The next day Joe did not make his appearance, and Sir Louis with many execrations, was driven to the terrible necessity of dressing himself. Then came an unexpected difficulty: how were they to get up to the house? Walking out to dinner, though it was merely through the village and up the avenue seemed to Sir Louis to be a thing impossible. Indeed, he was not well able to walk at all, and positively declared that he should never be able to make his way over the gravel in pumps. His mother would not have thought half as much of walking from Boxall Hill to Greshamsbury and back again. At last, the one village fly was sent for, and the matter was arranged.
When they reached the house, it was easy to see that there was some unwonted bustle. In the drawing-room there was no one but Mr Mortimer Gazebee, who introduced himself to them both. Sir Louis, who knew that he was only an attorney, did not take much notice of him, but the doctor entered into conversation.
‘Have you not heard that Mr Gresham has come home?’
‘Mr Gresham! I did not know that he had been away.’
‘Mr Gresham, junior, I mean.’ No, indeed; the doctor had not heard. Frank had returned unexpectedly, just before dinner, and was now undergoing his father’s smiles, his mother’s embraces, and his sisters’ questions.
‘Quite unexpectedly,’ said Mr Gazebee. ‘I don’t know what has brought him back before his time. I suppose he found London too hot.’
‘Deuced hot,’ said the baronet. ‘I found it so, at least. I don’t know what keeps men in London when it’s so hot; except those fellows who have business to do: they’re paid for it.’
Mr Mortimer Gazebee looked at him. He was managing an estate which owed Sir Louis an enormous sum of money, and, therefore, he could not afford to despise the baronet; but he thought to himself, what a very abject fellow the man would be if he were not a baronet, and had not a large fortune!
And the squire came in. His broad, honest face was covered with a smile when he saw the doctor.
‘Thorne,’ said he, almost in a whisper, ‘you’re the best fellow breathing; I have hardly deserved this.’ The doctor, as he took his old friend’s hand, could not but be glad that he had followed Mary’s counsel.
‘So Frank has come home?’
‘Oh, yes; quite unexpectedly. He was to have stayed a week longer in London. You would hardly know him if you met him. Sir Louis, I beg your pardon.’ And the squire went up to his other guest, who had remained somewhat sullenly standing in one corner of the room. He was the man of highest rank present, or to be present, and he expected to be treated as such.
‘I am happy to have the pleasure of making your acquaintance, Mr Gresham,’ said the baronet, intending to be very courteous. ‘Though we have not met before, I very often see your name in my accounts—ha! ha! ha!’ and Sir Louis laughed as though he had said something very good.
The meeting between Lady Arabella and the doctor was rather distressing to the former; but she managed to get over it. She shook hands with him graciously, and said that it was a fine day. The doctor said that it was fine, only perhaps a little rainy. And then they went into different parts of the room.
When Frank came in, the doctor hardly did know him. His hair was darker than it had been, and so was his complexion; but his chief disguise was in a long silken beard, which hung down over his cravat. The doctor had hitherto not been much in favour of long beards, but he could not deny that Frank looked very well with the appendage.
‘Oh, doctor, I am so delighted to find you here,’ said he, coming up to him; ‘so very, very glad:’ and, taking the doctor’s arm, he led him away into a window, where they were alone. ‘And how is Mary?’ said he, almost in a whisper. ‘Oh, I wish she were here! But, doctor, it shall all come in time. But tell me, doctor, there is no news about her, is there?’
‘Oh, well; no news is good news: you will give her my love, won’t you?’
The doctor said that he would. What else could he say? It appeared quite clear to him that some of Mary’s fears were groundless.
Frank was again very much altered. It has been said, that though he was a boy at twenty-one, he was a man at twenty-two. But now, at twenty-three, he appeared to be almost a man of the world. His manners were easy, his voice under his control, and words were at his command: he was no longer either shy or noisy; but, perhaps, was open to the charge of seeming, at least, to be too conscious of his own merits. He was, indeed, very handsome; tall, manly, and powerfully built, his form was such as women’s eyes have ever loved to look upon. ‘Ah, if he would but marry money!’ said Lady Arabella to herself, taken up by a mother’s natural admiration for her son. His sisters clung around him before dinner, all talking to him at once. How proud a family of girls are of one, big, tall, burly brother!
