It was the first of July, young Frank Gresham’s birthday, and the London season was not yet over; nevertheless, Lady de Courcy had managed to get down into the country to grace the coming of age of the heir, bringing with her all the Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, and Alexandrina, together with such of the Honourable Johns and Georges as could be collected for the occasion.
The Lady Arabella had contrived this year to spend ten weeks in town, which, by a little stretching, she made to pass for the season; and had managed, moreover, at last to refurnish, not ingloriously, the Portman Square drawing-room. She had gone up to London under the pretext, imperatively urged, of Augusta’s teeth—young ladies’ teeth are not infrequently of value in this way;—and having received authority for a new carpet, which was really much wanted, had made such dexterous use of that sanction as to run up an upholsterer’s bill of six or seven hundred pounds. She had of course had her carriage and horses; the girls of course had gone out; it had been positively necessary to have a few friends in Portman Square; and, altogether, the ten weeks had not been unpleasant, and not inexpensive.
For a few confidential minutes before dinner, Lady de Courcy and her sister-inlaw sate together in the latter’s dressing-room, discussing the unreasonableness of the squire, who had expressed himself with more than ordinary bitterness as to the folly—he had probably used some stronger word—of these London proceedings.
‘Heavens!,’ said the countess, with much eager animation; ‘what can the man expect? What does he wish you to do?’
‘He would like to sell the house in London, and bury us all here for ever. Mind, I was there only for ten weeks.’
‘Barely time for the girls to get their teeth properly looked at! But Arabella, what does he say?’ Lady de Courcy was very anxious to learn the exact truth of the matter, and ascertain, if she could, whether Mr Gresham was really as poor as he pretended to be.
‘Why, he said yesterday that he would have no more going to town at all; that he was barely able to pay the claims made on him, and keep up the house here, and that he would not —’
‘Would not what?’ asked the countess.
‘Why, he said that he would not utterly ruin poor Frank.’
‘That’s what he said.’
‘But, surely, Arabella, it is not so bad as that? What possible reason can there be for him to be in debt?’
‘He is always talking of those elections.’
‘But, my dear, Boxall Hill paid all that off. Of course Frank will not have such an income as there was when you married into the family; we all know that. And whom will he have to thank but his father? But Boxall Hill paid all those debts, and why should there be any difficulty now?’
‘It was those nasty dogs, Rosina,’ said the Lady Arabella.
‘Well, I for one never approved of the hounds coming to Greshamsbury. When a man has once involved his property he should not incur any expenses that are not absolutely necessary. That is a golden rule which Mr Gresham ought to have remembered. Indeed, I put it to him nearly in those very words; but Mr Gresham never did, and never will receive with common civility anything that comes from me.’
‘I know, Rosina, he never did; and yet where would he have been but for the De Courcys?’ So exclaimed, in her gratitude, the Lady Arabella; to speak the truth, however, but for the De Courcys, Mr Gresham might have been at this moment on the top of Boxall Hill, monarch of all he surveyed.
‘As I was saying,’ continued the countess, ‘I never approved of the hounds coming to Greshamsbury; but yet, my dear, the hounds can’t have eaten up everything. A man with ten thousand a year ought to be able to keep hounds; particularly as he had a subscription.’
‘He says the subscription was little or nothing.’
‘That’s nonsense, my dear. Now, Arabella, what does he do with his money? That’s the question. Does he gamble?’
‘Well,’ said Lady Arabella, very slowly, ‘I don’t think he does.’ If the squire did gamble he must have done it very slyly, for he rarely went away from Greshamsbury, and certainly very few men looking like gamblers were in the habit of coming thither as guests. ‘I don’t think he does gamble.’ Lady Arabella put her emphasis on the word gamble, as though her husband, if he might perhaps be charitably acquitted of that vice, was certainly guilty of every other known in the civilized world.
‘I know he used,’ said Lady de Courcy, looking very wise, and rather suspicious. She certainly had sufficient domestic reasons for disliking the propensity; ‘I know he used; and when a man begins, he is hardly ever cured.’
‘Well, if he does, I don’t know it,’ said the Lady Arabella.
‘The money, my dear, must go somewhere. What excuse does he give when you tell him you want this and that—all the common necessaries of life, that you have always been used to?’
‘He gives no excuse; sometimes he says the family is so large.’
‘Nonsense! Girls cost nothing; there’s only Frank, and he can’t have cost anything yet. Can he be saving money to buy back Boxall Hill?’
‘Oh no!’ said the Lady Arabella, quickly. ‘He is not saving anything; he never did, and never will save, though he is so stingy to me. He is hard pushed for money, I know that.’
