It must be remembered that Mary, among her miseries, had to suffer this: that since Frank’s departure, now nearly twelve months ago, she had not heard a word about him; or rather, she had only heard that he was very much in love with some lady in London. This news reached her in a manner so circuitous, and from such a doubtful source; it seemed to her to savour so strongly of Lady Arabella’s precautions, that she attributed it at once to malice, and blew it to the winds. It might not improbably be the case that Frank was untrue to her; but she would not take it for granted because she was now told so. It was more than probable that he should amuse himself with some one; flirting was his prevailing sin; and if he did flirt, the most would of course be made of it.
But she found it to be very desolate to be thus left alone without a word of comfort or a word of love; without being able to speak to any one of what filled her heart; doubting, nay, more than doubting, being all but sure that her passion must terminate in misery. Why had she not obeyed her conscience and her better instinct int hat moment when the necessity for deciding had come upon her? Why had she allowed him to understand that he was master of her heart? Did she not know that there was everything against such a marriage as that which was proposed? Had she not done wrong, very wrong, even to think of it? Had she not sinned deeply, against Mr Gresham, who had ever been so kind to her? Could she hope, was it possible, that a boy like Frank should be true to his first love? And, if he were true, if he were ready to go to the altar with her tomorrow, ought she to allow him to degrade himself by such a marriage?
There was, alas! some truth about the London lady. Frank had taken his degree, as arranged, and had then gone abroad for the winter, doing the fashionable things, going up the Nile, crossing over to Mount Sinai, thence over the long desert to Jerusalem, and home by Damascus, Beyrout, and Constantinople, bringing back a long beard, a red cap, and a chibook, just as our fathers used to go through Italy and Switzerland, and our grandfathers to spend a season in Paris. He had then remained for a couple of months in London, going through all the society which the De Courcys were able to open to him. And it was true that a certain belle of the season, of that season and some others, had been captivated—for the tenth time—by the silken sheens of his long beard. Frank had probably been more demonstrative, perhaps, ever more susceptible, than he should have been; and hence the rumour, which had all too willingly been forwarded to Greshamsbury.
But young Gresham had also met another lady in London, namely Miss Dunstable. Mary would indeed have been grateful to Miss Dunstable, could she have know all that lady did for her. Frank’s love was never allowed to flag. When he spoke of the difficulties in his way, she twitted him by being overcome by straws; and told him that no one was ever worth having who was afraid of every lion he met in his path. When he spoke of money, she bade him earn it; and always ended by offering to smooth for him any real difficulty which want of means might put in his way.
‘No,’ Frank used to say to himself, when these offers were made, ‘I never intended to take her and her money together; and, therefore, I certainly will never take the money alone.’
A day or two after Miss Oriel’s visit, Mary received the following note from Beatrice.
‘DEAREST, DEAREST MARY,
‘I shall be so happy to see you, and will come tomorrow at twelve. I have asked mamma, and she says that, for once, she has no objection. You know it is not my fault that I have never been with you; don’t you? Frank comes home on the twelfth. Mr Oriel wants the wedding to be on the first of September; but that seems to be so very, very soon; doesn’t it? However, mamma and papa are all on his side. I won’t write about this, though, for we shall have such a delicious talk. Oh, Mary! I have been so unhappy without you. ‘Ever your own affectionate, TRICHY’
Though Mary was delighted at the idea of once more having her friend in her arms, there was, nevertheless, something in the letter which oppressed her. She could not put up with the idea that Beatrice should have permission given to come to her—just for once. She hardly wished to be seen by permission. Nevertheless, she did not refuse the proffered visit, and the first sight of Beatrice’s face, the first touch of the first embrace, dissipated for the moment her anger.
