Frank rode home a happy man, cheering himself, as successful lovers do cheer themselves, with the brilliancy of his late exploit: nor was it till he had turned the corner into the Greshamsbury stables that he began to reflect what he would do next. It was all very well to have induced Mary to allow his three fingers to lie half a minute in her soft hand; the having done so might certainly be sufficient evidence that he had overcome one of the lions in his path; but it could hardly be said that all his difficulties were now smoothed. How was he to make further progress?
To Mary, also, the same ideas no doubt occurred—with many others. But, then, it was not for Mary to make any progress in the matter. To her at least belonged this passive comfort, that at present no act hostile to the De Courcy interest would be expected from her. All that she could do would be to tell her uncle so much as it was fitting that he should know. The doing this would doubtless be in some degree difficult; but it was not probable that there would be much difference, much of anything but loving anxiety for each other, between her and Dr Thorne. One other thing, indeed, she must do; Frank must be made to understand what her birth had been. ‘This,’ she said to herself, ‘will give him an opportunity of retracting what he has done should he choose to avail himself of it. It is well he should have such opportunity.’
But Frank had more than this to do. He had told Beatrice that he would make no secret of his love, and he fully resolved to be as good as his word. To his father he owed an unreserved confidence; and he was fully minded to give it. It was, he knew, altogether out of the question that he should at once marry a portionless girl without his father’s consent; probably out of the question that he should do so even with it. But he would, at any rate, tell his father, and then decide as to what should be done next. So resolving, he put his black horse into the stable and went into dinner. After dinner he and his father would be alone.
Yes; after dinner he and his father would be alone. He dressed himself hurriedly, for the dinner-bell was almost on the stroke as he entered the house. He said this to himself once and again; but when the meats and the puddings, and then the cheese were borne away, as the decanters were placed before his father, and Lady Arabella sipped her one glass of claret, and his sisters ate their portion of strawberries, his pressing anxiety for the coming interview began to wax somewhat dull.
His mother and sisters, however, rendered him no assistance by prolonging their stay. With unwonted assiduity he pressed a second glass of claret on his mother. But Lady Arabella was not only temperate in her habits, but also at the present moment very angry with her son. She thought that he had been to Boxall Hill, and was only waiting a proper moment to cross-question him sternly on the subject. Now she departed, taking her train of daughters with her.
‘Give me one big gooseberry,’ said Nina, as she squeezed herself in under her brother’s arm, prior to making her retreat. Frank would willingly have given her a dozen of the biggest, had she wanted them; but having got the one, she squeezed herself out again and scampered off.
The squire was very cheery this evening; from what cause cannot now be said. Perhaps he had succeeded in negotiating a further loan, thus temporarily sprinkling a drop of water over the ever-rising dust of his difficulties.
‘Well, Frank, what have you been after today? Peter told me you had the black horse out,’ said he, pushing the decanter to his son. ‘Take my advice, my boy, and don’t give him too much summer road-work. Legs won’t stand it, let them be ever so good.’
‘Why, sir, I was obliged to go out today, and therefore, it had to be either the old mare or the young horse.’
‘Why didn’t you take Ramble?’ Now Ramble was the squire’s own saddle hack, used for farm surveying, and occasionally for going to cover.
‘I shouldn’t think of doing that, sir.’
‘My dear boy, he is quite at your service; for goodness’ sake do let me have a little wine, Frank—quite at your service; any riding I have now is after the haymakers, and that’s all on the grass.’
‘Thank’ee, sir. Well, perhaps I will take a turn out of Ramble should I want it.’
‘Do, and pray, pray take care of that black horse’s legs. He’s turning out more of a horse than I took him to be, and I should be sorry to see him injured. Where have you been today?’
‘Well, father, I have something to tell you.’
‘Something to tell me!’ and then the squire’s happy and gay look, which had been only rendered more happy and more gay by his assumed anxiety about the black horse, gave place to a heaviness of visage which acrimony and misfortune had made so habitual to him. ‘Something to tell me!’ Any grave words like these always presaged some money difficulty to the squire’s ears. He loved Frank with the tenderest love. He would have done so under almost any circumstances; but, doubtless, that love had been made more palpable to himself by the fact that Frank had been a good son as regards money—not exigeant as was Lady Arabella, or selfishly reckless as was his nephew Lord Porlock. But now Frank must be in some difficulty about money. This was his first idea. ‘What is it, Frank; you have seldom had anything to say that has not been pleasant for me to hear?’ And then the heaviness of visage again gave way for a moment as his eye fell upon his son.
