‘Beatrice,’ said Frank, rushing suddenly into his sister’s room, ‘I want you to do me one especial favour.’ This was three or four days after he had spoken to Mary Thorne. Since that time he had spoken to none of his family on the subject; but he was only postponing from day to day the task of telling his father. He had now completed his round of visits to the kennel, master huntsman, and stables of the county hunt, and was at liberty to attend to his own affairs. So he had decided on speaking to the squire that very day; but he first made his request to his sister.
‘I want you to do me one especial favour.’ The day for Beatrice’s marriage had now been fixed, and it was not to be very distant. Mr Oriel had urged that their honeymoon trip would lose half its delights if they did not take advantage of the fine weather; and Beatrice had nothing to allege in answer. The day had just been fixed, and when Frank ran into her room with his special request, she was not in a humour to refuse him anything.
‘If you wish me to be at your wedding, you must do it.’
‘Wish you to be there! You must be there, of course. Oh, Frank! what do you mean? I’ll do anything you ask; if it is not to go to the moon, or anything of that sort.’
Frank was too much in earnest to joke. ‘You must have Mary for one of your bridesmaids,’ he said. ‘Now, mind; there may be some difficulty, but you must insist on it. I know what has been going on; but it is not to be borne that she should be excluded on such a day as that. You that have been like sisters all your lives till a year ago.’
‘But, Frank —’
‘Now, Beatrice, don’t have any buts; say that you will do it, and it will be done: I am sure Oriel will approve, and so will my father.’
‘But, Frank, you won’t hear me.’
‘Not if you make objections; I have set my heart on your doing it.’
‘But I had set my heart on the same thing.’
‘And I went to Mary on purpose; and told her just as you tell me now, that she must come. I meant to make mamma understand that I could not be happy unless it were so; but Mary positively refused.’
‘Refused! What did she say?’
‘I could not tell you what she said; indeed, it would not be right if I could; but she positively declined. She seemed to feel, that after all that had happened, she never could come to Greshamsbury again.’
‘But, Frank, those are her feelings; and, to tell the truth, I could not combat them. I know she is not happy; but time will cure that. And, to tell you the truth, Frank —’
‘It was before I came back that you asked her, was it not?’
‘Yes; just the day before you came, I think.’
‘Well, it’s altered now. I have seen her since that.’
‘Have you Frank?’
‘What do you take me for? Of course, I have. The very first day I went to her. And now, Beatrice, you may believe me or not, as you like; but if I ever marry, I shall marry Mary Thorne; and if she ever marries, I think she may marry me. At any rate, I have her promise. And now, you cannot be surprised that I should wish her to be at your wedding; or that I should declare, that if she is absent, I will be absent. I don’t want any secrets, and you may tell my mother if you like it — and all the De Courcys too, for anything I care.’
Frank had ever been used to command his sisters: and they, especially Beatrice, had ever been used to obey. On this occasion, she was well inclined to do so, if she only knew how. She again remembered how Mary had once sworn to be at her wedding, to be near her, and to touch her — even though all the blood of the De Courcys should be crowded before the altar railings.
‘I should be happy that she should be there; but what am I to do, Frank, if she refuses? I have asked her, and she has refused.’
‘Go to her again; you need not have any scruples with her. Do not I tell you she will be your sister? Not come here again to Greshamsbury! Why, I tell you that she will be living here while you are living there at the parsonage, for years and years to come.’
Beatrice promised that she would go to Mary again, and that she would endeavour to talk her mother over if Mary would consent to come. But she could not yet make herself believe that Mary Thorne would ever be mistress of Greshamsbury. It was so indispensably necessary that Frank should marry money! Besides, what were these horrid rumours which were now becoming rife as to Mary’s birth; rumours more horrid than any which had yet been heard.
Augusta had said hardly more than the truth when she spoke of her father being broken-hearted by his debts. His troubles were becoming almost too many for him; and Mr Gazebee, though no doubt he was an excellent man of business, did not seem to lessen them. Mr Gazebee, indeed, was continually pointing out how much he owed, and in what a quagmire of difficulties he had entangled himself. Now, to do Mr Umbleby justice, he had never made himself disagreeable in this manner.