‘You don’t mean to tell me, Frank, that you are going to eat soup with that beard?’ said the squire, when they were seated round the table. He had not ceased to rally his son as to this patriarchal adornment; but, nevertheless, any one could have seen, with half and eye, that he was as proud of it as were the others.
‘Don’t I, sir? All I require is a relay of napkins for every course;’ and he went to work, covering it with every spoonful, as men with beards always do.
‘Well, if you like it!’ said the squire, shrugging his shoulders.
‘But I do like it,’ said Frank.
‘Oh, papa, you wouldn’t have him cut it off,’ said one of the twins. ‘It is so handsome.’
‘I should like to work it into a chair-back instead of floss-silk,’ said the other twin.
‘Thank ‘ee, Sophy; I’ll remember you for that.’
‘Doesn’t it look nice, and grand, and patriarchal?’ said Beatrice, turning to her neighbour.
‘Patriarchal, certainly,’ said Mr Oriel. ‘I should grow one myself if I had not the fear of the archbishop before my eyes.’
What was next said to him was in a whisper, audible only to himself.
‘Doctor, did you know Wildman of the Ninth. He was left as surgeon at Scutari for two years. Why, my beard to his is only a little down.’
‘A little way down, you mean,’ said Mr Gazebee.
‘Yes,’ said Frank, resolutely set against laughing at Mr Gazebee’s pun. ‘Why, his beard descends to his ankles, and he is obliged to tie it in a bag at night, because his feet get entangled in it when he is asleep!’
‘Oh, Frank!’ said one of the girls.
This was all very well for the squire, and Lady Arabella, and the girls. They were all delighted to praise Frank, and talk about him. Neither did it come amiss to Mr Oriel and the doctor, who had both a personal interest in the young hero. But Sir Louis did not like it at all. He was the only baronet in the room, and yet nobody took any notice of him. He was seated in the post of honour, next to Lady Arabella; but even Lady Arabella seemed to think more of her own son than of him. Seeing he was ill-used, he meditated revenge; but not the less did it behove him to make some effort to attract attention.
‘Was your ladyship in London, this season?’
Lady Arabella had not been in London at all this year, and it was a sore subject with her. ‘No,’ said she, very graciously; ‘circumstances have kept us at home.’
‘Ah, indeed! I am very sorry for that; that must be very distressing to a person like your ladyship. But things are mending, perhaps?’
Lady Arabella did not in the least understand him. ‘Mending!’ she said, in her peculiar tone of aristocratic indifference; and then turned to Mr Gazebee, who was on the other side of her.
Sir Louis was not going to stand this. He was the first man in the room, and he knew his own importance. It was not to be borne that Lady Arabella should turn to talk to a dirty attorney, and leave him, a baronet, to eat his dinner without notice. If nothing else would move her, he would let her know who was the real owner of the Greshamsbury title-deeds.
‘I think I saw your ladyship out today, taking a ride,’ Lady Arabella had driven through the village in her pony-chair.
‘I never ride,’ said she, turning her head for one moment from Mr Gazebee.
‘In the one-horse carriage, I mean, my lady. I was delighted with the way you whipped him up round the corner.’
Whipped him up round the corner! Lady Arabella could make no answer to this; so she went on talking to Mr Gazebee. Sir Louis, repulsed, but not vanquished-resolved not to be vanquished by any Lady Arabella—turned his attention to his plate for a minute or two, and then recommenced.
‘The honour of a glass of wine with you, Lady Arabella,’ said he.’
‘I never take wine at dinner,’ said Lady Arabella. The man was becoming intolerable to her, and she was beginning to fear that it would be necessary for her to fly the room to get rid of him.
The baronet was again silent for a moment; but he was determined not to be put down.
‘This is a nice-looking country about her,’ said he.
‘Yes; very nice,’ said Mr Gazebee, endeavouring to relieve the lady of the mansion.
‘I hardly know which I like best; this, or my own place at Boxall Hill. You have the advantage here in trees, and those sort of things. But, as to the house, why, my box there is very comfortable, very. You’d hardly know the place now, Lady Arabella, if you haven’t seen it since my governor bought it. How much do you think he spent about the house and grounds, pineries included, you know, and those sort of things.’
Lady Arabella shook her head.
‘Now guess, my lady,’ said he. But it was not to be supposed that Lady Arabella should guess on such a subject.
