Long before the doctor returned home after the little dinner-party above described, Mary had learnt that Frank was already at Greshamsbury. She had heard nothing of him, not a word, nothing in the shape of a message, for twelve months; and at her age twelve months is a long period. Would he come and see her in spite of his mother? Would he send her any tidings of is return, or notice her in any way? If he did not, what would she do? and if he did, what then would she do? It was so hard to resolve; so hard to be deserted; and so hard to dare to wish that she might not be deserted! She continued to say to herself, that it would be better that they should be strangers; and she could hardly keep herself from tears in the fear that they might be so. What chance could there be that he should care for her, after an absence spent in travelling over the world? No; she would forget that affair of his hand; and then, immediately after having so determined, she would confess to herself that it was a thing not to be forgotten, and impossible of oblivion.
On her uncle’s return, she would hear some word about him; and so she sat alone, with a book before her, of which she could not read a line. She expected them about eleven, and was, therefore, rather surprised when the fly stopped at the door before nine.
She immediately heard her uncle’s voice, loud and angry, calling for Thomas. Both Thomas and Bridget were unfortunately out, being, at this moment, forgetful of all sublunary cares, and seated in happiness under a beech-tree in the park. Janet flew to the little gate, and there found Sir Louis insisting that he would be taken at once to his own mansion at Boxall Hill, and positively swearing that he would not longer submit to the insult of the doctor’s surveillance.
In the absence of Thomas, the doctor was forced to apply for assistance to the driver of the fly. Between them the baronet was dragged out of the vehicle, the windows suffered much, and the doctor’s hat also. In this way, he was taken upstairs, and was at last put to bed, Janet assisting: nor did the doctor leave the room till his guest was asleep. Then he went into the drawing-room to Mary. It may easily be conceived that he was hardly in a humour to talk much about Frank Gresham.
‘What am I to do with him?’ said he, almost in tears: ‘what am I to do with him?’
‘Can you send him to Boxall Hill?’ asked Mary.
‘Yes; to kill himself there! But it is no matter; he will kill himself somewhere. Oh! what that family have done for me!’ And then, suddenly remembering a portion of their doings, he took Mary in his arms, and kissed and blessed her; and declared that, in spite of all this, he was a happy man.
There was no word about Frank that night. The next morning the doctor found Sir Louis very weak, and begging for stimulants. He was worse than weak; he was in such a state of wretched misery and mental prostration; so low in heart, in such collapse of energy and spirit, that Dr Thorne thought it prudent to remove his razors from his reach.
‘For God’s sake do let me have a little chasse-cafe; I’m always used to it; ask Joe if I’m not! You don’t want to kill me, do you?’ And the baronet cried piteously, like a child, and, when the doctor left him for the breakfast-table, abjectly implored Janet to get him some curacoa which he knew was in one of his portmanteaus. Janet, however, was true to her master.
The doctor did give him some wine; and then, having left strict orders as to his treatment—Bridget and Thomas being now both in the house—went forth to some of his too much neglected patients.
Then Mary was again alone, and her mind flew away to her lover. How should she be able to compose herself when she should first see him? See him she must. People cannot live in the same village without meeting. If she passed him at the church-door, as she often passed Lady Arabella, what should she do? Lady Arabella always smiled a peculiar, little, bitter smile, and this, with half a nod of recognition, carried off the meeting. Should she try the bitter smile, the half-nod with Frank? Alas! she knew it was not in her to be so much mistress of her own heart’s blood.
As she thus thought, she stood in the drawing-room window, looking out into her garden; and, as she leant against the sill, her head was surrounded by the sweet creepers. ‘At any rate, he won’t come here,’ she said: and so, with a deep sigh, she turned from the window into the room.
There he was, Frank Gresham himself standing there in her immediate presence, beautiful as Apollo. Her next thought was how she might escape from out of his arms. How it happened that she had fallen into them, she never knew.
‘Mary! my own, own love! my own one! sweetest! dearest! best! Mary! dear Mary! have you not a word to say to me?’
No; she had not a word, though her life depended on it. The exertion necessary for not crying was quite enough for her. This, then, was the bitter smile and the half-nod that was to pass between them; this was the manner in which estrangement was to grow into indifference; this was the mode of meeting by which she was to prove that she was mistress of her conduct, if not her heart! There he held her close bound to his breast, and she could only protect her face, and that all ineffectually, with her hands. ‘He loves another,’ Beatrice had said. ‘At any rate, he will not love me,’ her own heart had said also. Here now was the answer.
‘You know you cannot marry him,’ Beatrice had said, also. Ah! if that really were so, was not this embrace deplorable for them both? And yet how could she not be happy? She endeavoured to repel him; but with what a weak endeavour! Her pride had been wounded to the core, not by Lady Arabella’s scorn, but by the conviction which had grown on her, that though she had given her own heart absolutely away, had parted with it wholly and for ever, she had received nothing in return. The world, her world, would know that she had loved, and loved in vain. But here now was the loved one at her feet; the first moment that his enforced banishment was over, had brought him here. How could she not be happy?