‘I have been to Boxall Hill, sir.’
The tenor of his father’s thoughts was changed in an instant; and the dread of immediate temporary annoyance gave place to true anxiety for his son. He, the squire, had been no party to Mary’s exile from his own domain; and he had seen with pain that she had now a second time been driven from her home: but he had never hitherto questioned the expediency of separating his son from Mary Thorne. Alas! it had become too necessary—too necessary through his own default—that Frank should marry money!
‘At Boxall Hill, Frank! Has that been prudent? Or, indeed, has it been generous to Miss Thorne, who has been driven there, as it were, by your imprudence?’
‘Father, it is well that we should understand each other about this —’
‘Fill your glass, Frank;’ Frank mechanically did as he was told, and passed the bottle.
‘I should never forgive myself were I to deceive you, or keep anything from you.’
‘I believe it is not in your nature to deceive me, Frank.’
‘The fact is, sir, that I have made up my mind that Mary Thorne shall be my wife—sooner or later, that is, unless, of course, she should utterly refuse. Hitherto, she has utterly refused me. I believe I may now say that she has accepted me.’
The squire sipped his claret, but at the moment said nothing. There was a quiet, manly, but yet modest determination about his son that he had hardly noticed before. Frank had become legally of age, legally a man, when he was twenty-one. Nature, it seems, had postponed the ceremony till he was twenty-two. Nature often does postpone the ceremony even to a much later age;—sometimes, altogether forgets to accomplish it.
The squire continued to sip his claret; he had to think over the matter a while before he could answer a statement so deliberately made by his son.
‘I think I may say so,’ continued Frank, with perhaps unnecessary modesty. ‘She is so honest that, had she not intended it, she would have said so honestly. Am I right, father, in thinking that, as regards Mary, personally, you would not reject her as a daughter-inlaw?’
‘Personally!’ said the squire, glad to have the subject presented to him in a view that enabled him to speak out. ‘Oh, no; personally, I should not object to her, for I love her dearly. She is a good girl. I do believe she is a good girl in every respect. I have always liked her; liked to see her about the house. But —’
‘I know what you would say, father.’ This was rather more than the squire knew himself. ‘Such a marriage is imprudent.’
‘It is more than that, Frank; I fear that is impossible.’
‘Impossible! No, father; it is not impossible.’
‘It is impossible, Frank, in the usual sense. What are you to live upon? What would you do with your children? You would not wish to see your wife distressed and comfortless.’
‘No, I should not like to see that.’
‘You would not wish to begin life as an embarrassed man and end it as a ruined man. If you were now to marry Miss Thorne such would, I fear, doubtless be your lot.’
Frank caught at the word ‘now’. ‘I don’t expect to marry immediately. I know that would be imprudent. But I am pledged, father, and I certainly cannot go back. And now that I have told you all this, what is your advice to me?’
The father again sat silent, still sipping his wine. There was nothing in his son that he could be ashamed of, nothing that he could meet with anger, nothing that he could not love; but how should he answer him? The fact was, that the son had more in him than the father; this his mind and spirit were of a calibre not to be opposed successfully by the mind and the spirit of the squire.
‘Do you know Mary’s history?’ said Mr Gresham, at last; ‘the history of her birth?’
‘Not a word of it,’ said Frank. ‘I did not know she had a history.’
‘Nor does she know it; at least, I presume not. But you should know it now. And, Frank, I will tell it you; not to turn you from her—not with that object, though I think that, to a certain extent, it should have that effect. Mary’s birth was not such that would become your wife, and be beneficial to your children.’
‘If so, father, I should have known it sooner. Why was she brought here among us?’
‘True, Frank. The fault is mine; mine and your mother’s. Circumstances brought it all about years ago, when it never occurred to us that all this would arise. But I will tell you her history. And, Frank, remember this, though I tell it you as a secret, a secret to be kept from all the world but one, you are quite at liberty to let the doctor know I have told you. Indeed, I shall be careful to let him know myself should it ever be necessary that he and I should speak together as to this engagement.’ The squire then told his son the whole story of Mary’s birth, as it is known to the reader.
Frank sat silent, looking very blank; he also had, as had every Gresham, a great love for his pure blood. He had said to his mother that he hated money, that he hated the estate; but he would have been very slow to say, even in his warmest opposition to her, that he hated the roll of the family pedigree. He loved it dearly, though he seldom spoke of it;—as men of good family seldom do speak of it. It is one of those possessions which to have is sufficient. A man having it need not boast of what he has, or show it off before the world. But on that account he values it more. He had regarded Mary as a cutting duly taken from the Ullathorne tree; not, indeed, as a grafting branch, full of flower, just separated from the parent stalk, but as being not a whit the less truly endowed with the pure sap of that venerable trunk. When, therefore, he heard her true history he sat awhile dismayed.
