass of beer; but for the life of me I didn’t dare order one.’
‘Why not?’ said Frank, whose mind was only just beginning to be enlightened by the great doctrine of purity of election as practised in English provincial towns.
‘Oh, Closerstil had some fellow looking at me; why, I can’t walk down that town without having my very steps counted. I like sharp fighting myself, but I never go so sharp as that.’
‘Nevertheless I got Bagley’s vote,’ said Frank, persisting in praise of his own electioneering prowess; ‘and you may be sure of this, Mr Nearthewinde, none of Closerstil’s men were looking at me when I got it.’
‘Who’ll pay for the bonnets, Frank?’ said George.
‘Oh, I’ll pay for them if Moffat won’t. I think I shall keep an account there; they seem to have good gloves and those sort of things.’
‘Very good, I have no doubt,’ said George.
‘I suppose your lordship will be in town soon after the meeting of Parliament?’ said the bishop, questioning the earl.
‘Oh! yes; I suppose I must be there. I am never allowed to remain very long in the quiet. It is a great nuisance; but it is too late to think of that now.’
‘Men in high places, my lord, never were, and never will be, allowed to consider themselves. They burn their torches not in their own behalf,’ said the bishop, thinking, perhaps, as much of himself as he did of his noble friend. ‘Rest and quiet are the comforts of those who have been content to remain in obscurity.’
‘Perhaps so,’ said the earl, finishing his glass of claret with an air of virtuous resignation. ‘Perhaps so.’ His own martyrdom, however, had not been severe, for the rest and quiet of home had never been peculiarly satisfactory to his tastes. Soon after this they went to the ladies.
It was some little time before Frank could find an opportunity of recommencing his allotted task with Miss Dunstable. She got into conversation with the bishop and with some other people, and, except that he took her teacup and nearly managed to squeeze one of her fingers as she did so, he made very little further progress till towards the close of the evening.
At last he found her so nearly alone as to admit of his speaking to her in a low confidential voice.
‘Have you managed that matter with my aunt?’
‘What matter?’ said Miss Dunstable; and her voice was not low, nor particularly confidential.
‘About those three or four gentlemen whom you wish to invite here?’
‘Oh! my attendant knights! no, indeed; you gave me such very slight hope of success; besides, you said something about my not wanting them.’
‘Yes I did; I really think they’d be quite unnecessary. If you should want any one to defend you —’
‘At these coming elections, for instance.’
‘Then, or at any other time, there are plenty here who will be ready to stand up for you.’
‘Plenty! I don’t want plenty: one good lance in the olden days was always worth more than a score of ordinary men-at-arms.’
‘But you talked about three or four.’
‘Yes; but then you see, Mr Gresham, I have never yet found the one good lance—at least, not good enough to suit my ideas of true prowess.’
What could Frank do but declare that he was ready to lay his own in rest, now and always in her behalf?
His aunt had been quite angry with him, and had thought that he turned her into ridicule, when he spoke of making an offer to her guest that very evening; and yet here he was so placed that he had hardly an alternative. Let his inward resolution to abjure the heiress be ever so strong, he was now in a position which allowed him no choice in the matter. Even Mary Thorne could hardly have blamed him for saying, that so far as his own prowess went, it was quite at Miss Dunstable’s service. Had Mary been looking on, she perhaps, might have thought that he could have done so with less of that look of devotion which he threw into his eyes.
‘Well, Mr Gresham, that’s very civil—very civil indeed,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘Upon my word, if a lady wanted a true knight she might do worse than trust to you. Only I fear that your courage is of so exalted a nature that you would be ever ready to do battle for any beauty that might be in distress—or, indeed, who might not. You could never confine your valour to the protection of one maiden.’
‘Oh, yes! but I would though if I liked her,’ said Frank. ‘There isn’t a more constant fellow in the world than I am in that way—you try me, Miss Dunstable.’
‘When young ladies make such trials as that, they sometimes find it too late to go back if the trial doesn’t succeed, Mr Gresham.’
