It was declared in the early pages of this work that Dr Thorne was to be our hero; but it would appear very much as though he had latterly been forgotten. Since that evening when he retired to rest without letting Mary share the grievous weight which was on his mind, we have neither seen nor heard aught of him.
It was then full midsummer, and it now early spring: and during the intervening months the doctor had not had a happy time of it. On that night, as we have before told, he took his niece to his heart; but he could not then bring himself to tell her that which it was so imperative that she should know. Like a coward, he would put off the evil hour, till the next morning, and thus robbed himself of his night’s sleep.
But when the morning came the duty could not be postponed. Lady Arabella had given him to understand that his niece would no longer be a guest at Greshamsbury; and it was quite out of the question that Mary, after this, should be allowed to put her foot within the gate of the domain without having learnt what Lady Arabella had said. So he told it before breakfast, walking round their little garden, she with her hand in his.
He was perfectly thunderstruck by the collected—nay, cool way in which she received his tidings. She turned pale, indeed; he felt also that her hand somewhat trembled in his own, and he perceived that for a moment her voice shook; but no angry word escaped her lip, nor did she even deign to repudiate the charge, which was, as it were, conveyed in Lady Arabella’s request. The doctor knew, or thought he knew—nay, he did know—that Mary was wholly blameless in the matter: that she had at least given no encouragement to any love on the part of the young heir; but, nevertheless, he had expected that she would avouch her own innocence. This, however, she by no means did.
‘Lady Arabella is quite right,’ she said, ‘quite right; if she has any fear of that kind, she cannot be too careful.’
‘She is a selfish, proud woman,’ said the doctor; ‘quite indifferent to the feelings of others; quite careless how deeply she may hurt her neighbours, if, in doing so, she may possibly benefit herself.’
‘She will not hurt me, uncle, nor yet you. I can live without going to Greshamsbury.’
‘But it is not to be endured that she should dare to cast an imputation on my darling.’
‘On me, uncle? She casts no imputation on me. Frank has been foolish: I have said nothing of it, for it was not worth while to trouble you. But as Lady Arabella chooses to interfere, I have no right to blame her. He has said what he should not have said; he has been foolish. Uncle, you know I could not prevent it.’
‘Let her send him away then, not you; let her banish him.’
‘Uncle, he is her son. A mother can hardly send her son away so easily: could you send me away, uncle?’
He merely answered her by twining his arm round her waist and pressing her to his side. He was well sure that she was badly treated; and yet now that she so unaccountably took Lady Arabella’s part, he hardly knew how to make this out plainly to be the case.
‘Besides, uncle, Greshamsbury is in a manner his own; how can he be banished from his father’s house? No, uncle; there is an end of my visits there. They shall find that I will not thrust myself in their way.’
And then Mary, with a calm brow and steady gait, went in and made the tea.
And what might be the feelings of her heart when she so sententiously told her uncle that Frank had been foolish? She was of the same age with him; as impressionable, though more powerful in hiding such impressions—as all women should be; her heart was as warm, her blood as full of life, her innate desire for the companionship of some much-loved object as strong as his. Frank had been foolish in avowing his passion. No such folly as that could be laid at her door. But had she been proof against the other folly? Had she been able to walk heart-whole by his side, while he chatted his commonplaces about love? Yes, they are commonplaces when we read them in novels; common enough, too, to some of us when we write them; but they are by no means commonplace when first heard by a young girl in the rich, balmy fragrance of July evening stroll.
Nor are they commonplaces when so uttered for the first or second time at least, or perhaps the third. ’Tis a pity that so heavenly a pleasure should pall upon the senses.
If it was so that Frank’s folly had been listened to with a certain amount of pleasure, Mary did not even admit so much to herself. But why should it have been otherwise? Why should she have been less prone to love than he was? Had he not everything which girls do love? which girls should love? which God created noble, beautiful, all but godlike, in order that women, all but goddesslike, might love? To love thoroughly, truly, heartily, with her whole body, soul, heart, and strength; should not that be counted for a merit in a woman? And yet we are wont to make a disgrace of it. We do so most unnaturally, most unreasonably; for we expect our daughters to get themselves married off our hands. When the period of that step comes, then love is proper enough; but up to that—before that—as regards all those preliminary passages which must, we suppose, be necessary—in all those it becomes a young lady to be icy-hearted as a river-god in winter.