‘Then where has it gone?’ said the Countess de Courcy, with a look of stern decision.
‘Heaven only knows! Now, Augusta is to be married. I must of course have a few hundred pounds. You should have heard how he groaned when I asked him for it. Heaven only knows where the money goes!’ And the injured wife wiped a piteous tear from her eye with her fine dress cambric handkerchief. ‘I have all the sufferings and privations of a poor man’s wife, but I have none of the consolations. He has no confidence in me; he never tells me anything; he never talks to me about his affairs. If he talks to any one it is to that horrid doctor.’
‘What, Dr Thorne?’ Now the Countess de Courcy hated Dr Thorne with a holy hatred.
‘Yes; Dr Thorne. I believe that he knows everything; and advises everything, too. Whatever difficulties poor Gresham may have, I do believe Dr Thorne has brought them about. I do believe it, Rosina.’
‘Well, that is surprising. Mr Gresham with all his faults is a gentleman; and how he can talk about his affairs with a low apothecary like that I, for one, cannot imagine. Lord de Courcy has not always been to me all that he should have been; far from it.’ And Lady de Courcy thought over in her mind injuries of a much graver description than any that her sister-inlaw had ever suffered; ‘but I have never known anything like that at Courcy Castle. Surely Umbleby knows all about it, doesn’t he?’
‘Not half so much as the doctor,’ said Lady Arabella.
The countess shook her head slowly; the idea of Mr Gresham, a country gentleman of good estate like him, making a confidant of a country doctor was too great a shock for her nerves; and for a while she was constrained to sit silent before she could recover herself.
‘One thing at any rate is certain, Arabella,’ said the countess, as soon as she found herself again sufficiently composed to offer counsel in a properly dictatorial manner. ‘One thing at any rate is certain; if Mr Gresham be involved so deeply as you say, Frank has but only one duty before him. He must marry money. The heir of fourteen thousand a year may indulge himself in looking for blood, as Mr Gresham did, my dear’—it must be understood that there was very little compliment in this, as the Lady Arabella had always conceived herself to be a beauty —‘or for beauty, as some men do,’ continued the countess, thinking of the choice that the present Earl de Courcy had made; ‘but Frank must marry money. I hope he will understand this early; do make him understand this before he makes a fool of himself: when a man thoroughly understands this, when he knows what his circumstances require, why, the matter becomes easy to him. I hope that Frank understands that he has no alternative. In his position he must marry money.’
But, alas! alas! Frank Gresham had already made a fool of himself.
‘Well, my boy, I wish you joy with all my heart,’ said the Honourable John, slapping his cousin on the back, as he walked round to the stable-yard with him before dinner, to inspect a setter puppy of peculiarly fine breed which had been sent to Frank as a birthday present. ‘I wish I were an elder son; but we can’t all have that luck.’
‘Who wouldn’t sooner be the younger son of an earl than the eldest son of a plain squire?’ said Frank, wishing to say something civil in return for his cousin’s civility.
‘I wouldn’t for one,’ said the Honourable John. ‘What chance have I? There’s Porlock as strong as a horse; and then George comes next. And the governor’s good for these twenty years.’ And the young man sighed as he reflected what small hope there was that all those who were nearest and dearest to him should die out of his way, and leave him to the sweet enjoyment of an earl’s coronet and fortune. ‘Now, you’re sure of your game some day; and as you’ve no brothers, I suppose the squire’ll let you do pretty well what you like. Besides, he’s not so strong as my governor, though he’s younger.’
Frank had never looked at his fortune in this light before, and was so slow and green that he was not much delighted at the prospect now that it was offered to him. He had always, however, been taught to look to his cousins, the De Courcys, as men with whom it would be very expedient that he should be intimate; he therefore showed no offence, but changed the conversation.
‘Shall you hunt with the Barsetshire this season, John? I hope you will; I shall.’
‘Well, I don’t know. It’s very slow. It’s all tillage here, or else woodland. I rather fancy I shall go to Leicestershire when the partridge-shooting is over. What sort of a lot do you mean to come out with, Frank?’
Frank became a little red as he answered, ‘Oh, I shall have two,’ he said; ‘that is, the mare I have had these two years, and the horse my father gave me this morning.’
‘What! only those two? and the mare is nothing more than a pony.’
‘She is fifteen hands,’ said Frank, offended.
‘Well, Frank, I certainly would not stand that,’ said the Honourable John. ‘What, go out before the county with one untrained horse and a pony; and you the heir to Greshamsbury!’
