At this period there was, as it were, a truce to the ordinary little skirmishes which had been so customary between Lady Arabella and the squire. Things had so fallen out, that they neither of them had must spirit for a contest; and, moreover, on that point which at the present moment was most thought of by both of them, they were strangely in unison. For each of them was anxious to prevent the threatened marriage of their only son.
It must, moreover, be remembered, that Lady Arabella had carried a great point in ousting Mr Yates Umbleby and putting the management of the estate into the hands of her own partisan. But then the squire had not done less in getting rid of Fillgrave and reinstating Dr Thorne in possession of the family invalids. The losses, therefore, had been equal; the victories equal; and there was a mutual object.
And it must be confessed, also, that Lady Arabella’s taste for grandeur was on the decline. Misfortune was coming too near to her to leave her much anxiety for the gaieties of a London season. Things were not faring well with her. When her eldest daughter was going to marry a man of fortune, and a member of Parliament, she had thought nothing of demanding a thousand pounds or so for the extraordinary expenses incident to such an occasion. But now, Beatrice was to become the wife of a parish parson, and even that was thought to be a fortunate event; she had, therefore, no heart for splendour.
‘The quieter we can do it the better,’ she wrote to her countess-sister. ‘Her father wanted to give him at least a thousand pounds; but Mr Gazebee has told me confidentially that it literally cannot be done at the present moment! Ah, my dear Rosina! how things have been managed! If one or two of the girls will come over, we shall all take it as a favour. Beatrice would think it very kind of them. But I don’t think of asking you or Amelia.’ Amelia was always the grandest of the De Courcy family, being almost on an equality with—nay, in some respect superior to—the countess herself. But this, of course, was before the days of the place in Surrey.
Such, and so humble being the present temper of the lady of Greshamsbury, it will not be thought surprising that she and Mr Gresham should at last come together in their efforts to reclaim their son.
At first Lady Arabella urged upon the squire the duty of being very peremptory and very angry. ‘Do as other fathers do in such cases. Make him understand that he will have no allowance to live on.’ ‘He understands that well enough,’ said Mr Gresham.
‘Threaten to cut him off with a shilling,’ said her ladyship, with spirit. ‘I haven’t a shilling to cut him off with,’ answered the squire, bitterly.
But Lady Arabella herself soon perceived, that this line would not do. As Mr Gresham himself confessed, his own sins against his son had been too great to allow of his taking a high hand with him. Besides, Mr Gresham was not a man who could ever be severe with a son whose individual conduct had been so good as Frank’s. This marriage, was, in his view, a misfortune to be averted if possible—to be averted by any possible means; but, as far as Frank was concerned, it was to be regarded rather as a monomania than a crime.
‘I did feel so certain that he would have succeeded with Miss Dunstable,’ said the mother, almost crying.
‘I thought it impossible but that at his age a twelvemonth knocking about the world would cure him,’ said the father.
‘I never heard of a boy being so obstinate about a girl,’ said the mother. ‘I’m sure he didn’t get it from the De Courcys:’ and then, again, they talked it over in all its bearings.
‘But what are they to live upon?’ said Lady Arabella, appealing, as it were, to some impersonation of reason. ‘That’s what I want him to tell me. What are they to live upon?’
‘I wonder whether De Courcy could get him into some embassy?’ said the father. ‘He does talk of a profession.’
‘What! with the girl and all?’ asked Lady Arabella with horror, alarmed at the idea of such an appeal being made to her noble brother.
‘No; but before he marries. He might be broken of it that way.’
‘Nothing will break him,’ said the wretched mother; ‘nothing—nothing. For my part, I think that he is possessed. Why was she brought here? Oh, dear! oh, dear! Why was she ever brought into this house?’
This last question Mr Gresham did not think it necessary to answer. That evil had been done, and it would be useless to dispute it. ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do,’ said he. ‘I’ll speak to the doctor myself.’
‘It’s not the slightest use,’ said Lady Arabella. ‘He will not assist us. Indeed, I firmly believe it’s all his own doing.’
‘Oh, nonsense! that really is nonsense, my love.’
‘Very well, Mr Gresham. What I say is always nonsense, I know; you have always told me so. But yet, see how things have turned out. I knew how it would be when she was first brought into the house.’ This assertion was rather a stretch on the part of Lady Arabella.
‘Well, it is nonsense to say that Frank is in love with the girl at the doctor’s bidding.’
‘I think you know, Mr Gresham, that I don’t mean that. What I say is this, that Dr Thorne, finding what an easy fool Frank is —’
‘I don’t think he’s at all easy, my love; and is certainly not a fool.’