‘O whistle and I’ll come to you my lad!
O whistle and I’ll come to you my lad!
Tho’ father and mither and a’should go mad
O whistle and I’ll come to you my lad!’
This is the kind of love which a girl should feel before she puts her hand proudly in that of her lover, and consents that they two shall be made one flesh.
Mary felt no such love as this. She, too, had some inner perception of that dread destiny by which it behoved Frank Gresham to be forewarned. She, too—though she had never heard so much said in words—had an almost instinctive knowledge that his fate required him to marry money. Thinking over this in her own way, she was not slow to convince herself that it was out of the question that she should allow herself to love Frank Gresham. However well her heart might be inclined to such a feeling, it was her duty to repress it. She resolved, therefore, to do so; and she sometimes flattered herself that she had kept her resolution.
These were bad times for the doctor, and bad times for Mary too. She had declared that she could live without going to Greshamsbury; but she did not find it so easy. She had been going to Greshambury all her life, and it was customary with her to be there as at home. Such old customs are not broken without pain. Had she left the place it would have been far different; but, as it was, she daily passed the gates, daily saw and spoke to some of the servants, who knew her as well as they did the young ladies of the family—was in hourly contact, as it were, with Greshamsbury. It was not only that she did not go there, but that every one knew that she had suddenly discontinued doing so. Yes, she could live without going to Greshamsbury; but for some time she had but a poor life of it. She felt, nay, almost heard, that every man and woman, boy and girl in the village was telling his and her neighbour that Mary Thorne no longer went to the house because of Lady Arabella and the young squire.
But Beatrice, of course, came to her. What was she to say to Beatrice? The truth! Nay, but it is not always so easy to say the truth, even to one’s dearest friends.
‘But you’ll come up now he has gone?’ said Beatrice.
‘No, indeed,’ said Mary; ‘that would hardly be pleasant to Lady Arabella, nor to me either. No, Trichy, dearest; my visits to dear old Greshamsbury are done, done, done: perhaps in some twenty years’ time I may be walking down the lawn with your brother, and discussing the childish days—that is, always, if the then Mrs Gresham shall have invited me.’
‘How can Frank have been so wrong, so unkind, so cruel?’ said Beatrice.
This, however, was a light in which Miss Thorne did not take any pleasure, in discussing the matter. Her ideas of Frank’s fault, and unkindness and cruelty, were doubtless different from those of her sister. Such cruelty was not unnaturally excused in her eyes by many circumstances which Beatrice did not fully understand. Mary was quite ready to go hand in hand with Lady Arabella and the rest of Greshamsbury fold in putting an end, if possible, to Frank’s passion: she would give not one a right to accuse her of assisting to ruin the young heir; but she could hardly bring herself to admit that he was so very wrong—no, nor yet even so very cruel.
And then the squire came to see her, and this was a yet harder trial than the visit of Beatrice. It was so difficult for her to speak to him that she could not but wish him away; and yet, had he not come, had he altogether neglected her, she would have felt it to be unkind. She had ever been his pet, had always received kindness from him.
‘I am sorry for all this, Mary; very sorry,’ said he, standing up, and holding both her hands in his.
‘It can’t be helped, sir,’ said she, smiling.
‘I don’t know,’ said he; ‘I don’t know—it ought to be helped somehow—I am quite sure you have not been to blame.’
‘No,’ said she, very quietly, as though the position was one quite a matter of course. ‘I don’t think I have been very much to blame. There will be misfortunes sometimes when nobody is to blame.’
‘I do not quite understand it all,’ said the squire; ‘but if Frank —’
‘Oh! we will not talk about him,’ said she, still laughing gently.
‘You can understand, Mary, how dear he must be to me; but if —’
‘Mr Gresham, I would not for worlds be the cause of any unpleasantness between you and him.’
‘But I cannot bear to think that we have banished you, Mary.’
‘It cannot be helped. Things will all come right in time.’
‘But you will be lonely here.’
‘Oh! I shall get over all that. Here, you know, Mr Gresham, “I am monarch of all I survey”; and there is a great deal in that.’