‘I’ll have him trained before November,’ said Frank, ‘that nothing in Barsetshire will stop him. Peter says’—Peter was the Greshamsbury stud-groom —‘that he tucks up his legs beautifully.’
‘But who the deuce would think of going to work with one horse; or two either, if you insist on calling the old pony a huntress? I’ll put you up to a trick, my lad: if you stand that you’ll stand anything; and if you don’t mean to go in leading-strings all your life, now is the time to show it. There’s young Baker—Harry Baker, you know—he came of age last year, and he has as pretty a string of nags as any one would wish to set eyes on; four hunters and a hack. Now, if old Baker has four thousand a year it’s every shilling he has got.’
This was true, and Frank Gresham, who in the morning had been made so happy by his father’s present of a horse, began to feel that hardly enough had been done for him. It was true that Mr Baker had only four thousand a year; but it was also true that he had no other child than Harry Baker; that he had no great establishment to keep up; that he owed a shilling to no one; and, also, that he was a great fool in encouraging a mere boy to ape all the caprices of a man of wealth. Nevertheless, for a moment, Frank Gresham did feel that, considering his position, he was being treated rather unworthily.
‘Take the matter in your own hands, Frank,’ said the Honourable John, seeing the impression that he had made. ‘Of course the governor knows very well that you won’t put up with such a stable as that. Lord bless you! I have heard that when he married my aunt, and that was when he was about your age, he had the best stud in the whole county; and then he was in Parliament before he was three-and-twenty.’
‘His father, you know, died when he was very young,’ said Frank.
‘Yes; I know he had a stroke of luck that doesn’t fall to everyone; but —’
Young Frank’s face grew dark now instead of red. When his cousin submitted to him the necessity of having more than two horses for his own use he could listen to him; but when the same monitor talked of the chance of a father’s death as a stroke of luck, Frank was too much disgusted to be able pass it over with indifference. What! was he thus to think of his father, whose face was always lighted up with pleasure when his boy came near to him, and so rarely bright at any other time? Frank had watched his father closely enough to be aware of this; he knew how his father delighted in him; he had had cause to guess that his father had many troubles, and that he strove hard to banish the memory of them when his son was with him. He loved his father truly, purely, and thoroughly, liked to be with him, and would be proud to be his confidant. Could he listen quietly while his cousin spoke of the chance of his father’s death as a stroke of luck?
‘I shouldn’t think it a stroke of luck, John. I should think it the greatest misfortune in the world.’
It is so difficult for a young man to enumerate sententiously a principle of morality, or even an expression of ordinary good feeling, without giving himself something of a ridiculous air, without assuming something of a mock grandeur!
‘Oh, of course, my dear fellow,’ said the Honourable John, laughing; ‘that’s a matter of course. We all understand that without saying it. Porlock, of course, would feel exactly the same about the governor; but if the governor were to walk, I think Porlock would console himself with the thirty thousand a year.’
‘I don’t know what Porlock would do; he’s always quarrelling with my uncle, I know. I only spoke of myself; I never quarrelled with my father, and I hope I never shall.’
‘All right, my lad of wax, all right. I dare say you won’t be tried; but it you are, you’ll find before six months are over, that it’s a very nice thing to master of Greshamsbury.’
‘I’m sure I shouldn’t find anything of the kind.’
‘Very well, so be it. You wouldn’t do as young Hatherly did, at Hatherly Court, in Gloucestershire, when his father kicked the bucket. You know Hatherly, don’t you?’
‘No; I never saw him.’
‘He’s Sir Frederick now, and has, or had, one of the finest fortunes in England, for a commoner; the most of it is gone now. Well, when he heard of his governor’s death, he was in Paris, but he went off to Hatherly as fast as special train and post-horses would carry him, and got there just in time for the funeral. As he came back to Hatherly Court from the church, they were putting up the hatchment over the door, and Master Fred saw that the undertakers had put at the bottom “Resurgam”. You know what that means?’
‘Oh, yes,’ said Frank.
‘“I’ll come back again.”’ said the Honourable John, construing the Latin for the benefit of his cousin. ‘“NO,” said Fred Hatherly, looking up at the hatchment; “I’m blessed if you do, old gentleman. That would be too much of a joke; I’ll take care of that.” So he got up at night, and he got some fellows with him, and they climbed up and painted out “Resurgam”, and they painted into its place, “Requiescat in pace”; which means, you know, “you’d a great deal better stay where you are”. Now I call that good. Fred Hatherly did that as sure as—as sure as—as sure as anything.’
Frank could not help laughing at the story, especially at his cousin’s mode of translating the undertaker’s mottoes; and then they sauntered back from the stables into the house to dress for dinner.