And then Beatrice fully enjoyed the delicious talk which she had promised herself. Mary let her have her way, and for two hours all the delights and all the duties, all the comforts and all the responsibilities of a parson’s wife were discussed with almost equal ardour on both sides. The duties and responsibilities were not exactly those which too often fall to the lot of the mistress of an English vicarage. Beatrice was not doomed to make her husband comfortable, to educate her children, dress herself like a lady, and exercise open-handed charity on an income of two hundred pounds a year. Her duties and responsibilities would have to spread themselves over seven or eight times that amount of worldly burden. Living also close to Greshamsbury, and not far from Courcy Castle, she would have the full advantage and all the privileges of county society. In fact, it was all couleur de rose, and so she chatted deliciously with her friend.
But it was impossible that they should separate without something having been said as to Mary’s own lot. It would, perhaps, have been better that they should do so; but this was hardly within the compass of human nature.
‘And Mary, you know, I shall be able to see you as often as I like;—you and Dr Thorne, too, when I have a house of my own.’
Mary said nothing, but essayed to smile. It was but a ghastly attempt.
‘You know how happy that will make me,’ continued Beatrice. ‘Of course mamma won’t expect me to be led by her then; if he likes it, there can be no objection; and he will like it, you may be sure of that.’
‘You are very kind, Trichy,’ said Mary; but she spoke in a tone very different from that she would have used eighteen months ago.
‘Why, what is the matter, Mary? Shan’t you be glad to come and see us?’
‘I do not know, dearest; that must depend on circumstances. To see you, you yourself, your own dear, sweet, loving face must always be pleasant to me.’
‘And shan’t you be glad to see him?’
‘Yes, certainly, if he loves you.’
‘Of course he loves me.’
‘All that alone would be pleasant enough, Trichy. But what if there should be circumstances which should still make us enemies; should make your friends and my friends—friend, I should say, for I have only one—should make them opposed to each other?’
‘Circumstances! What circumstances?’
‘You are going to be married, Trichy, to the man you love; are you not?’
‘Indeed I am!’
‘And it is not pleasant? is it not a happy feeling?’
‘Pleasant! happy! yes, very pleasant; very happy. But, Mary, I am not at all in such a hurry as he is,’ said Beatrice, naturally thinking of her own little affairs.
‘And, suppose I should wish to be married to the man that I love?’ Mary said this slowly and gravely, and as she spoke she looked her friend full in the face.
Beatrice was somewhat astonished, and for the moment hardly understood. ‘I am sure I hope you will some day.’
‘No, Trichy; no, you hope the other way. I love your brother; I love Frank Gresham; I love him quite as well, quite as warmly, as you love Caleb Oriel.’
‘Do you?’ said Beatrice, staring with all her eyes, and giving one long sigh, as this new subject for sorrow was so distinctly put before her.
‘It that so odd?’ said Mary. ‘You love Mr Oriel, though you have been intimate with him hardly more than two years. Is it so odd that I should love your brother, whom I have known almost all my life?’
‘But, Mary, I thought it was always understood between us that—that—I mean that you were not to care about him; not in the way of loving him, you know—I thought you always said so—I have always told mamma so as if it came from yourself.’
‘Beatrice, do not tell anything to Lady Arabella as though it came from me; I do not want anything to be told to her, either of me or from me. Say what you like to me yourself; whatever you say will not anger me. Indeed, I know what you would say—and yet I love you. Oh, I love you, Trichy—Trichy, I do love you so much! Don’t turn away from me!’
There was such a mixture in Mary’s manner of tenderness and almost ferocity, that poor Beatrice could hardly follow her. ‘Turn away from you, Mary! no never; but this does make me unhappy.’
‘It is better that you should know it all, and then you will not be led into fighting my battles again. You cannot fight them so that I should win; I do love your brother; love him truly, fondly, tenderly. I would wish to have him for my husband as you wish to have Mr Oriel.’
‘But, Mary, you cannot marry him!’
‘Why not?’ said she, in a loud voice. ‘Why can I not marry him? If the priest says a blessing over us, shall we not be married as well as you and your husband?’
‘But you know he cannot marry unless his wife shall have money.’
‘Money—money; and he is to sell himself for money? Oh, Trichy! do not you talk about money. It is horrible. But, Trichy, I will grant it—I cannot marry him; but still, I love him. He has a name, a place in the world, and fortune, family, high blood, position, everything. He has all this, and I have nothing. Of course I cannot marry him. But yet I do love him.’