They all said that she could not marry him. Well, perhaps it might be so; nay, when she thought of it, must not that edict too probably be true? But if so, it would not be his fault. He was true to her, and that satisfied her pride. He had taken from her, by surprise, a confession of her love. She had often regretted her weakness in allowing him to do so; but she could not regret it now. She could endure to suffer; nay, it would not be suffering while he suffered with her.
‘Not one word, Mary? Then after all my dreams, after all my patience, you do not love me at last?’
Oh, Frank! notwithstanding what has been said in thy praise, what a fool thou art! Was any word necessary for thee? Had not her heart beat against thine? Had she not borne thy caresses? Had there been one touch of anger when she warded off thy threatened kisses? Bridget, in the kitchen, when Jonah became amorous, smashed his nose with the rolling-pin. But when Thomas sinned, perhaps as deeply, she only talked of doing so. Miss Thorne, in the drawing-room, had she needed self-protection, could doubtless have found the means, though the process would probably have been less violent.
At last Mary succeeded in her efforts at enfranchisement, and she and Frank stood at some little distance from each other. She could not but marvel at him. That long, soft beard, which just now had been so close to her face, was all new; his whole look was altered; his mien, and gait, and very voice were not the same. Was this, indeed, the very Frank who had chattered of his boyish love, two years since, in the gardens at Greshamsbury?
‘Not one word of welcome, Mary?’
‘Indeed, Mr Gresham, you are welcome home.’
‘Mr Gresham! Tell me, Mary—tell me at once—has anything happened? I could not ask up there.’
‘Frank,’ she said, and then stopped; not being able at the moment to get any further.
‘Speak to me honestly, Mary; honestly and bravely. I offered you my hand once before; there it is again. Will you take it?’
She looked wistfully up in his eyes; and would fain have taken it. But though a girl may be honest in such a case, it is so hard for her to be brave.
He still held out his hand. ‘Mary,’ said he, ‘if you can value it, it shall be yours through good fortune or ill fortune. There may be difficulties; but if you can love me, we will get over them. I am a free man; free to do as I please with myself, except so far as I am bound to you. There is my hand. Will you have it?’ And then he, too, looked into her eyes, and waited composedly, as though determined to have an answer.
She slowly raised her hand, and, as she did so, her eyes fell to the ground. It then drooped again, and was again raised; and, at last, her light tapering fingers rested on his broad open palm.
They were soon clutched, and the whole hand brought absolutely within his grasp. ‘There, now you are my own!’ he said, ‘and none of them shall part us; my own Mary, my own wife.’
‘Oh, Frank, is not this imprudent? Is it not wrong?’
‘Imprudent! I am sick of prudence. I hate prudence. And as for wrong—no. I say it is not wrong; certainly not wrong if we love each other. And you do love me, Mary—eh? You do! don’t you?’
He would not excuse her, or allow her to escape from saying it in so many words; and when the words did come at last, they came freely. ‘Yes, Frank, I do love you; if that were all you would have no cause for fear.’
‘And I will have no cause for fear.’
‘Ah; but your father, Frank, and my uncle. I can never bring myself to do anything that shall bring either of them to sorrow.’
Frank, of course, ran through all his arguments. He would go into a profession, or take a farm and live in it. He would wait; that is, for a few months. ‘A few months, Frank!’ said Mary. ‘Well, perhaps six.’ ‘Oh, Frank!’ But Frank would not be stopped. He would do anything that his father might ask him. Anything but the one thing. He would not give up the wife he had chosen. It would not be reasonable, or proper, or righteous that he should be asked to do so; and here he mounted a somewhat high horse.
Mary had no arguments which she could bring from her heart to offer in opposition of all this. She could only leave her hand in his, and feel that she was happier than she had been at any time since the day of the donkey-ride at Boxall Hill.
‘But, Mary,’ continued he, becoming very grave and serious. ‘We must be true to each other, and firm in this. Nothing that any of them can say shall drive me from my purpose; will you say as much?’
Her hand was still in his, and so she stood, thinking for a moment before she answered him. But she could not do less for him than he was willing to do for her. ‘Yes,’ said she—said in a very low voice, and with a manner perfectly quiet —‘I will be firm. Nothing that they can say shall shake me. But, Frank, it cannot be soon.’
Nothing further occurred in this interview which needs recording. Frank had been three times told by Mary that he had better go before he did go; and, at last, she was obliged to take the matter into her own hands, and lead him to the door.
‘You are in a great hurry to get rid of me,’ said he.
‘You have been here two hours, and you must go now; what will they think?’