Dr Thorne had come to the house somewhat before dinner-time, at Mr Gresham’s request, and was now sitting with the squire in his own book-room—so called—while Mary was talking to some of the girls upstairs.
‘I must have ten or twelve thousand pounds; ten at the very least,’ said the squire, who was sitting in his usual arm-chair, close to his littered table, with his head supported on his hand, looking very unlike the father of an heir of a noble property, who had that day come of age.
It was the first of July, and of course there was no fire in the grate; but, nevertheless, the doctor was standing with his back to the fireplace, with his coat-tails over his arms, as though he were engaged, now in summer as he so often was in winter, in talking, and roasting his hinder person at the same time.
‘Twelve thousand pounds! It’s a very large sum of money.’
‘I said ten,’ said the squire.
‘Ten thousand pounds is a very large sum of money. There is no doubt he’ll let you have it. Scatcherd will let you have it; but I know he’ll expect to have the title deeds.’
‘What! for ten thousand pounds?’ said the squire. ‘There is not a registered debt against the property but his own and Armstrong’s.’
‘But his own is very large already.’
‘Armstrong’s is nothing; about four-and-twenty thousand pounds.’
‘Yes; but he comes first, Mr Gresham.’
‘Well, what of that? To hear you talk, one would think that there was nothing left of Greshamsbury. What’s four-and-twenty thousand pounds? Does Scatcherd know what rent-roll is?’
‘Oh, yes, he knows it well enough: I wish he did not.’
‘What he means is, that he must have ample security to cover what he has already advanced before he goes on. I wish to goodness you had no further need to borrow. I did think that things were settled last year.’
‘Oh if there’s any difficulty, Umbleby will get it for me.’
‘Yes; and what will you have to pay for it?’
‘I’d sooner pay double that be talked to in this way,’ said the squire, angrily, and, as he spoke, he got up hurriedly from his chair, thrust his hands into his trousers-pockets, walked quickly to the window, and immediately walking back again, threw himself once more into his chair.
‘There are some things a man cannot bear, doctor,’ said he, beating the devil’s tattoo on the floor with one of his feet, ‘though God knows I ought to be patient now, for I am made to bear a good many things. You had better tell Scatcherd that I am obliged to him for his offer, but that I will not trouble him.’
The doctor during this little outburst had stood quite silent with his back to the fireplace and his coat-tails hanging over his arms; but though his voice said nothing, his face said much. He was very unhappy; he was greatly grieved to find that the squire was so soon again in want of money, and greatly grieved also to find that this want had made him so bitter and unjust. Mr Gresham had attacked him; but as he was determined not to quarrel with Mr Gresham, he refrained from answering.
The squire also remained silent for a few minutes; but he was not endowed with the gift of silence, and was soon, as it were, compelled to speak agaain.
‘Poor Frank!’ said he. ‘I could yet be easy about everything if it were not for the injury I have done him. Poor Frank!’
The doctor advanced a few paces from off the rug, and taking his hand out of his pocket, he laid it gently on the squire’s shoulder. ‘Frank will do very well yet,’ said the he. ‘It is not absolutely necessary that a man should have fourteen thousand pounds a year to be happy.’
‘My father left me the property entire, and I should leave it entire to my son;—but you don’t understand this.’
The doctor did understand the feeling fully. The fact, on the other hand, was that, long as he had known him, the squire did not understand the doctor.
‘I would you could, Mr Gresham,’ said the doctor, ‘so that your mind might be happier; but that cannot be, and, therefore, I say again, that Frank will do very well yet, although he will not inherit fourteen thousand pounds a year; and I would have you say the same thing to yourself.’
‘Ah! you don’t understand it,’ persisted the squire. ‘You don’t know how a man feels when he—Ah, well! it’s no use my troubling you with what cannot be mended. I wonder whether Umbleby is about the place anywhere?’
The doctor was again standing with his back against the chimney-piece, and with his hands in his pockets.
‘You did not see Umbleby as you came in?’ again asked the squire.
‘No, I did not; and if you will take my advice you will not see him now; at any rate with reference to this money.’
‘I tell you I must get it from someone; you say Scatcherd won’t let me have it.’
‘No, Mr Gresham; I did not say that.’
‘Well, you said what was as bad. Augusta is to be married in September, and the money must be had. I have agreed to give Moffat six thousand pounds, and he is to have the money down in hard cash.’
‘Six thousand pounds,’ said the doctor. ‘Well, I suppose that is not more than your daughter should have. But then, five times six are thirty; thirty thousand pounds will be a large sum to make up.’