‘Very well, have it your own way. I’ll not say a word more. I’m struggling to do my best, and I’m browbeaten on every side. God knows I am not in a state of health to bear it!’ And Lady Arabella bowed her head into her pocket-handkerchief.
‘I think, my dear, if you were to see Mary herself it might do some good,’ said the squire, when the violence of his wife’s grief had somewhat subsided.
‘What! go and call upon this girl?’
‘Yes; you can send Beatrice to give her notice, you know. She never was unreasonable, and I do not think that you would find her so. You should tell her, you know —’
‘Oh, I should know very well what to tell her, Mr Gresham.’
‘Yes, my love; I’m sure you would; nobody better. But what I mean is, that if you are to do any good, you should be kind in your manner. Mary Thorne has a spirit that you cannot break. You may perhaps lead, but nobody can drive her.’
As this scheme originated with her husband, Lady Arabella could not, of course, confess that there was much in it. But, nevertheless, she determined to attempt it, thinking that if anything could be efficacious for good in their present misfortunes, it would be her own diplomatic powers. It was, therefore, at last settled between them, that he should endeavour to talk over the doctor, and that she would do the same with Mary.
‘And then I will speak to Frank,’ said Lady Arabella. ‘As yet he has never had the audacity to open his mouth to me about Mary Thorne, though I believe he declares his love openly to every one else in the house.’
‘And I will get Oriel to speak to him,’ said the squire.
‘I think Patience might do more good. I did once think he was getting fond of Patience, and I was quite unhappy about it then. Ah, dear! I should be almost pleased at that now.’
And thus it was arranged that all the artillery of Greshamsbury was to be brought to bear at once on Frank’s love, so as to crush it, as it were, by the very weight of metal.
It may be imagined that the squire would have less scruple in addressing the doctor on this matter than his wife would feel; and that his part of their present joint undertaking was less difficult than hers. For he and the doctor had ever been friends at heart. But, nevertheless, he did feel much scruple, as, with his stick in hand, he walked down to the little gate which opened out near the doctor’s house.
This feeling was so strong, that he walked on beyond this door to the entrance, thinking of what he was going to do, and then back again. It seemed to be his fate to be depending always on the clemency or consideration of Dr Thorne. At this moment the doctor was imposing the only obstacle which was offered to the sale of a great part of his estate. Sir Louis, through his lawyer, was loudly accusing the doctor to sell, and the lawyer was loudly accusing the doctor of delaying to do so. ‘He has the management of your property,’ said Mr Finnie; ‘but he manages it in the interest of his own friend. It is quite clear, and we will expose it.’ ‘By all means,’ said Sir Louis. ‘It is a d—d shame, and it shall be exposed.’
When he reached the doctor’s house, he was shown into the drawing-room, and found Mary there alone. It had always been the habit to kiss her forehead when he chanced to meet her about the house at Greshamsbury. She had been younger and more childish then; but even now she was but a child to him, so he kissed her as he had been wont to do. She blushed slightly as she looked up into his face, and said: ‘Oh, Mr Gresham, I am so glad to see you again.’
As he looked at her he could not but acknowledge that it was natural that Frank should love her. He had never before seen that she was attractive;—had never had an opinion about it. She had grown up as a child under his eye; and as she had not had the name of being especially a pretty child, he had never thought on the subject. Now he saw before him a woman whose every feature was full of spirit and animation; whose eye sparkled with more than mere brilliancy; whose face was full of intelligence; whose very smile was eloquent. Was it to be wondered at that Frank should have learned to love her?
Miss Thorne wanted but one attribute which many consider essential to feminine beauty. She had no brilliancy of complexion, no pearly whiteness, no vivid carnation; nor, indeed, did she possess the dark brilliance of a brunette. But there was a speaking earnestness in her face; and expression of mental faculty which the squire now for the first time perceived to be charming.
And then he knew how good she was. He knew well what was her nature; how generous, how open, how affectionate, and yet how proud! Her pride was her fault; but even that was not a fault in his eyes. Out of his own family there was no one whom he had loved, and could love, as he loved her. He felt, and acknowledged, that no man could have a better wife. And yet he was there with the express object of rescuing his son from such a marriage!
‘You are looking very well, Mary,’ he said, almost involuntarily. ‘Am I?’ she answered, smiling. ‘It’s very nice at any rate to be complimented. Uncle never pays me any compliments of that sort.’