The squire did not catch her meaning, but a glimmering of it did reach him. It was competent to Lady Arabella to banish her from Greshamsbury; it was within the sphere of the squire’s duties to prohibit his son from an imprudent match; it was for the Greshams to guard their Greshamsbury treasure as best they could within their own territories: but let them beware that they did not attack her on hers. In obedience to the first expression of their wishes, she had submitted herself to this public mark of their disapproval because she had seen at once, with her clear intellect, that they were only doing that which her conscience must approve. Without a murmur, therefore, she consented to be pointed at as the young lady who had been turned out of Greshamsbury because of the young squire. She had no help for it. But let them take care that they did not go beyond that. Outside those Greshamsbury gates she and Frank Gresham, she and Lady Arabella met on equal terms; let them each fight their own battle.
The squire kissed her forehead affectionately and took his leave, feeling somehow, that he had been excused and pitied, and made much of; whereas he had called on his young neighbour with the intention of excusing, and pitying, and making much of her. He was not quite comfortable as he left the house; but, nevertheless, he was sufficiently honest-hearted to own to himself that Mary Thorne was a fine girl. Only that it was so absolutely necessary that Frank should marry money—and only, also, that poor Mary was such a birthless foundling in the world’s esteem—only, but for these things, what a wife she would have made for that son of his!
To one person only did she talk freely on the subject, and that one was Patience Oriel; and even with her the freedom was rather of the mind than of the heart. She never said a word of her feeling with reference to Frank, but she said much of her position in the village, and of the necessity she was under to keep out of the way.
‘It is very hard,’ said Patience, ‘that the offence should be all with him, and the punishment all with you.’
‘Oh! as for that,’ said Mary, laughing, ‘I will not confess to any offence, not yet to any punishment; certainly not to any punishment.’
‘It comes to the same thing in the end.’
‘No, not so, Patience; there is always some little sting of disgrace in punishment: now I am not going to hold myself in the least disgraced.’
‘But, Mary, you must meet the Greshams sometimes.’
‘Meet them! I have not the slightest objection on earth to meet all, or any of them. They are not a whit dangerous to me, my dear. ’Tis that I am the wild beast, and ’tis that they must avoid me,’ and then she added, after a pause—slightly blushing —‘I have not the slightest objection even to meet him if chance brings him in my way. Let them look to that. My undertaking goes no further than this, that I will not be seen within their gates.’
But the girls so far understood each other that Patience undertook, rather than promised, to give Mary what assistance she could; and, despite Mary’s bravado, she was in such a position that she much wanted the assistance of such a friend as Patience Oriel.
After an absence of some six weeks, Frank, as we have seen, returned home. Nothing was said to him, except by Beatrice, as to those new Greshamsbury arrangements; and he, when he found Mary was not at the place, went boldly to the doctor’s house to seek her. But it has been seen, also, that she discreetly kept out of his way. This she had thought fit to do when the time came, although she had been so ready with her boast that she had no objection on earth to meet him.
After that there had been the Christmas vacation, and Mary had again found discretion the better part of valour. This was doubtless disagreeable enough. She had no particular wish to spend her Christmas with Miss Oriel’s aunt instead of at her uncle’s fireside. Indeed, her Christmas festivities had hitherto been kept at Greshamsbury, the doctor and herself having a part of the family circle there assembled. This was out of the question now; and perhaps the absolute change to old Miss Oriel’s house was better for her than the lesser change to her uncle’s drawing-room. Besides, how could she have demeaned herself when she met Frank in their parish church? All this had been fully understood by Patience, and, therefore, had this Christmas visit been planned.
And then this affair of Frank and Mary Thorne ceased for a while to be talked of at Greshamsbury, for that other affair of Mr Moffat and Augusta monopolized the rural attention. Augusta, as we have said, bore it well, and sustained the public gaze without much flinching. Her period of martyrdom, however, did not last long, for soon the news arrived of Frank’s exploit in Pall Mall; and then the Greshamburyites forgot to think much more of Augusta, being fully occupied in thinking of what Frank had done.
The tale, as it was first told, declared the Frank had followed Mr Moffat up into his club; had dragged him thence into the middle of Pall Mall, and had then slaughtered him on the spot. This was by degrees modified till a sobered fiction became generally prevalent, that Mr Moffat was lying somewhere, still alive, but with all his bones in a state of compound fracture. This adventure again brought Frank into the ascendant, and restored to Mary her former position as the Greshamsbury heroine.