The father thought to himself that his younger girls were but children, and that the trouble of arranging their marriage portions might well be postponed a while. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.
‘That Moffat is a gripping, hungry fellow,‘said the squire. ‘I suppose Augusta likes him; and, as regards money, it is a good match.’
‘If Miss Gresham loves him, that is everything. I am not in love with him myself; but then, I am not a young lady.’
‘The De Courcys are very fond of him. Lady de Courcy says that he is a perfect gentleman, and thought very much of in London.’
‘Oh! if Lady de Courcy says that, of course, it’s all right,’ said the doctor, with a quiet sarcasm, that was altogether thrown away on the squire.
The squire did not like any of the De Courcys; especially, he did not like Lady de Courcy; but still he was accessible to a certain amount of gratification in the near connexion which he had with the earl and countess; and when he wanted to support his family greatness, would sometimes weakly fall back upon the grandeur of Courcy Castle. It was only when talking to his wife that he invariably snubbed the pretensions of his noble relatives.
The two men after this remained silent for a while; and then the doctor, renewing the subject for which he had been summoned into the book-room, remarked that as Scatcherd was now in the country—he did not say, was now at Boxall Hill, as he did not wish to wound the squire’s ears—perhaps he had better go and see him, and ascertain in what way this affair of the money might be arranged. There was no doubt, he said, that Scatcherd would supply the sum required at a lower rate of interest than that which it could be procured through Umbleby’s means.
‘Very well,’ said the squire. ‘I’ll leave it in your hands, then. I think ten thousand pounds will do. And now I’ll dress for dinner.’ And then the doctor left him.
Perhaps the reader will suppose after this that the doctor had some pecuniary interest of his own in arranging the squire’s loans; or, at any rate, he will think that the squire must have so thought. Not in the least; neither had he any such interest, nor did the squire think that he had any. What Dr Thorne did in this matter the squire well knew was done for love. But the squire of Greshamsbury was a great man at Greshamsbury; and it behoved him to maintain the greatness of his squirehood when discussing his affairs with the village doctor. So much he had at any rate learnt from his contact with the De Courcys.
And the doctor—proud, arrogant, contradictory, headstrong as he was—why did he bear to be thus snubbed? Because he knew that the squire of Greshamsbury, when struggling with debt and poverty, required an indulgence for his weakness. Had Mr Gresham been in easy circumstances, the doctor would by no means have stood so placidly with his hands in his pockets, and have had Mr Umbleby thus thrown in his teeth. The doctor loved the squire, loved him as his own oldest friend; but he loved him ten times better as being in adversity than he could ever done had things gone well at Greshamsbury in his time.
While this was going on downstairs, Mary was sitting upstairs with Beatrice Gresham in the schoolroom. The old schoolroom, so called, was now a sitting-room, devoted to the use of the grown-up ladies of the family, whereas one of the old nurseries was now the modern schoolroom. Mary well knew her way to the sanctum, and, without asking any questions, walked up to it when her uncle went to the squire. On entering the room she found that Augusta and the Lady Alexandrina were also there, and she hesitated for a moment at the door.
‘Come in, Mary,’ said Beatrice, ‘you know my cousin Alexandrina.’ Mary came in, and having shaken hands with her two friends, was bowing to the lady, when the lady condescended, put out her noble hand, and touched Miss Thorne’s fingers.
Beatrice was Mary’s friend, and many heart-burnings and much mental solicitude did that young lady give to her mother by indulging in such a friendship. But Beatrice, with some faults, was true at heart, and she persisted in loving Mary Thorne in spite of the hints which her mother so frequently gave as to the impropriety of such an affection.
Nor had Augusta any objection to the society of Miss Thorne. Augusta was a strong-minded girl, with much of the De Courcy arrogance, but quite as well inclined to show it in opposition to her mother as in any other form. To her alone in the house did Lady Arabella show much deference. She was now going to make a suitable match with a man of large fortune, who had been procured for her as an eligible parti by her aunt, the countess. She did not pretend, had never pretended, that she loved Mr Moffat, but she knew, she said, that in the present state of her father’s affairs such a match was expedient. Mr Moffat was a young man of very large fortune, in Parliament, and inclined to business, and in every way recommendable. He was not a man of birth, to be sure; that was to be lamented;—in confessing that Mr Moffat was not a man of birth, Augusta did not go so far as to admit that he was the son of a tailor; such, however, was the rigid truth in this matter—he was not a man of birth, that was to be lamented; but in the present state of affairs at Greshamsbury, she understood well that it was her duty to postpone her own feelings in some respect. Mr Moffat would bring fortune; she would bring blood and connexion. And as she so said, her bosom glowed with strong pride to think that she would be able to contribute so much more towards the proposed future partnership than her husband would do.
