In spite of the family troubles, these were happy days for Beatrice. It so seldom happens that young ladies on the eve of their marriage have their husbands living near them. This happiness was hers, and Mr Oriel made the most of it. She was constantly being coaxed down to the parsonage by Patience, in order that she might give her opinion, in private, on some domestic arrangement, some piece of furniture, or some new carpet; but this privacy was always invaded. What Mr Oriel’s parishioners did in these halcyon days, I will not ask. His morning services, however, had been altogether given up, and he had provided himself with a very excellent curate.
But one grief did weigh heavily on Beatrice. She continually heard her mother say things which made her feel that it would be more than ever impossible that Mary should be at her wedding; and yet she had promised her brother to ask her. Frank had also repeated his threat, that if Mary were not present, he would absent himself.
Beatrice did what most girls do in such a case; what all would do who are worth anything; she asked her lover’s advice.
‘Oh! but Frank can’t be in earnest,’ said the lover. ‘Of course he’ll be at our wedding.’
‘You don’t know him, Caleb. He is so changed that no one hardly would know him. You can’t conceive how much in earnest he is, how determined and resolute. And then, I should like to have Mary so much if mamma would let her come.’
‘Ask Lady Arabella,’ said Caleb.
‘Well, I suppose I must do that; but I know what she’ll say, and Frank will never believe that I have done my best.’ Mr Oriel comforted her with such little whispered consolations as he was able to afford, and then she went away on her errand to her mother.
She was indeed surprised at the manner in which her prayer was received. She could hardly falter forth her petition; but when she had done so, Lady Arabella answered in this wise:-
‘Well my dear, I have no objection, none the least; that is, of course, if Mary is disposed to behave herself properly.’
‘Oh, mamma! of course she will,’ said Beatrice; ‘she always did and always does.’
‘I hope she will, my love. But, Beatrice, when I say that I shall be glad to see her, of course I mean under certain conditions. I never disliked Mary Thorne, and if she would only let Frank understand that she will not listen to his mad proposals, I should be delighted to see her at Greshamsbury just as she used to be.’
Beatrice could say nothing in answer to this; but she felt very sure that Mary, let her intention be what it might, would not undertake to make Frank understand anything at anybody’s bidding.
‘I will tell you what I will do, my dear,’ continued Lady Arabella; ‘I will call on Mary myself.’
‘What! at Dr Thorne’s house?’
‘Yes; why not? I have been at Dr Thorne’s house before now.’ And Lady Arabella could not but think of her last visit thither, and the strong feeling she had, as she came out, that she would never again enter those doors. She was, however, prepared to do anything on behalf of her rebellious son.
‘Oh, yes! I know that, mamma.’
‘I will call upon her, and I can possibly manage it, I will ask her myself to make one of your party. If so, you can go to her afterwards and make your own arrangements. Just write her a note, my dear, and say that I will call tomorrow at twelve. It might fluster her if I were to go without notice.’
Beatrice did as she was bid, but with a presentiment that no good would come of it. The note was certainly unnecessary for the purpose assigned by Lady Arabella, as Mary was not given to be flustered by such occurrences; but, perhaps, it was as well as that it was written, as it enabled her to make up her mind steadily as to what information should be given, and what should not be given to her coming visitor.
On the next morning, at the appointed hour, Lady Arabella walked down to the doctor’s house. She never walked about the village without making some little disturbance among the inhabitants. With the squire, himself, they were quite familiar, and he could appear and reappear without creating any sensation; but her ladyship had not made herself equally common in men’s sight. Therefore, when she went through all the Greshamsbury in ten minutes, and before she had left the house, Mrs Umbleby and Miss Gushing had quite settled between them what was the exact cause of the very singular event.
The doctor, when he had heard what was going to happen, carefully kept out of the way: Mary, therefore, had the pleasure of receiving Lady Arabella alone. Nothing could exceed her ladyship’s affability. Mary thought that it perhaps might have savoured less of condescension; but then on this subject, Mary was probably prejudiced. Lady Arabella smiled and simpered, and asked after the doctor, and the cat, and Janet, and said everything that could be desired by any one less unreasonable than Mary Thorne.