‘I never guess,’ said she, with a look of ineffable disgust.
‘What do you say, Mr Gazebee?’
‘Perhaps a hundred thousand pounds.’
‘What! for a house! You can’t know much about money, nor yet about building, I think, Mr Gazebee.’
‘Not much,’ said Mr Gazebee, ‘as to such magnificent places as Boxall Hill.’
‘Well, my lady, if you won’t guess, I’ll tell you. It cost twenty-two thousand four hundred and nineteen pounds four shillings and eightpence. I’ve all the accounts exact. Now, that’s a tidy lot of money for a house for a man to live in.’
Sir Louis spoke this in a loud tone, which at least commanded the attention of the table. Lady Arabella, vanquished, bowed her head, and said that it was a large sum; Mr Gazebee went on sedulously eating his dinner; the squire was struck momentarily dumb in the middle of a long chat with the doctor; even Mr Oriel ceased to whisper; and the girls opened their eyes with astonishment. Before the end of his speech, Sir Louis’s voice had become very loud.
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Frank; ‘a very tidy lot of money. I’d have generously dropped the four and eightpence if I’d been the architect.’
‘It wasn’t on one bill; but that’s the tot. I can show the bills;’ and Sir Louis, well pleased with his triumph, swallowed a glass of wine.
Almost immediately after the cloth was removed, Lady Arabella escaped, and the gentlemen clustered together. Sir Louis found himself next to Mr Oriel, and began to make himself agreeable.
‘A very nice girl, Miss Beatrice; very nice.’
Now Mr Oriel was a modest man, and, when thus addressed as to his future wife, found it difficult to make any reply.
‘You parsons always have your own luck,’ said Sir Louis. ‘You get all the beauty, and generally all the money, too. Not much of the latter in this case, though—eh?’
Mr Oriel was dumbfounded. He had never said a word any creature as to Beatrice’s dowry; and when Mr Gresham had told him, with sorrow, that his daughter’s portion must be small, he had at once passed away from the subject as one that was hardly fit for conversation, even between him and his future father-inlaw; and now he was abruptly questioned on the subject by a man he had never seen before in his life. Of course, he could make no answer.
‘The squire has muddled his matters most uncommonly,’ continued Sir Louis, filling his glass for the second time before he passed the bottle. ‘What do you suppose now he owes me alone; just at one lump, you know?’
Mr Oriel had nothing for it but to run. He could make no answer, nor would he sit there for tidings as to Mr Gresham’s embarrassments. So he fairly retreated, without having said one word to his neighbour, finding such discretion to be the only kind of valour left to him.
‘What, Oriel! off already?’ said the squire. ‘Anything the matter?’
‘Oh, no; nothing particular. I’m not just quite—I think I will go out for a few minutes.’
‘See what it is to be in love,’ said the squire, half-whispering to Dr Thorne. ‘You’re not in the same way, I hope?’
Sir Louis then shifted his seat again, and found himself next to Frank. Mr Gazebee was opposite to him, and the doctor opposite to Frank.
‘Parson seems peekish, I think,’ said the baronet.
‘Peekish!?’ said the squire, inquisitively.
‘Rather down on his luck. He’s decently well off himself, isn’t he?’
There was another pause, and nobody seemed inclined to answer the question.
‘I mean, he’s got something more than his bare living.’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Frank, laughing. ‘He’s got what will buy him bread and cheese when the Rads shut up the Church:— unless, indeed, they shut up the Funds too.’
‘Ah, there’s nothing like land,‘said Sir Louis: ‘nothing like dirty acres; is there, squire?’
‘Land is a very good investment, certainly,’ said the Mr Gresham.
‘The best going,’ said the other, who was now, as people say when they mean to be good-natured, slightly under the influence of liquor. ‘The best going—eh, Gazebee?’
Mr Gazebee gathered himself up, and turned away his head, looking out of the window.
‘You lawyers never like to give an opinion without money, ha! ha! ha! Do they, Mr Gresham? You and I have had to pay for plenty of them, and will have to pay plenty more before they let us alone.’
Here Mr Gazebee got up, and followed Mr Oriel out of the room. He was not, of course, on such intimate terms in the house as was Mr Oriel; but he hoped to be forgiven by the ladies in consequence of the severity of the miseries to which he was subjected. He and Mr Oriel were soon to be seen through the dining-room window, walking about the grounds with the two eldest Miss Greshams. And Patience Oriel, who had also been of the party, was also to be seen with the twins. Frank looked at his father with almost a malicious smile, and began to think that he too might be better employed out among the walks. Did he think then of a former summer evening, when he had half broken Mary’s heart by walking there too lovingly with Patience Oriel?