’Twas thus that Miss Gresham spoke of her match to her dear friends, her cousins the De Courcys for instance, to Miss Oriel, her sister Beatrice, and even to Mary Thorne. She had no enthusiasm, she admitted, but she thought she had good judgment. She thought she had shown good judgment in accepting Mr Moffat’s offer, though she did not pretend to any romance of affection. And, having so said, she went to work with considerable mental satisfaction, choosing furniture, carriages, and clothes, not extravagantly as her mother would have done, not in deference to sterner dictates of the latest fashion as her aunt would have done, with none of the girlish glee in new purchases which Beatrice would have felt, but with sound judgment. She bought things that were rich, for her husband was to be rich, and she meant to avail herself of his wealth; she bought things that were fashionable, for she meant to live in the fashionable world; but she bought what was good, and strong, and lasting, and worth its money.
Augusta Gresham had perceived early in life that she could not obtain success either as an heiress, or as a beauty, nor could she shine as a wit; she therefore fell back on such qualities as she had, and determined to win the world as a strong-minded, useful woman. That which she had of her own was blood; having that, she would in all ways do what in her lay to enhance its value. Had she not possessed it, it would to her mind have been the vainest of pretences.
When Mary came in, the wedding preparations were being discussed. The number and names of the bridesmaids were being settled, the dresses were on the tapis, the invitations to be given were talked over. Sensible as Augusta was, she was not above such feminine cares; she was, indeed, rather anxious that the wedding should go off well. She was a little ashamed of her tailor’s son, and therefore anxious that things should be as brilliant as possible.
The bridesmaid’s names had just been written on a card as Mary entered the room. There were the Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, and Alexandrina of course at the head of it; then came Beatrice and the twins; then Miss Oriel, who, though only a parson’s sister, was a person of note, birth and fortune. After this there had been here a great discussion whether or not there should be any more. If there were to be one more there must be two. Now Miss Moffat had expressed a direct wish, and Augusta, though she would much rather have done without her, hardly knew how to refuse. Alexandrina—we hope we may be allowed to drop the ‘lady’ for the sake of brevity, for the present scene only—was dead against such an unreasonable request. ‘We none of us know her, you know; and it would not be comfortable.’ Beatrice strongly advocated the future sister-inlaw’s acceptance into the bevy; she had her own reasons; she was pained that Mary Thorne should not be among the number, and if Miss Moffat were accepted, perhaps Mary might be brought in as her colleague.
‘If you have Miss Moffat,’ said Alexandrina, ‘you must have dear Pussy too; and I really think that Pussy is too young; it will be troublesome.’ Pussy was the youngest Miss Gresham, who was now only eight years old, and whose real name was Nina.
‘Augusta,’ said Beatrice, speaking with some slight hesitation, some soupcon of doubt before the highest authority of her noble cousin, ‘if you do have Miss Moffat would you mind asking Mary Thorne to join her? I think Mary would like it, because, you see, Patience Oriel is to be one; and we have known Mary much longer than we have known Patience.’
Then out and spake the Lady Alexandrina.
‘Beatrice, dear, if you think of what you are asking, I am sure you will see that it would not do; would not do at all. Miss Thorne is a very nice girl, I am sure; and, indeed, what little I have seen of her I highly approve. But, after all, who is she? Mamma, I know, thinks that Aunt Arabella has been wrong to let be here so much, but —’
Beatrice became rather red in the face, and, in spite of the dignity of her cousin, was preparing to defend her friend.
‘Mind, I am not saying a word against Miss Thorne.’
‘If I am married before her, she shall be one of my bridesmaids,’ said Beatrice.
‘That will probably depend on circumstances,’ said the Lady Alexandrina; I find that I cannot bring my courteous pen to drop the title. ‘But Augusta is very peculiarly situated. Mr Moffat, is, you see, not of the very highest birth; and, therefore, she should take care that on her side every one about her is well born.’
‘Then you cannot have Miss Moffat,’ said Beatrice.
‘No; I would not if I could help it,’ said the cousin.
‘But the Thornes are as good a family as the Greshams,’ said Beatrice. She had not quite the courage to say, as good as the De Courcys.
‘I dare say they are; and if this was Miss Thorne of Ullathorne, Augusta probably would not object to her. But can you tell me who Miss Mary Thorne is?’
‘She is Dr Thorne’s niece.’