‘Oh, of course, there’s always some risk. It’s like hunting; there would be no fun if there was no danger.’
‘But if you get a tumble one day you can retrieve your honour the next; but a poor girl if she once trusts a man who says that he loves her, has no such chance. For myself, I would never listen to a man unless I’d known him for seven years at least.’
‘Seven years!’ said Frank, who could not help thinking that in seven years’ time Miss Dunstable would be almost an old woman. ‘Seven days is enough to know any person.’
‘Or perhaps seven hours; eh, Mr Gresham?’
‘Seven hours—well, perhaps seven hours, if they happen to be a good deal together during that time.’
‘There’s nothing after all like love at first sight, is there, Mr Gresham?’
Frank knew well enough that she was quizzing him, and could not resist the temptation he felt to be revenged on her. ‘I am sure it’s very pleasant,’ said he; ‘but as for myself, I have never experienced it.’
‘Ha, ha, ha!’ laughed Miss Dunstable. ‘Upon my word, Mr Gresham, I like you amazingly. I didn’t expect to meet anybody down here that I could like half so much. You must come and see me in London, and I’ll introduce you to my three knights,’ and so saying, she moved away and fell into conversation with some of the higher powers.
Frank felt himself to be rather snubbed, in spite of the strong expression which Miss Dunstable had made in his favour. It was not quite clear to him that she did not take him for a boy. He was, to be sure, avenged on her for that by taking her for a middle-aged woman; but, nevertheless, he was hardly satisfied with himself; ‘and she might find afterwards that she was left in the lurch with all her money.’ And so he retired, solitary, into a far part of the room, and began to think of Mary Thorne. As he did so, and as his eyes fell upon Miss Dunstable’s stiff curls, he almost shuddered.
And then the ladies retired. His aunt, with a good-natured smile on her face, come to him as she was leaving the room, the last of the bevy, and putting her hand on his arm, led him out into a small unoccupied chamber which opened from the grand saloon.
‘Upon my word, Master Frank,’ said she, ‘you seem to be losing no time with the heiress. You have quite made an impression already.’
‘I don’t know much about that, aunt,’ said he, looking rather sheepish.
‘Oh, I declare you have; but, Frank, my dear boy, you should not precipitate these sort of things too much. It is well to take a little more time: it is more valued; and perhaps, you know, on the whole —’
Perhaps Frank might know; but it was clear that Lady de Courcy did not: at any rate, she did not know how to express herself. Had she said out her mind plainly, she would probably have spoken thus: ‘I want you to make love to Miss Dunstable, certainly; or at any rate to make an offer to her; but you need not make a show of yourself and of her, by doing it so openly as all that.’ The countess, however, did not want to reprimand her obedient nephew, and therefore did not speak out her thoughts.
‘Well?’ said Frank, looking up into her face.
‘Take a leetle more time—that is all, my dear boy; slow and sure, you know,’ so the countess again patted his arm and went away to bed.
‘Old fool!’ muttered Frank to himself, as he returned to the room where the men were still standing. He was right in this: she was an old fool, or she would have seen that there was no chance whatever that her nephew and Miss Dunstable should become man and wife.
‘Well Frank,’ said the Honourable John; ‘so you’re after the heiress already.’
‘He won’t give any of us a chance,’ said the Honourable George. ‘If he goes on in that way she’ll be Mrs Gresham before a month is over. But, Frank, what will she say of your manner of looking for Barchester votes?’
‘Mr Gresham is certainly an excellent hand at canvassing,’ said Mr Nearthewinde; ‘only a little too open in his manner of proceeding.’
‘I got that chorister for you at any rate,’ said Frank. ‘And you would never have had him without me.’
‘I don’t think half so much of the chorister’s vote as that of Miss Dunstable,’ said the Honourable George: ‘that’s the interest that is really worth looking after.’
‘But, surely,’ said Mr Moffat, ‘Miss Dunstable has not property in Barchester?’ Poor man! his heart was so intent on his election that he had no a moment to devote to the claims of love.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41