Mr Gazebee had been doubtless right, when he declared that Sir Louis Scatcherd had not himself the power to take any steps hostile to the squire; but Sir Louis had also been right, when he boasted that, in spite of his father’s will, he could cause others to move in the matter. Others did move, and were moving, and it began to be understood that a moiety, at least, of the remaining Greshamsbury property must be sold. Even this, however, would by no means leave the squire in undisturbed possession of the other moiety. And thus, Mr Gresham was nearly broken-hearted.
Frank had now been at home a week, and his father had not as yet spoken to him about the family troubles; nor had a word as yet been said between them as to Mary Thorne. It had been agreed that Frank should go away for twelve months, in order that he might forget her. He had been away the twelvemonth, and had now returned, not having forgotten her.
It generally happens, that in every household, one subject of importance occupies it at a time. The subject of importance now mostly thought of in the Greshamsbury household, was the marriage of Beatrice. Lady Arabella had to supply the trousseau for her daughter; the squire had to supply the money for the trousseau; Mr Gazebee had the task of obtaining the money for the squire. While this was going on, Mr Gresham was not anxious to talk to his son, either about his own debts or his son’s love. There would be time for these things when the marriage-feast was over.
So thought the father, but the matter was precipitated by Frank. He also had put off the declaration which he had to make, partly from a wish to spare the squire, but partly also with a view to spare himself. We have all some of that cowardice which induces us to postpone an inevitably evil day. At this time the discussions as to Beatrice’s wedding were frequent in the house, and at one of them Frank had heard his mother repeat the names of the proposed bridesmaids. Mary’s name was not among them, and hence had arisen the attack on his sister.
Lady Arabella had had her reason for naming the list before her son; but she overshot her mark. She wished to show him how Mary was forgotten at Greshamsbury; but she only inspired him with a resolve that she should not be forgotten. He accordingly went to his sister; and then, the subject being full on his mind, he resolved at once to discuss it with his father.
‘Sir, are you at leisure for five minutes?’ he said, entering the room in which the squire was accustomed to sit majestically, to receive his tenants, scold his dependants, and in which, in former happy days, he had always arranged the meets of the Barsetshire hunt.
Mr Gresham was quite at leisure: when was he not so? But had he been immersed in the deepest business of which he was capable, he would gladly have put it aside at his son’s instance.
‘I don’t like to have any secret from you, sir,’ said Frank; ‘nor, for the matter of that, from anybody else’— the anybody else was intended to have reference to his mother —‘and, therefore, I would rather tell you at once what I have made up my mind to do.’
Frank’s address was very abrupt, and he felt it was so. He was rather red in the face, and his manner was fluttered. He had quite made up his mind to break the whole affair to his father; but he had hardly made up his mind as to the best mode of doing so.
‘Good heavens, Frank! what do you mean? you are not going to do anything rash? What is it you mean, Frank?’
‘I don’t think it is rash,’ said Frank.
‘Sit down, my boy; sit down. What is it that you say you are going to do?’
‘Nothing immediately, sir,’ said he, rather abashed; ‘but as I have made up my mind about Mary Thorne —’
‘Oh, about Mary,’ said the squire, almost relieved.
And then Frank, in voluble language, which he hardly, however, had quite under his command, told his father all that had passed between him and Mary. ‘You see, sir,’ said he, ‘that it is fixed now, and cannot be altered. Nor must it be altered. You asked me to go away for twelve months, and I have done so. It has made no difference, you see. As to our means of living, I am quite willing to do anything that may be best and most prudent. I was thinking, sir, of taking a farm somewhere near here, and living on that.’
The squire sat quite silent for some moments after this communication had been made to him. Frank’s conduct, as a son, in this special matter of his love, how was it possible for him to find fault? He himself was almost as fond of Mary as of a daughter; and, though he too would have been desirous that his son should receive the estate from its embarrassment by a rich marriage, he did not at all share Lady Arabella’s feelings on the subject. No Countess de Courcy had ever engraved it on the tablets of his mind that the world would come to ruin if Frank did not marry money. Ruin there was, and would be, but it had been brought about by no sin of Frank’s.
‘Do you remember about her birth, Frank?’ he said, at last.
‘Yes, sir; everything. She told me all she knew; and Dr Thorne finished the story.’
‘And what do you think of it?’
‘It is a pity and a misfortune. It might, perhaps, have been a reason why you or my mother should not have had Mary in the house many years ago; but it cannot make any difference now.’