Sir Louis, if he continued his brilliant career of success, would soon be left the cock of the walk. The squire, to be sure, could not bolt, nor could the doctor very well; but they might be equally vanquished, remaining there in their chairs. Dr Thorne, during all this time, was sitting with tingling ears. Indeed, it may be said that his whole body tingled. He was in a manner responsible for this horrible scene; but what could he do to stop it? He could not take Sir Louis up bodily and carry him away. One idea did occur to him. The fly had been ordered for ten o’clock. He could rush out and send for it instantly.
‘You’re not going to leave me?’ said the squire, in a voice of horror, as he saw the doctor rising from his chair.
‘Oh, no, no, no,’ said the doctor; and then he whispered the purpose of his mission. ‘I will be back in two minutes.’ The doctor would have given twenty pounds to have closed the scene at once; but he was not the man to desert his friend in such a strait as that.
‘He’s a well-meaning fellow, the doctor,’ said Sir Louis, when his guardian was out of the room, ‘very; but he’s not up to trap—not at all.’
‘Up to trap—well, I should say he was; that is, if I know what trap means,’ said Frank.
‘Ah, but that’s just the ticket. Do you know? Now I say Dr Thorne’s not a man of the world.’
‘He’s about the best man I know, or ever heard of,’ said the squire. ‘And if any man ever had a good friend, you have got one in him; and so have I:’ and the squire silently drank the doctor’s health.
‘All very true, I dare say; but yet he’s not up to trap. Now look here, squire —’
‘If you don’t mind, sir,’ said Frank, ‘I’ve got something very particular—perhaps, however —’
‘Stay till Thorne returns, thanks Frank.’
Frank did stay till Thorne returned, and then escaped.
‘Excuse me, doctor,’ said he, ‘but I’ve something very particular to say; I’ll explain tomorrow.’ And then the three were left alone.
Sir Louis was now becoming almost drunk, and was knocking his words together. The squire had already attempted to stop the bottle; but the baronet had contrived to get hold of a modicum of Madeira, and there was no preventing him from helping himself; at least, none at the moment.
‘As we were saying about lawyers,’ continued Sir Louis. ‘Let’s see, what were we saying? Why, squire, it’s just here. These fellows will fleece us both if we don’t mind what we are after.’
‘Never mind about lawyers now,’ said Dr Thorne, angrily.
‘Ah, but I do mind; most particularly. That’s all very well for you, doctor; you’ve nothing to lose. You’ve no great stake in the matter. Why, now, what sum of money of mine do you think those d—— doctors are handling?’
‘D—— doctors!’ said the squire in a tone of dismay.
‘Lawyers, I mean, of course. Why, now, Gresham, we’re all totted now, you see; you’re down in my books, I take it, for pretty near a hundred thousand pounds.’
‘Hold your tongue, sir,’ said the doctor, getting up.
‘Hold my tongue!’ said Sir Louis.
‘Sir Louis Scatcherd,’ said the squire, slowly rising from his chair, ‘we will not, if you please, talk about business at the present moment. Perhaps we had better go to the ladies.’
This latter proposition had certainly not come from the squire’s heart: going to the ladies was the very last thing for which Sir Louis was now fit. But the squire had said it as being the only recognised formal way he could think of for breaking up the symposium.
‘Oh, very well,’ hiccupped the baronet, ‘I’m always ready for the ladies,’ and he stretched out his hand to the decanter to get a last glass of Madeira.
‘No,’ said the doctor, rising stoutly, and speaking with a determined voice. ‘No; you will have no more wine.’
‘What’s all this about?’ said Sir Louis, with a drunken laugh.
‘Of course he cannot go into the drawing-room, Mr Gresham. If you will leave him here with me, I will stay with him, till the fly comes. Pray tell Lady Arabella from me how sorry I am that this has occurred.’
The squire took him by the hand affectionately. ‘I’ve seen a tipsy man before to-night,’ said he.
‘Yes,’ said the doctor, ‘and so have I, but —’ He did not express the rest of his thoughts.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41