‘It is a sad story,’ said the father.
‘Yes, sad enough,’ said Frank, rising from his chair and standing with it before him, leaning on the back of it. ‘Poor Mary, poor mary! She will have to learn it some day.’
‘I fear so, Frank;’ and then there was again a few moments’ silence.
‘To me, father, it is told too late. It can now have no effect on me. Indeed,’ said he, sighing as he spoke, but still relieving himself by the very sigh, ‘it could have had no effect had I learned it ever so soon.’
‘I should have told you before,’ said the father; ‘certainly I ought to have done so.’
‘It would have been no good,’ said Frank. ‘Ah, sir, tell me this: who were Miss Dunstable’s parents? What was that fellow Moffat’s family?’
This was perhaps cruel of Frank. The squire, however, made no answer to the question. ‘I have thought it right to tell you,’ said he. ‘I leave all the commentary to yourself. I need not tell you what your mother will think.’
‘What did she think of miss Dunstable’s birth?’ said he, again more bitterly than before. ‘No, sir,’ he continued, after a further pause. ‘All that can make no change; none at any rate now. It can’t make my love less, even if it could have prevented it. Nor, even, could it do so—which it can’t in the least, not in the least—but could it do so, it could not break my engagement. I am now engaged to Mary Thorne.’
And then he again repeated his question, asking for his father’s advice under the present circumstances. The conversation was a very long one, as long as to disarrange all Lady Arabella’s plans. She had determined to take her son more stringently to task that very evening; and with this object had ensconced herself in the small drawing-room which had formerly been used for a similar purpose by the august countess herself. Here she now sat, having desired Augusta and Beatrice, as well as the twins, to beg Frank to go to her as soon as he should come out of the dining-room. Poor lady! there she waited till ten o’clock—tealess. There was not much of the Bluebeard about the squire; but he had succeeded in making it understood through the household that he was not to be interrupted by messages from his wife during the post-prandial hour, which, though no toper, he loved so well.
As a period of twelve months will now have to be passed over, the upshot of this long conversation must be told in as few words as possible. The father found it impracticable to talk his son out of his intended marriage; indeed, he hardly attempted to do so by any direct persuasion. He explained to him that it was impossible that he should marry at once, and suggested that he, Frank, was very young.
‘You married, sir, before you were one-and-twenty,’ said Frank. Yes and repented before I was two-and-twenty. So did not say the squire.
He suggested that Mary should have time to ascertain what would be her uncle’s wishes, and ended by inducing Frank to promise, that after taking his degree in October he would go abroad for some months, and that he would not indeed return to Greshamsbury until he was three-and-twenty.
‘He may perhaps forget her,’ said the father to himself.
‘He thinks that I shall forget her,’ said Frank to himself at the same time; ‘but he does not know me.’
When Lady Arabella at last got hold of her son she found that the time for her preaching had utterly gone by. He told he, almost with sang-froid, what his plans were; and when she came to understand them, and to understand also what had taken place at Boxall Hill, she could not blame the squire for what he had done. She also said to herself, more confidently than the squire had done, that Frank would quite forget Mary before the year was out. ‘Lord Buckish,’ said she to herself, rejoicingly, ‘is now with the ambassador at Paris’—Lord Buckish was her nephew —‘and with him Frank will meet women that are really beautiful—women of fashion. When with Lord Buckish he will soon forget Mary Thorne.’
But not on this account did she change her resolve to follow up to the furthest point her hostility to the Thornes. She was fully enabled now to do so, for Dr Fillgrave was already reinstated at Greshamsbury as her medical adviser.
One other short visit did Frank pay to Boxall Hill, and one interview had he with Dr Thorne. Mary told him all she knew of her own sad history, and was answered only by a kiss—a kiss absolutely not in any way by her to be avoided; the first, and only one, that had ever yet reached her lips from his. And then he went away.
The doctor told him the full story. ‘Yes,’ said Frank, ‘I knew it all before. Dear Mary, dearest Mary! Don’t you, doctor, teach yourself to believe that I shall forget her.’ And then also he went his way from him—went his way also from Greshamsbury, and was absent for the full period of the allotted banishment—twelve months, namely, and a day.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41