‘And now, Mary, I’ll tell you why I have called.’ Mary bowed her head slightly, as much to say, that she would be glad to receive any information that Lady Arabella could give her on that subject. ‘Of course you know that Beatrice is going to be married very shortly.’
Mary acknowledged that she had heard so much.
‘Yes: we think it will be in September — early in September — and that is coming very soon now. The poor girl is anxious that you should be at her wedding.’ Mary turned slightly red; but she merely said, and that somewhat too coldly, that she was much indebted to Beatrice for her kindness.
‘I can assure you, Mary, that she is very fond of you, as much as ever; and so, indeed, am I, and all of us are so. You know that Mr Gresham was always your friend.’
‘Yes, he always was, and I am grateful to Mr Gresham,’ answered Mary. It was well for Lady Arabella that she had her temper under command, for had she spoken her mind out there would have been very little chance left for reconciliation between her and Mary.
‘Yes, indeed he was; and I think we all did what little we could to make you welcome at Greshamsbury, Mary, till those unpleasant occurrences took place.’
‘What occurrences, Lady Arabella?’
‘And Beatrice is so very anxious on this point,’ said her ladyship, ignoring for the moment Mary’s question. ‘You two have been so much together, that she feels she cannot be quite happy if you are not near her when she is being married.’
‘Dear Beatrice!’ said Mary, warmed for the moment to an expression of genuine feeling.
‘She came to me yesterday, begging that I would waive any objection I might have to your being there. I have made her no answer yet. What answer do you think I ought to make her?’
Mary was astounded at this question, and hesitated in her reply. ‘What answer do you think I ought to make her?’ she said.
‘Yes, Mary. What answer to you think I ought to give? I wish to ask you the question, as you are the person the most concerned.’
Mary considered for a while, then did give her opinion on the matter in a firm voice. ‘I think you should tell Beatrice, that as you cannot at present receive me cordially in your house, it will be better that you should not be called upon to receive me at all.’
This was certainly not the sort of answer that Lady Arabella expected, and she was now somewhat astounded in her turn. ‘But, Mary,’ she said, ‘I should be delighted to receive you cordially if I could do so.’
‘But it seems you cannot, Lady Arabella; and so there must be an end of it.’
‘Oh, but I do not know that:’ and she smiled her sweetest smile. ‘I do not know that. I want to put an end to all this ill-feeling, if I can. It all depends upon one thing, you know.’
‘Does it, Lady Arabella?’
‘Yes, upon one thing. You won’t be angry if I ask you another question — eh, Mary?’
‘No; at least I don’t think I will.’
‘Is there any truth in what we hear about your being engaged to Frank?’
Mary made no immediate answer to this; but sat quite silent, looking at Lady Arabella in the face; not but that she had made up her mind as to what answer she would give, but the exact words failed her at the moment.
‘Of course you must have heard of such a rumour.’
‘Oh, yes, I have heard of it.’
‘Yes, and you have noticed it, and I must say very properly. When you went to Boxall Hill, and before that with Miss Oriel’s to her aunt’s, I thought you behaved extremely well.’ Mary felt herself glow with indignation, and began to prepare the words that should be sharp and decisive. ‘But, nevertheless, people talk; and Frank, who is still quite a boy’ (Mary’s indignation was not softened by this allusion to Frank’s folly), ‘seems to have got some nonsense in his head. I grieve to say it, but I feel myself in justice bound to do so, that in this matter he has not acted as well as you have done. Now, therefore, I merely ask you whether there is any truth in the report. If you tell me that there is none, I shall be quite contented.’
‘But it is altogether true, Lady Arabella; I am engaged to him.’
‘Engaged to be married to him?’
‘Yes; engaged to be married to him.’