In truth, she was looking well. She would say to herself over and over again, from morning to night, that Frank’s love for her would be, must be, unfortunate; could not lead to happiness. But, nevertheless, it did make her happy. She had before his return made up her mind to be forgotten, and it was so sweet to find that he had been so far from forgetting her. A girl may scold a man in words for rashness in his love, but her heart never scolds him for such an offence as that. She had not been slighted, and her heart, therefore, still rose buoyant within her breast.
The doctor entered the room. As the squire’s visit had been expected by him, he had of course not been out of the house. ‘And now I suppose I must go,’ said Mary; ‘for I know you are going to talk about business. But, uncle, Mr Gresham says I’m looking very well. Why have you not been able to find that out?’
‘She’s a dear, good girl,’ said the squire, as the door shut behind her; ‘a dear good girl!’ and the doctor could not fail to see that his eyes were filled with tears.
‘I think she is,’ said he, quietly. And then they both sat silent, as though each was waiting to hear whether the other had anything more to say on that subject. The doctor, at any rate, had nothing more to say.
‘I have come here specially to speak to you about her.’
‘Yes, doctor; about her and Frank: something must be done, some arrangement made: if not for our sakes, at least for theirs.’
‘What arrangement, squire?’
‘Ah! that’s the question. I take it for granted that either Frank or Mary has told you that they have engaged themselves to each other.’
‘Frank told me some twelve months since.’
‘And has not Mary told you?’
‘Not exactly that. But, never mind; she has, I believe, no secret from me. Though I have said but little to her, I think I know it all.’
‘Well, what then?’
The doctor shook his head and put up his hands. He had nothing to say; no proposition to make; no arrangement to suggest. The thing was so, and he seemed to say that, as far as he was concerned, there was an end of it.
The squire sat looking at him, hardly knowing how to proceed. It seemed to him, that the fact of a young man and a young lady being in love with each other was not a thing to be left to arrange itself, particularly seeing the rank in life in which they were placed. But the doctor seemed to be of a different opinion.
‘But, Dr Thorne, there is no man on God’s earth who knows my affairs as well as you do; and in knowing mine, you know Frank’s. Do you think it possible that they should marry each other?’
‘Possible; yes, it is possible. You mean, will it be prudent?’
‘Well, take it in that way; would it not be most imprudent?’
‘At present, it certainly would be. I have never spoken to either of them on the subject; but I presume they do not think of such a thing for the present.’
‘But, doctor —’ The squire was certainly taken aback by the coolness of the doctor’s manner. After all, he, the squire, was Mr Gresham of Greshamsbury, generally acknowledged to be the first commoner in Barsetshire; after all, Frank was his heir, and, in process of time, he would be Mr Gresham of Greshamsbury. Crippled as the estate was, there would be something left, and the rank at any rate remained. But as to Mary, she was not even the doctor’s daughter. She was not only penniless, but nameless, fatherless, worse than motherless! It was incredible that Dr Thorne, with his generally exalted ideas as to family, should speak in this cold way as to a projected marriage between the heir of Greshamsbury and his brother’s bastard child!
‘But, doctor,’ repeated the squire.
The doctor put one leg over the other, and began to rub his calf. ‘Squire,’ said he. ‘I think I know all that you would say, all that you mean. And you don’t like to say it, because you would not wish to pain me by alluding to Mary’s birth.’
‘But, independently of that, what would they live on?’ said the squire, energetically. ‘Birth is a great thing, a very great thing. You and I think exactly the alike about that, so we need have no dispute. You are quite as proud of Ullathorne as I am of Greshamsbury.’
‘I might be if it belonged to me.’
‘But you are. It is no use arguing. But, putting that aside altogether, what would they live on? If they were to marry, what would they do? Where would they go? You know what Lady Arabella thinks of such things; would it be possible that they should live up at the house with her? Besides, what a life would that be for both of them! Could they live here? Would that be well for them?’
The squire looked at the doctor for an answer; but he still went rubbing his calf. Mr Gresham, therefore, was constrained to continue his expostulation.
‘When I am dead there will still, I hope, be something;—something left for the poor fellow. Lady Arabella and the girls would be better off, perhaps, than now, and I sometimes wish, for Frank’s sake, that the time had come.’
The doctor could not now go on rubbing his knees. He was moved to speak, and declared that, of all events, that was the one which would be furthest from Frank’s heart. ‘I know no son,’ said he, ‘who loves his father more dearly than he does.’
‘I do believe it,’ said the squire; ‘I do believe it. But yet, I cannot but feel that I am in his way.’