‘Are you engaged to him, Mary?’
‘He is not engaged to me; but I am to him.’
‘Oh, Mary, that is impossible!’
‘It is not impossible: it is the cast—I am pledged to him; but he is not pledged to me.’
‘But, Mary, don’t look at me in that way. I do not quite understand you. What is the good of your being engaged if you cannot marry him?’
‘Good! there is no good. But can I help it, if I love him? Can I make myself not love him by just wishing it? Oh, I would do it if I could. But now you will understand why I shake my head when you talk of coming to your house. Your ways and my ways must be different.’
Beatrice was startled, and, for a time, silenced. What Mary said of the difference of their ways was quite true. Beatrice had dearly loved her friend, and had thought of her with affection through all this long period in which they had been separated; but she had given her love and her thoughts on the understanding, as it were, that they were in unison as to the impropriety of Frank’s conduct.
She had always spoken, with a grave face, of Frank and his love as of a great misfortune, even to Mary herself; and her pity for Mary had been founded on the conviction of her innocence. Now all those ideas had to be altered. Mary owned her fault, confessed herself to be guilty of all that Lady Arabella so frequently laid to her charge, and confessed herself anxious to commit every crime as to which Beatrice had been ever so ready to defend her.
Had Beatrice up to this dreamed that Mary was in love with Frank, she would doubtless have sympathized with her more or less sooner or later. As it was, is was beyond all doubt that she would soon sympathize with her. But, at the moment, the suddenness of the declaration seemed to harden her heart, and she forgot, as it were, to speak tenderly to her friend.
She was silent, therefore, and dismayed; and looked as though she thought that her ways and Mary’s ways must be different.
Mary saw all that was passing in the other’s mind: no, not all; all the hostility, the disappointment, the disapproval, the unhappiness, she did see; but not the under-current of love, which was strong enough to well up and drown all these, if only time could be allowed for it to do so.
‘I am so glad to have told you,’ said Mary, curbing herself, ‘for deceit and hypocrisy are detestable.’
‘It was a misunderstanding, not deceit,’ said Beatrice.
‘Well, now we understand each other; now you know that I have a heart within me, which like those of some others has not always been under my own control. Lady Arabella believes that I am intriguing to be the mistress of Greshamsbury. You, at any rate, will not think that of me. If it could be discovered tomorrow that Frank were not the heir, I might have some chance of happiness.’
‘But, Mary —’
‘You say you love him.’
‘Yes; I do say so.’
‘But if he does not love you, will you cease to do so?’
‘If I have a fever, I will get rid of it if I can; in such a case I must do so, or die.’
‘I fear,’ continued Beatrice, ‘you hardly know, perhaps do not think, what is Frank’s real character. He is not made to settle down early in life; even now, I believe he is attached to some lady in London, whom, of course, he cannot marry.’
Beatrice had said this in perfect trueness of heart. She had heard of Frank’s new love-affair, and believing what she had heard, thought it best to tell the truth. But the information was not of a kind to quiet Mary’s spirit.
‘Very well,’ said she, ‘let it be so. I have nothing to say against it.’
‘But are you not preparing wretchedness and unhappiness for yourself?’
‘Oh, Mary, do not be so cold with me! you know how delighted I should be to have you for a sister-inlaw, if only it were possible.’
‘Yes, Trichy; but it is impossible, is it not? Impossible that Francis Gresham of Greshamsbury should disgrace himself by marrying such a poor creature as I am. Of course I know it; of course, I am prepared for unhappiness and misery. He can amuse himself as he likes with me or others—with anybody. It is his privilege. It is quite enough to say that he is not made for settling down. I know my own position;—and yet I love him.’
‘But, Mary, has he asked you to be his wife? If so —’
‘You ask home-questions, Beatrice. Let me ask you one; has he ever told you that he has done so?’