What was to say or do now? Nothing could be more plain, more decided, or less embarrassed with doubt than Mary’s declaration. And as she made it she looked her visitor full in the face, blushing indeed, for her cheeks were now suffused as well as her forehead; but boldly, and, as it were, with defiance.
‘And you tell me that to my face, Miss Thorne?’
‘And why not? Did you not ask me the question; and would you have my answer you with a falsehood? I am engaged to him. As you would put the question to me, what other could I make? The truth is, I am engaged to him.’
The decisive abruptness with which Mary declared her own iniquity almost took away her ladyship’s breath. She had certainly believed that they were engaged, and had hardly hoped that Mary would deny it; but she had not expected that the crime would be acknowledged, or, at any rate, if acknowledged, that the confession would be made without some show of shame. On this Lady Arabella could have worked; but there was no such expression, nor was there the slightest hesitation. ‘I am engaged to Frank Gresham,’ and having so said, Mary looked at her visitor full in the face.
‘Then it is indeed impossible that you should be received at Greshamsbury.’
‘At present, quite so, no doubt: in saying so, Lady Arabella, you only repeat the answer I made to your first question. I can now go to Greshamsbury only in one light: that of Mr Gresham’s accepted daughter-inlaw.’
‘And that is perfectly out of the question; altogether out of the question, now and for ever.’
‘I will not dispute with you about that; but, as I said before, my being at Beatrice’s wedding is not to be thought of.’
Lady Arabella sat for a while silent, that she might meditate, if possible, calmly as to what line of argument she had now better take. It would be foolish in her, she thought, to return home, having merely expressed her anger. She had now an opportunity of talking to Mary which might not again occur: the difficulty was in deciding in what special way she should use the opportunity. Should she threaten, or should she entreat? To do her justice, it should be stated, that she did actually believe that the marriage was all but impossible; she did not think that it would take place. But the engagement might be the ruin of her son’s prospects, seeing how he had before him an imperative, one immediate duty — that of marrying money.
Having considered all this as well as her hurry would allow her, she determined first to reason, then to entreat, and lastly, if necessary, to threaten.
‘I am astonished! you cannot be surprised at that, Miss Thorne: I am astonished at hearing so singular confession made.’
‘Do you think my confession singular, or is it the fact of my being engaged to your son?’
‘We will pass over that for the present. But do let me ask you, do you think it possible, I say possible, that you and Frank should be married?’
‘Oh, certainly; quite possible.’
‘Of course you know that he has not a shilling in the world.’
‘Nor have I, Lady Arabella.’
‘Nor will he have were he to do anything so utterly hostile to his father’s wishes. The property, as you are aware, is altogether at Mr Gresham’s disposal.’
‘I am aware of nothing about the property, and can say nothing about it except this, that it has not been, and will not be inquired after by me in this matter. If I marry Frank Gresham, it will not be for the property. I am sorry to make such an apparent boast, but you force me to do it.’
‘On what then are you to live? You are too old for love in a cottage, I suppose?’
‘Not at all too old; Frank, you know is “still quite a boy”.’
Impudent hussy! forward, ill-conditioned saucy minx! such were the epithets which rose to Lady Arabella’s mind; but she politely suppressed them.
‘Miss Thorne, this subject is of course to me very serious; very ill-adapted for jesting. I look upon such a marriage as absolutely impossible.’
‘I do not know what you mean by impossible, Lady Arabella.’
‘I mean, in the first place, that you two could not get yourselves married.’
‘Oh, yes; Mr Oriel would manage that for us. We are his parishioners, and he would be bound to do it.’
‘I beg your pardon; I believe that under all the circumstances it would be illegal.’
Mary smiled; but she said nothing. ‘You may laugh, Miss Thorne, but I think you will find that I am right. There are still laws to prevent such fearful distress as would be brought about by such a marriage.’
‘I hope that nothing I shall do will bring distress on the family.’