Frank had not meant to lean so heavily on his father; but he did so. The story had never been told to Lady Arabella; was not even known to her now, positively, and on good authority. But Mr Gresham had always known it. If Mary’s birth was so great a stain upon her, why had he brought her into his house among his children?
‘It is a misfortune, Frank; a very great misfortune. It will not do for you and me to ignore birth; too much of the value of one’s position depends on it.’
‘But what was Mr Moffat’s birth?’ said Frank, almost with scorn; ‘or what Miss Dunstable’s?’ he would have added, had it not been that his father had not been concerned in that sin of wedding him to the oil of Lebanon.
‘True, Frank. But yet, what you would mean to say is not true. We must take the world as we find it. Were you to marry a rich heiress, were her birth even as low as that of poor Mary —’
‘Don’t call her poor Mary, father; she is not poor. My wife will have a right to take rank in the world, however she was born.’
‘Well — poor in that way. But were she an heiress, the world would forgive her birth on account of her wealth.’
‘The world is very complaisant, sir.’
‘You must take it as you find it, Frank. I only say that such is the fact. If Porlock were to marry the daughter of a shoeblack, without a farthing, he would make a mesalliance; but if the daughter of the shoeblack had half a million of money, nobody would dream of saying so. I am stating no opinion of my own: I am only giving you the world’s opinion.’
‘I don’t give a straw for the world.’
‘That is a mistake, my boy; you do care for it, and would be very foolish if you did not. What you mean is, that, on this particular point, you value your love more than the world’s opinion.’
‘Well, yes, that is what I mean.’
But the squire, though he had been very lucid in his definition, had not got nearer to his object; had not even yet ascertained what his own object was. This marriage would be ruinous to Greshamsbury; and yet, what was he to say against it, seeing that the ruin had been his fault, and not his son’s?
‘You could let me have a farm; could you not, sir? I was thinking of about six or seven hundred acres. I suppose it could be managed somehow?’
‘A farm?’ said the father, abstractedly.
‘Yes, sir. I must do something for my living. I should make less of a mess of that than anything else. Besides, it would take such a time to be an attorney, or a doctor, or anything of that sort.’
Do something for his living! And was the heir of Greshamsbury come to this — the heir and his only son? Whereas, he, the squire, had succeeded at an earlier age than Frank’s to an unembarrassed income of fourteen thousand pounds a year! The reflection was very hard to bear.
‘Yes: I dare say you could have a farm:’ and then he threw himself back in his chair, closing his eyes. Then, after a while, rose again, and walked hurriedly about the room. ‘Frank,’ he said, at last, standing opposite to his son, ‘I wonder what you think of me?’
‘Think of you, sir?’ ejaculated Frank.
‘Yes; what do you think of me, for having thus ruined you. I wonder whether you hate me?’
Frank, jumping up from his chair, threw his arms round his father’s neck. ‘Hate you, sir? How can you speak so cruelly? You know well that I love you. And, father, do not trouble yourself about the estate for my sake. I do not care for it; I can be just as happy without it. Let the girls have what is left, and I will make my own way in the world, somehow. I will go to Australia; yes, sir, that will be the best. I and Mary will both go. Nobody will care about her birth there. But, father, never say, never think, that I do not love you!’
The squire was too much moved to speak at once, so he sat down again and covered his face with his hands. Frank went on pacing the room, till, gradually, his first idea recovered possession of his mind, and the remembrance of his father’s grief faded away. ‘May I tell Mary,’ he said at last, ‘that you consent to our marriage?’
But the squire was not prepared to say this. He was pledged to his wife to do all that he could to oppose it; and he himself thought, that if anything could consummate the family ruin, it would be this marriage.
‘I cannot say that, Frank; I cannot say that. What would you both live on? It would be madness.’
‘We would go to Australia,’ answered he, bitterly. ‘I have just said so.’
‘Oh, no, my boy; you cannot do that. You must not throw up the old place altogether. There is no other one but you, Frank; and we have lived here now for so many, many years.’
‘But if we cannot live here any longer, father?’
‘But for this scheme of yours, we might do. I will give up everything to you, the management of the estate, the park, all the land we have in hand, if you will give up this fatal scheme. For, Frank, it is fatal. You are only twenty-three; why should you be in such a hurry to marry?’
‘You married at twenty-one, sir.’