‘You mean that she is called so; but do you know who her father was, or who her mother was? I, for one, must own that I do not. Mamma, I believe, does, but —’
At this moment the door opened gently and Mary Thorne entered the room.
It may easily be conceived, that while Mary was making her salutations the three other young ladies were a little cast aback. The Lady Alexandrina, however, quickly recovered herself, and, by her inimitable presence of mind and facile grace of manner, soon put the matter on a proper footing.
‘We were discussing Miss Gresham’s marriage,’ said she; ‘I am sure I may mention to an acquaintance of so long standing as Miss Thorne, that the first of September has been now fixed for the wedding.’
Miss Gresham! Acquaintance of so long standing! Why, Mary and Augusta Gresham had for years, we will hardly say for how many, passed their mornings together in the same schoolroom; had quarrelled, and squabbled, and caressed and kissed, and been all but sisters to each other. Acquaintance indeed! Beatrice felt that her ears were tingling, and even Augusta was a little ashamed. Mary, however, knew that the cold words had come from a De Courcy, and not from a Gresham, and did not, therefore, resent them.
‘So it’s settled, Augusta, is it?’ said she; ‘the first of September. I wish you joy with all my heart,’ and, coming round, she put her arm over Augusta’s shoulder and kissed her. The Lady Alexandrina could not but think that the doctor’s niece uttered her congratulations very much as though she were speaking to an equal; very much as though she had a father and mother of her own.
‘You will have delicious weather,’ continued Mary. ‘September, and the beginning of October, is the nicest time of the year. If I were going honeymooning it is just the time of year I would choose.’
‘I wish you were, Mary,’ said Beatrice.
‘So do not I, dear, till I have found some decent sort of a body to honeymoon along with me. I won’t stir out of Greshamsbury till I have sent you off before me, at any rate. And where will you go, Augusta?’
‘We have not settled that,’ said Augusta. ‘Mr Moffat talks of Paris.’
‘Who ever heard of going to Paris in September?’ said the Lady Alexandrina.
The Lady Alexandrina was not pleased to find how completely the doctor’s niece took upon herself to talk, and sit, and act at Greshamsbury as though she was on a par with the young ladies of the family. That Beatrice should have allowed this would not have surprised her; but it was to be expected that Augusta would have shown better judgment.
‘These things require some tact in their management; some delicacy when high interests are at stake,’ said she; ‘I agree with Miss Thorne in thinking that, in ordinary circumstances, with ordinary people, perhaps, the lady should have her way. Rank, however, has its drawbacks, Miss Thorne, as well as its privileges.’
‘I should not object to the drawbacks,’ said the doctor’s niece, ‘presuming them to be of some use; but I fear I might fail in getting on so well with the privileges.’
The Lady Alexandrina looked at her as though not fully aware whether she intended to be pert. In truth, the Lady Alexandrina was rather in the dark on the subject. It was almost impossible, it was incredible, that a fatherless, motherless, doctor’s niece should be pert to an earl’s daughter at Greshamsbury, seeing that that earl’s daughter was the cousin of the miss Greshams. And yet the Lady Alexandrina hardly knew what other construction to put on the words she had just heard.
It was at any rate clear to her that it was not becoming that she should just then stay any longer in that room. Whether she intended to be pert or not, Miss Mary Thorne was, to say the least, very free. The De Courcy ladies knew what was due to them—no ladies better; and, therefore, the Lady Alexandrina made up her mind at once to go to her own bedroom.
‘Augusta,’ she said, rising slowly from her chair with much stately composure, ‘it is nearly time to dress; will you come with me? We have a great deal to discuss, you know.’
So she swam out of the room, and Augusta, telling Mary that she would see her again at dinner, swam—no, tried to swim—after her. Miss Gresham had had great advantages; but she had not been absolutely brought up at Courcy Castle, and could not as yet quite assume the Courcy style of swimming.
‘There,’ said Mary, as the door closed behind the rustling muslins of the ladies. ‘There, I have made an enemy for ever, perhaps two; that’s satisfactory.’
‘And why have you done it, Mary? When I am fighting your battles behind your back, why do you come and upset it all by making the whole family of the De Courcys dislike you? In such a matter as that, they’ll all go together.’
‘I am sure they will,’ said Mary; ‘whether they would be equally unanimous in a case of love and charity, that, indeed, is another question.’
‘But why should you try to make my cousin angry; you that ought to have so much sense? Don’t you remember that you were saying yourself the other day, of the absurdity of combatting pretences which the world sanctions?’
‘I do, Trichy, I do; don’t scold me now. It is so much easier to preach than to practise. I do so wish I was a clergyman.’