‘Ah, but it would; don’t you know that it would? Think of it, Miss Thorne. Think of Frank’s state, and of his father’s state. You know enough of that, I am sure, to be well aware that Frank is not in a condition to marry without money. Think of the position which Mr Gresham’s only son should hold in the county; think of the old name, and the pride we have in it; you have lived among us enough to understand all this; think of these things, and then say whether it is possible that such a marriage should take place without family distress of the deepest kind. Think of Mr Gresham; if you truly love my son, you could not wish to bring on him all this misery and ruin.’
Mary now was touched, for there was truth in what Lady Arabella said. But she had no power of going back; her troth was plighted, and nothing any human being could say should take her from it. If he, indeed, chose to repent, that would be another thing.
‘Lady Arabella,’ she said, ‘I have nothing to say in favour of this engagement, except that he wishes it.’
‘And is this a reason, Mary?’
‘To me it is; not only a reason, but a law. I have given him my promise.’
‘And you will keep your promise even to his own ruin?’
‘I hope not. Our engagement, unless he shall choose to break it off, must necessarily be a long one; but the time will come —’
‘What! when Mr Gresham is dead?’
‘Before that, I hope.’
‘There is no probability of it. And because he is headstrong, you, who have always had credit for so much sense, will hold him to this mad engagement?’
‘No, Lady Arabella; I will not hold him to anything to which he does not wish to be held. Nothing that you can say shall move me: nothing that anybody can say shall induce me to break my promise to him. But a word from himself will do it. One look will be sufficient. Let him give me to understand, in any way, that his love for me is injurious to him — that he has learnt to think so — and then I will renounce my part in this engagement as quickly as you could wish it.’
There was much in this promise, but still not so much as Lady Arabella wished to get. Mary, she knew, was obstinate, yet reasonable; Frank, she thought, was both obstinate and unreasonable. It might be possible to work on Mary’s reason, but quite impossible to touch Frank’s irrationality. So she persevered — foolishly.
‘Miss Thorne — that, is, Mary, for I still wish to be thought your friend —’
‘I will tell you the truth, Lady Arabella: for some considerable time past I have not thought you so.’
‘Then you have wronged me. But I will go on with what I was saying. You quite acknowledge that this is a foolish affair?’
‘I acknowledge no such thing.’
‘Something very much like it. You have not a word to say in its defence.’
‘Not to you: I do not choose to be put on my defence by you.’
‘I don’t know who has more right; however, you promise that if Frank wishes it, you will release him from his engagement.’
‘Release him! It is for him to release me, that is, if he wishes it.’
‘Very well; at any rate, you give him permission to do so. But will it not be more honourable for you to begin?’
‘No; I think not.’
‘Ah, but it would. If he, in his position, should be the first to speak, the first to suggest that this affair between you is a foolish one, what would people say?’
‘They would say the truth.’
‘And what would you yourself say?’
‘What would he think himself?’
‘Ah, that I do not know. It is according as that may be, that he will or will not act at your bidding.’
‘Exactly; and because you know him to be high-minded, because you think that he, having so much to give, will not break his word to you — to you who have nothing to give in return — it is, therefore, that you say that the first step must be taken by him. It that noble?’
Then Mary rose from her seat, for it was no longer possible for her to speak what it was in her to say, sitting there leisurely on her sofa. Lady Arabella’s worship of money had not hitherto been so brought forward in the conversation as to give her unpardonable offence; but now she felt that she could no longer restrain her indignation. ‘To you who have nothing to give in return!’ Had she not given all that she possessed? Had she not emptied his store into her lap? that heart of hers, beating with such genuine life, capable of such perfect love, throbbing with so grand a pride; had she not given that? And was it not that, between him and her, more than twenty Greshamsburys, nobler than any pedigree? ‘To you who have nothing to give,’ indeed! This to her who was so ready to give everything!