‘One cannot wonder at his being very angry,’ said Beatrice, discussing the matter with Mary—very imprudently.
‘Wonder—no; the wonder would have been if he had not been angry. One might have been quite sure that he would have been angry enough.’
‘I suppose it was not absolutely right for him to beat Mr Moffat,’ said Beatrice, apologetically.
‘Not right, Trichy? I think he was very right.’
‘Not to beat him so much, Mary!’
‘Oh, I suppose a man can’t exactly stand measuring how much he does these things. I like your brother for what he has done, and I may say so frankly—though I suppose I ought to eat my tongue out before I should say such a thing, eh Trichy?’
‘I don’t know that there’s any harm in that,’ said Beatrice, demurely. ‘If you both liked each other there would be no harm in that—if that were all.’
‘Wouldn’t there?’ said Mary, in a low tone of bantering satire; ‘that is so kind, Trichy, coming from you—from one of the family, you know.’
‘You are well aware, Mary, that if I could have my wishes —’
‘Yes: I am well aware what a paragon of goodness you are. If you could have your way I should be admitted into heaven again; shouldn’t I? Only with this proviso, that if a stray angel should ever whisper to me with bated breath, mistaking me, perchance, for one of his own class, I should be bound to close my ears to his whispering, and remind him humbly that I was only a poor mortal. You would trust me so far, wouldn’t you, Trichy?’
‘I would trust you in any way, Mary. But I think you are unkind in saying such things to me.’
‘Into whatever heaven I am admitted, I will go only on this understanding: that I am to be as good an angel as any of those around me.’
‘But, Mary dear, why do you say this to me?’
‘Because—because—because—ah me! Why, indeed, but because I have no one else to say it to. Certainly not because you have deserved it.’
‘It seems as if you were finding fault with me.’
‘And so I am; how can I do other than find fault? How can I help being sore? Trichy, you hardly realize my position; you hardly see how I am treated; how I am forced to allow myself to be treated without a sign of complaint. You don’t see it all. If you did, you would not wonder that I should be sore.’
Beatrice did not quite see it all; but she saw enough of it to know that Mary was to be pitied; so, instead of scolding her friend for being cross, she threw her arms round her and kissed her affectionately.
But the doctor all this time suffered much more than his niece did. He could not complain out loudly; he could not aver that his pet lamb had been ill treated; he could not even have the pleasure of openly quarrelling with Lady Arabella; but not the less did he feel it to be most cruel that Mary should have to live before the world as an outcast, because it had pleased Frank Gresham to fall in love with her.
But his bitterness was not chiefly against Frank. That Frank had been very foolish he could not but acknowledge; but it was a kind of folly for which the doctor was able to find excuse. For Lady Arabella’s cold propriety he could find no excuse.
With the squire he had spoken no word on the subject up to this period of which we are now writing. With her ladyship he had never spoken on it since that day when she had told him that Mary was to come no more to Greshamsbury. He never now dined or spent his evenings at Greshamsbury, and seldom was to be seen at the house, except when called in professionally. The squire, indeed, he frequently met; but he either did so in the village, or out on horseback, or at his own house.
When the doctor first heard that Sir Roger had lost his seat, and had returned to Boxall Hill, he resolved to go over and see him. But the visit was postponed from day to day, as visits are postponed which may be made any day, and he did not in fact go till summoned there somewhat peremptorily. A message was brought to him one evening to say that Sir Roger had been struck by paralysis, and that not a moment was to be lost.
‘It always happens at night,’ said Mary, who had more sympathy for the living uncle whom she did know, than for the other dying uncle whom she did not know.
‘What matters?—there—just give me my scarf. In all probability I may not be home to-night—perhaps not till late tomorrow. God bless you, Mary!’ and away the doctor went on his cold bleak ride to Boxall Hill.
‘Who is to be his heir?’ As the doctor rode along, he could not quite rid his mind of the question. The poor man now about to die had wealth enough to make many heirs. What if his heart should have softened towards his sister’s child! What if Mary should be found to be possessed of such wealth that the Greshams should be again be happy to welcome her at Greshamsbury!
The doctor was not a lover of money—and he did his best to get rid of such pernicious thoughts. But his longings, perhaps, were not so much that Mary should be rich, as that she should have the power of heaping coals of fire upon the heads of those people who had so injured her.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41