‘No, squire, no; you are in no one’s way. You will find yourself happy with your son yet, and proud of him. And proud of his wife, too. I hope so, and I think so: I do, indeed, or I should not say so, squire; we will have many a happy day yet together, when we shall talk of all these things over the dining-room fire at Greshamsbury.’
The squire felt it kind in the doctor that he should thus endeavour to comfort him; but he could not understand, and did not inquire, on what basis these golden hopes was founded. It was necessary, however, to return to the subject which he had come to discuss. Would the doctor assist him in preventing this marriage? That was now the one thing necessary to be kept in view.
‘But, doctor, about the young people; of course they cannot marry, you are aware of that.’
‘I don’t know that exactly.’
‘Well, doctor, I must say I thought you would feel it.’
‘Feel what, squire?’
‘That, situated as they are, they ought not to marry.’
‘That is quite another question. I have said nothing about that either to you or to anybody else. The truth is, squire, I have never interfered in this matter one way or the other; and I have no wish to do so now.’
‘But should you not interfere? Is not Mary the same to you as your own child?’
Dr Thorne hardly knew how to answer this. He was aware that his argument about not interfering was in fact absurd. Mary could not marry without his interference; and had it been the case that she was in danger of making an improper marriage, of course he would interfere. His meaning was, that he would not at the present moment express any opinion; he would not declare against a match which might turn out to be in every way desirable; nor, if he spoke in favour of it, could he give his reasons for doing so. Under these circumstances, he would have wished to say nothing, could that only have been possible.
But as it was not possible, and as he must say something, he answered the squire’s last question by asking another. ‘What is your objection, squire?’
‘Objection! Why, what on earth would they live on?’
‘Then I understand, that if that difficulty were over, you would not refuse your consent merely because of Mary’s birth?’
This was a manner in which the squire had by no means expected to have the affair presented to him. It seemed so impossible that any sound-minded man should take any but his view of the case, that he had not prepared himself for argument. There was every objection to his son marrying Miss Thorne; but the fact of their having no income between them did certainly justify him in alleging that first.
‘But that difficulty can’t be got over, doctor. You know, however, that it would be cause of grief to us all to see Frank marry much beneath his station; that is, I mean, in family. You should not press me to say this, for you know that I love Mary dearly.’
‘But, my dear friend, it is necessary. Wounds sometimes must be opened in order that they may be healed. What I mean is this;—and, squire, I’m sure I need not say to you that I hope for an honest answer—were Mary Thorne an heiress; had she, for instance, such wealth as that Miss Dunstable that we hear of; in that case would you object to this match?’
When the doctor declared that he expected an honest answer the squire listened with all his ears; but the question, when finished, seemed to have no bearing on the present case.
‘Come, squire, speak your mind faithfully. There was some talk of Frank’s marrying Miss Dunstable; did you mean to object to that match?’
‘Miss Dunstable was legitimate; at least, I presume so.’
‘Oh, Mr Gresham! has it come to that? Miss Dunstable, then, would have satisfied your ideas of high birth?’
Mr Gresham was rather posed, and regretted, at the moment, his allusion to Miss Dunstable’s presumed legitimacy. But he soon recovered himself. ‘No,’ said he, ‘it would not. And I am willing to admit, as I have admitted before, that the undoubted advantages arising from wealth are taken by the world as atoning for what otherwise would be a mesalliance. But —’
‘You admit that, do you? You acknowledge that as your conviction on the subject?’
‘Yes. But —’ The squire was going on to explain the propriety of this opinion, but the doctor uncivilly would not hear him.
‘Then squire, I will not interfere in this matter one way or the other.’
‘How on earth can such an opinion —’
‘Pray excuse me, Mr Gresham; but my mind is now quite made up. It was very nearly so before. I will do nothing to encourage Frank, nor will I say anything to discourage Mary.’
‘That is the most singular resolution that a man of sense like you ever came to.’
‘I can’t help it, squire; it is my resolution.’
‘But what has Miss Dunstable’s fortune to do with it?’
‘I cannot say that it has anything; but, in this matter, I will not interfere.’
The squire went on for some time, but it was all to no purpose; and at last he left the house, considerably in dudgeon. The only conclusion to which he could come was, that Dr Thorne had thought the chance on his niece’s behalf too good to be thrown away, and had, therefore, resolved to act in a very singular way.
‘I would not have believed it of him, though all Barsetshire had told me,’ he said to himself as he entered the great gates; and he went on repeating the same words till he found himself in his own room. ‘No, not if all Barsetshire had told me!’
He did not, however, communicate the ill result of his visit to the Lady Arabella.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41