Frank was again severe on his father, unwittingly. ‘Yes, I did,’ said Mr Gresham; ‘and see what has come of it! Had I waited ten years longer, how different would everything have been! No, Frank, I cannot consent to such a marriage; nor will your mother.’
‘It is your consent that I ask, sir; and I am asking for nothing but your consent.’
‘It would be sheer madness; madness for you both. My own Frank, my dear boy, do not drive me to distraction! Give it up for four years.’
‘Yes; for four years. I ask it as a personal favour; as an obligation to myself, in order that we may be saved from ruin; you, your mother, and sisters, your family name, and the old house. I do not talk about myself; but were such a marriage to take place, I should be driven to despair.’
Frank found it very hard to resist his father, who now had hold of his hand and arm, and was thus half retaining him, and half embracing him. ‘Frank, say that you will forget this for four years — say for three years.’
But Frank would not say so. To postpone his marriage for four years, or for three, seemed to him to be tantamount to giving up Mary altogether; and he would not acknowledge that any one had the right to demand of him to do that.
‘My word is pledged, sir,’ he said.
‘Pledged! Pledged to whom?’
‘To Miss Thorne.’
‘But I will see her, Frank; — and her uncle. She was always reasonable. I am sure she will not wish to bring ruin on her old friends at Greshamsbury.’
‘Her old friends at Greshamsbury have done but little lately to deserve her consideration. She has been treated shamefully. I know it has not been by you, sir; but I must say so. She has already been treated shamefully; but I will not treat her falsely.’
‘Well, Frank, I can say no more to you. I have destroyed the estate which should have been yours, and I have no right to expect you should regard what I say.’
Frank was greatly distressed. He had not any feeling of animosity against his father with reference to the property, and would have done anything to make the squire understand this, short of giving up his engagement to Mary. His feeling rather was, that, as each had a case against the other, they should cry quits; that he should forgive his father for his bad management, on condition that he himself was to be forgiven with regard to his determined marriage. Not that he put it exactly in that shape, even to himself; but could he have unravelled his own thoughts, he would have found that such was the web on which they were based.
‘Father, I do regard what you say; but you would not have me be false. Had you doubled the property instead of lessening it, I could not regard what you say any more.’
‘I should be able to speak in a very different tone; I feel that, Frank.’
‘Do not feel it any more, sir; say what you wish, as you would have said it under any other circumstances; and pray believe this, the idea never occurs to me, that I have ground for complaint as regards the property; never. Whatever troubles we may have, do not let that trouble you.’
Soon after this Frank left him. What more was there that could be said between them? They could not be of one accord; but even yet it might not be necessary that they should quarrel. He went out, and roamed by himself through the grounds, rather more in meditation than was his wont.
If he did marry, how was he to live? He talked of a profession; but had he meant to do as others do, who make their way in professions, he should have thought of that a year or two ago! — or, rather, have done more than think of it. He spoke also of a farm, but even that could not be had in a moment; nor, if it could, would it produce a living. Where was his capital? Where was his skill? and he might have asked also, where the industry so necessary for such a trade? He might have set his father at defiance, and if Mary were equally headstrong with himself, he might marry her. But, what then?
As he walked slowly about, cutting off the daisies with his stick, he met Mr Oriel, going up to the house, as was now his custom, to dine there and spend the evening, close to Beatrice.
‘How I envy you, Oriel!’ he said. ‘What would I not give to have such a position in the world as yours!’
‘Thou shalt not covet a man’s house, nor his wife,’ said Mr Oriel; ‘perhaps it ought to have been added, nor his position.’
‘It wouldn’t have made much difference. When a man is tempted, the Commandments, I believe, do not go for much.’
‘Do they not, Frank? That’s a dangerous doctrine; and one which, if you had my position, you would hardly admit. But what makes you so much out of sorts? Your own position is generally considered about the best which the world has to give.’
‘Is it? Then let me tell you that the world has very little to give. What can I do? Where can I turn? Oriel, if there be an empty, lying humbug in the world, it is the theory of high birth and pure blood which some of us endeavour to maintain. Blood, indeed! If my father had been a baker, I should know by this time where to look for my livelihood. As it is, I am told of nothing but my blood. Will my blood ever get me half a crown?’
And then the young democrat walked on again in solitude, leaving Mr Oriel in doubt as to the exact line of argument which he had meant to inculcate.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01