‘But you have done so much harm, Mary.’
‘Have I?’ said Mary, kneeling down on the ground at her friend’s feet. ‘If I humble myself very low; if I kneel through the whole evening in a corner; if I put my neck down and let all your cousins trample on it, and then your aunt, would not that make atonement? I would not object to wearing sackcloth, either; and I’d eat a little ashes—or, at any rate, I’d try.’
‘I know you’re clever, Mary; but still I think you’re a fool. I do, indeed.’
‘I am a fool, Trichy, I do confess it; and am not a bit clever; but don’t scold me; you see how humble I am; not only humble but umble, which I look upon to be the comparative, or, indeed, superlative degree. Or perhaps there are four degrees; humble, umble, stumble, tumble; and then, when one is absolutely in the dirt at their feet, perhaps these big people won’t wish one to stoop any further.’
‘And, oh, Trichy! you don’t mean to say I mayn’t speak out before you. There, perhaps you’d like to put your foot on my neck.’ And then she put her head down to the footstool and kissed Beatrice’s feet.
‘I’d like, if I dared, to put my hand on your cheek and give you a good slap for being such a goose.’
‘Do; do, Trichy: you shall tread on me, or slap me, or kiss me; whichever you like.’
‘I can’t tell you how vexed I am,’ said Beatrice; ‘I wanted to arrange something.’
‘Arrange something! What? arrange what? I love arranging. I fancy myself qualified to be an arranger-general in female matters. I mean pots and pans, and such like. Of course I don’t allude to extraordinary people and extraordinary circumstances that require tact, and delicacy, and drawbacks, and that sort of thing.’
‘Very well, Mary.’
‘But it’s not very well; it’s very bad if you look like that. Well, my pet, there I won’t. I won’t allude to the noble blood of your noble relatives either in joke or in earnest. What is it you want to arrange, Trichy?’
‘I want you to be one of Augusta’s bridesmaids.’
‘Good heavens, Beatrice! Are you mad? What! Put me, even for a morning, into the same category of finery as the noble blood from Courcy Castle!’
‘Patience is to be one.’
‘But that is no reason why Impatience should be another, and I should be very impatient under such honours. No, Trichy; joking apart, do not think of it. Even if Augusta wished it I would refuse. I should be obliged to refuse. I, too, suffer from pride; a pride quite as unpardonable as that of others: I could not stand with your four lady-cousins behind your sister at the altar. In such a galaxy they would be the stars and I—’
‘Why, Mary, all the world knows that you are prettier than any of them!’
‘I am all the world’s very humble servant. But, Trichy, I should not object if I were as ugly as the veiled prophet and they all as beautiful as Zuleika. The glory of that galaxy will be held to depend not on its beauty; but on its birth. You know how they would look at me; now they would scorn me; and there, in church, at the altar, with all that is solemn round us, I could not return their scorn as I might do elsewhere. In a room I’m not a bit afraid of them at all.’ And Mary was again allowing herself to be absorbed by that feeling of indomitable pride, of antagonism to the pride of others, which she herself in her cooler moments was the first to blame.
‘You often say, Mary, that that sort of arrogance should be despised and passed over without notice.’
‘So it should, Trichy. I tell you that as a clergyman tells you to hate riches. But though the clergyman tells you so, he is not the less anxious to be rich himself.’
‘I particularly wish you to be one of Augusta’s bridesmaids.’
‘And I particularly wish to decline the honour; which honour has not been, and will not be, offered to me. No, Trichy. I will not be Augusta’s bridesmaid, but—but—but —’
‘But what, dearest?’
‘But, Trichy, when some one else is married, when the new wing has been built to a house that you know of —’
‘Now, Mary, hold your tongue, or you know you’ll make me angry.’
‘I do so like to see you angry. And when that time comes, when that wedding does take place, then I will be a bridesmaid, Trichy. Yes! even though I am not invited. Yes! though all the De Courcys in Barsetshire should tread upon me and obliterate me. Though I should be dust among the stars, though I should creep up in calico among their satins and lace, I will nevertheless be there; close, close to the bride; to hold something for her, to touch her dress, to feel that I am near to her, to—to—to —’ and she threw her arms round her companion, and kissed her over and over again. ‘No, Trichy; I won’t be Augusta’s bridesmaid; I’ll bide my time for bridesmaiding.’
What protestations Beatrice made against the probability of such an event as foreshadowed in her friend’s promise we will not repeat. The afternoon was advancing, and the ladies also had to dress for dinner, to do honour to the young heir.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41