‘Who cares what they think? Let them think the truth: that’s after a year’s absence, I have much to say to you.’ However, at last, he did go, and Mary was left alone.
Frank, although he had been so slow to move, had a thousand other things to do, and went about them at once. He was very much in love, no doubt; but that did not interfere with his interest in other pursuits. In the first place, he had to see Harry Baker, and Harry Baker’s stud. Harry had been specially charged to look after the black horse during Frank’s absence, and the holiday doings of that valuable animal had to be inquired into. Then the kennel of the hounds had to be visited, and—as a matter of second-rate importance—the master. This could not be done on the same day; but a plan for doing so must be concocted with Harry—and then there were the two young pointer pups.
Frank, when he left his betrothed, went about these things quite as vehemently as though he were not in love at all; quite as vehemently as though he had said nothing as to going into some profession which must necessarily separate him from horses and dogs. But Mary sat there at her window, thinking of her love, and thinking of nothing else. It was all in all to her now. She had pledged herself not to be shaken from her troth by anything, by any person; and it would behove her to be true to this pledge. True to it, though all the Greshams but one should oppose her with all their power; true to it, even though her own uncle should oppose her.
And how could she have done any other than to pledge herself, invoked to it as she had been? How could she do less for him than he was so anxious to do for her? They would talk to her of maiden delicacy, and tell her that she had put a stain on that snow-white coat of proof, in confessing her love for one whose friends were unwilling to receive her. Let them so talk. Honour, honesty, and truth, out-spoken truth, self-denying truth, and fealty from man to man, are worth more than maiden delicacy; more, at any rate, than the talk of it. It was not for herself that this pledge had been made. She knew her position, and the difficulties of it; she knew also the value of it. He had much to offer, much to give; she had nothing but herself. He had name, and old repute, family, honour, and what eventually would at least be wealth to her. She was nameless, fameless, portionless. He had come there with all his ardour, with the impulse of his character, and asked her for her love. It was already his own. He had then demanded her troth, and she acknowledged that he had a right to demand it. She would be his if ever it should be in his power to take her.
But there let the bargain end. She would always remember, that though it was in her power to keep her pledge, it might too probably not be in his power to keep his. That doctrine, laid down so imperatively by the great authorities of Greshamsbury, that edict, which demanded that Frank should marry money, had come home also to her with a certain force. It would be sad that the fame of Greshamsbury should perish, and that the glory should depart from the old house. It might be, that Frank also should perceive that he must marry money. It would be a pity that he had not seen it sooner; but she, at any rate, would not complain.
And so she stood, leaning on the open window, with her book unnoticed lying beside her. The sun had been in the mid-sky when Frank had left her, but its rays were beginning to stream into the room from the west before she moved from her position. Her first thought in the morning had been this: Would he come to see her? Her last now was more soothing to her, less full of absolute fear: Would it be right that he should come again?
The first sounds she heard were the footsteps of her uncle, as he came up to the drawing-room, three steps at a time. His step was always heavy; but when he was disturbed in spirit, it was slow; when merely fatigued in body by ordinary work, it was quick.
‘What a broiling day!’ he said, and he threw himself into a chair. ‘For mercy’s sake, give me something to drink.’ Now the doctor was a great man for summer-drinks. In his house, lemonade, currant-juice, orange-mixtures, and raspberry-vinegar were used by the quart. He frequently disapproved of these things for his patients, as being apt to disarrange the digestion; but he consumed enough himself to throw a large family into such difficulties.
‘Ha-a!’ he ejaculated after a draught; ‘I’m better now. Well, what’s the news?’
‘You’ve been out, uncle; you ought to have the news. How’s Mrs Green?’
‘Really as bad as ennui and solitude can make her.’
‘And Mrs Oaklerath?’
‘She’s getting better, because she has ten children to look after, and twins to suckle. What has he been doing?’ And the doctor pointed towards the room occupied by Sir Louis.
Mary’s conscience struck her that she had not even asked. She had hardly remembered, during the whole day, that the baronet was in the house. ‘I do not think he has been doing much,’ she said. ‘Janet has been with him all day.’
‘Has he been drinking?’
‘Upon my word, I don’t know, uncle. I think not, for Janet has been with him. But, uncle —’
‘Well, dear—but just give me a little more of that tipple.’
Mary prepared the tumbler, and as she handed it to him, she said, ‘Frank Gresham has been here today.’
The doctor swallowed his draught, and put down the glass before he made any reply, and even then he said but little.
‘Oh! Frank Gresham.’
‘You thought him looking pretty well?’
‘Yes, uncle; he was very well, I believe.’
Dr Thorne had nothing more to say, so he got up and went to his patient in the next room.
‘If he disapproves of it, why does he not say so?’ said Mary to herself. ‘Why does he not advise me?’
But it was not so easy to give advice while Sir Louis Scatcherd was lying there in that state.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41