At this moment Beatrice was not disposed to repeat all that Frank had said. A year ago, before he went away, he had told his sister a score of times that he meant to marry Mary Thorne if she would have him; but Beatrice now looked on all that as idle, boyish vapouring. The pity was, that Mary should have looked on it differently.
‘We will each keep our secret,’ said Mary. ‘Only remember this: should Frank marry tomorrow, I shall have no ground for blaming him. He is free as far I as am concerned. He can take the London lady if he likes. You may tell him so from me. But, Trichy, what else I have told you, I have told you only.’
‘Oh, yes!’ said Beatrice, sadly; ‘I shall say nothing of it to anybody. It is very sad, very, very; I was so happy when I came here, and now I am so wretched.’ This was the end of that delicious talk to which she had looked forward with so much eagerness.
‘Don’t be wretched about me, dearest; I shall get through it. I sometimes think I was born to be unhappy, and that unhappiness agrees with me best. Kiss me now, Trichy, and don’t be wretched any more. You owe it to Mr Oriel to be as happy as the day is long.’
And then they parted.
Beatrice, as she went out, saw Dr Thorne in his little shop on the right-hand side of the passage deeply engaged in some derogatory branch of an apothecary’s mechanical trade; mixing a dose, perhaps, for a little child. She would have passed him without speaking, if she could have been sure of doing so without notice, for her heart was full, and her eyes were red with tears; but it was so long since she had been in his house that she was more than ordinarily anxious not to appear uncourteous or unkind to him.
‘Good morning, doctor,’ she said, changing her countenance as best she might, and attempting a smile.
‘Ah, my fairy!’ said he, leaving his villainous compounds, and coming out to her; ‘and you, too, are about to become a steady old lady.’
‘Indeed, I am not, doctor; I don’t mean to be either steady or old, for the next ten years. But who has told you? I suppose Mary has been a traitor.’
‘Well, I will confess Mary was the traitor. But hadn’t I a right to be told, seeing how often I have brought you sugar-plums in my pocket? But I wish you joy with all my heart—with all my heart. Oriel is an excellent, good fellow.’
‘Is he not, doctor?’
‘An excellent, good fellow. I never heard but of one fault that he had.’
‘What was that one fault, Doctor Thorne?’
‘He thought that clergymen should not marry. But you have cured that, and now he’s perfect.’
‘Thank you, doctor. I declare that you say the prettiest things of all my friends.’
‘And none of your friends wish prettier things for you. I do congratulate you, Beatrice, and hope you may be happy with the man you have chosen;’ and taking both her hands in his, he pressed them warmly, and bade God bless her.
‘Oh, doctor! I do so hope the time will come when we shall all be friends again.’
‘I hope it as well, my dear. But let it come, or let it not come, my regard for you will be the same:’ and then she parted from him also, and went her way.
Nothing was spoken of that evening between Dr Thorne and his niece excepting Beatrice’s future happiness; nothing, at least, having reference to what had passed that morning. But on the following morning, circumstances led to Frank Gresham’s name being mentioned.
At the usual breakfast-hour the doctor entered the parlour with a harassed face. He had an open letter in his hand, and it was at once clear to Mary that he was going to speak on some subject that vexed him.
‘That unfortunate fellow is again in trouble. Here is a letter from Greyson.’ Greyson was a London apothecary, who had been appointed as medical attendant to Sir Louis Scatcherd, and whose real business consisted in keeping a watch on the baronet, and reporting to Dr Thorne when anything was very much amiss. ‘Here is a letter from Greyson; he has been drunk for the last three days, and is now laid up in a terribly nervous state.’
‘You won’t go up to town again; will you, uncle?’
‘I hardly know what to do. No, I think not. He talks of coming down here to Greshamsbury.’
‘Who, Sir Louis?’
‘Yes, Sir Louis. Greyson says that he will be down as soon as he can get out of his room.’
‘What! to this house?’
‘What other home can he come to?’
‘Oh, uncle! I hope not. Pray, pray do not let him come here.’
‘I cannot prevent it, dear. I cannot shut my door on him.’