‘Lady Arabella,’ she said, ‘I think that you do not understand me, and that it is not likely that you should. If so, our further talking will be worse than useless. I have taken no account of what will be given between your son and me in your sense of the word giving. But he has professed to — to love me’— as she spoke, she still looked on the lady’s face, but her eyelashes screened her eyes, and her colour was a little heightened —‘and I have acknowledged that I also love him, and so we are engaged. To me my promise is sacred. I will not be threatened into breaking it. If, however, he shall wish to change his mind, he can do so. I will not upbraid him; will not, if I can help it, think harshly of him. So much you may tell him if it suits you; but I will not listen to your calculations as to how much or how little each of us may have to give to the other.’
She was still standing when she finished speaking, and so she continued to stand. Her eyes were fixed on Lady Arabella, and her position seemed to say that sufficient words had been spoken, and that it was time that her ladyship should go; and so Lady Arabella felt it. Gradually she also rose; slowly, but tacitly, she acknowledged that she was in the presence of a spirit superior to her own; and so she took her leave.
‘Very well,’ she said, in a tone that was intended to be grandiloquent, but which failed grievously; ‘I will tell him that he has your permission to think a second time on this matter. I do not doubt that he will do so.’ Mary would not condescend to answer, but curtsied low as her visitor left the room. And so the interview was over.
The interview was over, and Mary was alone. She remained standing as long as she heard the footsteps of Frank’s mother on the stairs; not immediately thinking of what had passed, but still buoying herself up with her hot indignation, as though her work with Lady Arabella was not yet finished; but when the footfall was no longer heard, and the sound of the closing door told her that she was in truth alone, she sank back in her seat, and, covering her face with her hands, burst into bitter tears.
All that doctrine about money was horrible to her; that insolent pretence, that she had caught at Frank because of his worldly position, made her all but ferocious; but Lady Arabella had not the less spoken much that was true. She did think of the position which the heir of Greshamsbury should hold in the county, and of the fact that such a marriage would mar that position so vitally; she did think of the old name, and the old Gresham pride; she did think of the squire and his deep distress: it was true that she had lived among them long enough to understand these things, and to know that it was not possible that this marriage should take place without deep family sorrow.
And then she asked herself whether, in consenting to accept Frank’s hand, she had adequately considered this; and she was forced to acknowledge that she had not considered it. She had ridiculed Lady Arabella for saying that Frank was still a boy; but was it not true that his offer had been made with a boy’s energy, rather than a man’s forethought? If so, if she had been wrong to accede to that offer when made, would she not be doubly wrong to hold him to it now that she saw his error?
It was doubtless true that Frank himself could not be the first to draw back. What would people say of him? She could now calmly ask herself the question that had so angered her, when asked by Lady Arabella. If he could not do it, and if, nevertheless, it behoved them to break off this match, by whom was it to be done if not by her? Was not Lady Arabella right throughout, right in her conclusions, though so foully wrong in her manner of drawing them?
And then she did think for one moment of herself. ‘You who have nothing to give in return!’ Such had been Lady Arabella’s main accusation against her. Was it in fact true that she had nothing to give? Her maiden love, her feminine pride, her very life, and spirit, and being — were these things nothing? Were they to be weighed against pounds sterling per annum? and, when so weighed, were they ever to kick the beam like feathers? All these things had been nothing to her when, without reflection, governed wholly by the impulse of the moment, she had first allowed his daring hand to lie for an instant in her own. She had thought nothing of these things when that other suitor came, richer far than Frank, to love whom it was impossible to her as it was not to love him.
Her love had been pure from all such thoughts; she was conscious that it ever would be pure from them. Lady Arabella was unable to comprehend this, and, therefore, was Lady Arabella so utterly distasteful to her.
Frank had once held her close to his warm breast; and her very soul had thrilled with joy to feel that he so loved her — with a joy which she hardly dared to acknowledge. At that moment, her maidenly efforts had been made to push him off, but her heart had grown to his. She had acknowledged him to be master of her spirit; her bosom’s lord; the man whom she had been born to worship; the human being to whom it was for her to link her destiny. Frank’s acres had been of no account; nor had his want of acres. God had brought them two together that they should love each other; that conviction had satisfied her, and she had made it a duty to herself that she would love him with her very soul. And now she was called upon to wrench herself asunder from him because she had nothing to give in return!
Well, she would wrench herself asunder, as far as such wrenching might be done compatibly with her solemn promise. It might be right that Frank should have an opportunity offered him, so that he might escape from his position without disgrace. She would endeavour to give him this opportunity. So, with one deep sigh, she arose, took herself pen, ink, and paper, and sat herself down again so that the wrenching might begin.
And then, for a moment, she thought of her uncle. Why had he not spoken to her of all this? Why had he not warned her? He who had ever been so good to her, why had he now failed her so grievously? She had told him everything, had had no secret from him; but he had never answered her a word. ‘He also must have known’ she said to herself, piteously, ‘he also must have known that I could give nothing in return.’ Such accusation, however, availed her not at all, so she sat down and slowly wrote her letter.
‘Dearest Frank,’ she began. She had first written ‘dear Mr Gresham’; but her heart revolted against such useless coldness. She was not going to pretend she did not love him.
‘Your mother has been here talking to me about our engagement. I do not generally agree with her about such matters; but she has said some things today which I cannot but acknowledge to be true. She says, that our marriage would be distressing to your father, injurious to all your family, and ruinous to yourself. If this be so, how can I, who love you, wish for such a marriage?
‘I remember my promise, and have kept it. I would not yield to your mother when she desired me to disclaim our engagement. But I do think it will be more prudent if you will consent to forget all that has passed between us — not, perhaps, to forget it; that may not be possible for us — but to let it pass by as though it had never been. If so, if you think so, dear Frank, do not have any scruples on my account. What will be best for you, must be best for me. Think what a reflection it would ever be to me, to have been the ruin of one that I love so well.
‘Let me have but one word to say that I am released from my promise, and I will tell my uncle that the matter between us is over. It will be painful for us at first; those occasional meetings which must take place will distress us, but that will wear off. We shall always think well of each other, and why should we not be friends? This, doubtless, cannot be done without inward wounds; but such wounds are in God’s hands, and He can cure them.
‘I know your first feelings will be on reading this letter; but do not answer it in obedience to such feelings. Think over it, think of your father, and all you owe him, of your old name, your old family, and what the world expects of you.’ (Mary was forced to put her hand to her eyes, to save the paper from her falling tears, as she found herself thus repeating, nearly word for word, the arguments that had been used by Lady Arabella.) ‘Think of these things coolly, if you can, but, at any rate, without passion: and then let me have one word in answer. One word will suffice.
‘I have but to add this: do not allow yourself to think that my heart will ever reproach you. It cannot reproach you for doing that which I myself suggest.’ (Mary’s logic in this was very false; but she was not herself aware of it.) ‘I will never reproach you either in word or thought; and as for all others, it seems to me that the world agrees that we have hitherto been wrong. The world, I hope, will be satisfied when we have obeyed it.
‘Go bless you, dearest Frank! I shall never call you so again; but it would be a pretence were I to write otherwise in this letter. Think of this, and then let me have one line.
‘Your affectionate friend, MARY THORNE’
‘PS. — Of course I cannot be at dear Beatrice’s marriage; but when they come back to the parsonage, I shall see her. I am sure they will both be happy, because they are so good. I need hardly say that I shall think of them on their wedding day.’
When she finished the letter, she addressed it plainly, in her own somewhat bold handwriting, to Francis N. Gresham, Jun., Esq., and then took it herself to the little village post-office. There should be nothing underhand about her correspondence: all the Greshamsbury world should know of it — that world of which she had spoken in her letter — if that world so pleased. Having put her penny label on it, she handed it, with an open brow and an unembarrassed face, to the baker’s wife, who was Her Majesty’s postmistress at Greshamsbury; and, having so finished her work, she returned to see the table prepared for her uncle’s dinner. ‘I will say nothing to him,’ she said to herself, ‘till I get the answer. He will not talk to me about it, so why should I trouble him?’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55