They sat down to breakfast, and Mary gave him his tea in silence. ‘I am going over to Boxall Hill before dinner,’ said he. ‘Have you any message to send to Lady Scatcherd?’
‘Message! no, I have no message; not especially: give her my love, of course,’ she said listlessly. And then, as though a thought had suddenly struck her, she spoke with more energy. ‘But, couldn’t I go to Boxall Hill again? I should be so delighted.’
‘What! to run away from Sir Louis? No, dearest, we will have no more running away. He will probably also go to Boxall Hill, and he could annoy you much more there than he can here.’
‘But, uncle, Mr Gresham will be home on the twelfth,’ she said, blushing.
‘Yes. Beatrice said he was to be here on the twelfth.’
‘And would you run away from him too, Mary?’
‘I do not know: I do not know what to do.’
‘No; we will have no more running away: I am sorry that you ever did so. It was my fault, altogether my fault; but it was foolish.’
‘Uncle, I am not happy here.’ As she said this, she put down the cup which she had held, and, leaning her elbows on the table, rested her forehead on her hands.
‘And would you be happier at Boxall Hill? It is not the place that makes the happiness.’
‘No, I know that; it is not the place. I do not look to be happy in any place; but I should be quieter, more tranquil elsewhere than here.’
‘I also sometimes think that it would be better for us to take up our staves and walk away from Greshamsbury;—leave it altogether, and settle elsewhere; miles, miles, miles away from here. Should you like that, dearest?’
Miles, miles, miles away from Greshamsbury! There was something in the sound that fell very cold on Mary’s ears, unhappy as she was. Greshamsbury had been so dear to her; in spite of all that had passed, was still so dear to her! Was she prepared to take up her staff, as her uncle said, and walk forth from the place with the full understanding that she was to return to it no more; with a mind resolved that there should be an inseparable gulf between her and its inhabitants? Such she knew was the proposed nature of the walking away of which her uncle spoke. So she sat there, resting on her arms, and gave no answer to the question that had been put to her.
‘No, we will stay here a while yet,’ said her uncle. ‘It may come to that, but this is not the time. For one season longer let us face—I will not say our enemies; I cannot call anybody my enemy who bears the name of Gresham.’ And then he went on for a moment with his breakfast. ‘So Frank will be here on the twelfth?’
‘Well, dearest, I have no questions to ask you; no directions to give. I know how good you are, and how prudent; I am anxious only for your happiness; not at all —’
‘Happiness, uncle, is out of the question.’
‘I hope not. It is never out of the question, never can be out of the question. But, as I was saying, I am quite satisfied your conduct will be good, and, therefore, I have no questions to ask. We will remain here; and, whether good or evil come, we will not be ashamed to show our faces.’
She sat for a while again silent; collecting her courage on the subject that was nearest her heart. She would have given the world that he should ask her questions; but she could not bid him to do so; and she found it impossible to talk openly to him about Frank unless he did so. ‘Will he come here?’ at last she said, in a low-toned voice.
‘Who? He, Louis? Yes, I think that in all probability he will.’
‘No; but Frank,’ she said, in a still lower voice.
‘Ah! my darling, that I cannot tell; but will it be well that he should come here?’
‘I do not know,’ she said. ‘No, I suppose not. But, uncle, I don’t think he will come.’
She was now sitting on a sofa, away from the table, and he got up sat down beside her, and took her hands in his. ‘Mary,’ said he, ‘you must be strong now; strong to endure, not to attack. I think that you have that strength; but, if not, perhaps it will be better that we should go away.’
‘I will be strong,’ said she, rising up and going towards the door. ‘Never mind me, uncle; don’t follow me; I will be strong. It will be base, cowardly, mean to run away; very base in me to make you do so.’
‘No, dearest, not so; it will be the same to me.’
‘No,’ said she, ‘I will not run away from Lady Arabella. And, as for him—if he loves this other one, he shall hear no reproach from me. Uncle, I will be strong;’ and running back to him, she threw her arms around him and kissed him. And, still restraining her tears, she got safely to her bedroom. In what way she may there have shown her strength, it would not be well for us to inquire.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41