We must now go back a little and describe how Frank had been sent off on special business to London. The household at Greshamsbury was at this time in but a doleful state. It seemed to be pervaded, from the squire down to the scullery-maid, with a feeling that things were not going well; and men and women, in spite of Beatrice’s coming marriage, were grim-visaged, and dolorous. Mr Mortimer Gazebee, rejected though he had been, still, went and came, talking much to the squire, much also to her ladyship, as to the ill-doings which were in the course of projection by Sir Louis; and Frank went about the house with clouded brow, as though finally resolved to neglect his one great duty.
Poor Beatrice was robbed of half her joy; over and over again her brother asked her whether she had yet seen Mary, and she was obliged as often to answer that she had not. Indeed, she did not dare to visit her friend, for it was hardly possible that they should sympathize with each other. Mary was, to say the least, stubborn in her pride; and Beatrice, though she could forgive her friend for loving her brother, could not forgive the obstinacy with which Mary persisted in a course which, as Beatrice thought, she herself knew to be wrong.
And then Mr Gazebee came down from town, with an intimation that it behoved the squire himself to go up that he might see certain learned pundits, and be badgered in his own person at various dingy, dismal chambers in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the Temple, and Gray’s Inn Lane. It was an invitation exactly of that sort which a good many years ago was given to a certain duck.
‘Will you, will you—will you, will you—come and be killed?’ Although Mr Gazebee urged the matter with such eloquence, the squire remained steady to his objection, and swam obstinately about his Greshamsbury pond in any direction save that which seemed to lead towards London.
This occurred on the very evening of that Friday which had witnessed the Lady Arabella’s last visit to Dr Thorne’s house. The question of the squire’s necessary journey to the great fountains of justice was, of course, discussed between Lady Arabella and Mr Gazebee; and it occurred to the former, full as she was of Frank’s iniquity and of Mary’s obstinacy, that if Frank were sent up in lieu of his father, it would separate them at least for a while. If she could only get Frank away without seeing his love, she might yet so work upon him, by means of the message which Mary had sent, as to postpone, if not break off, this hateful match. It was inconceivable that a youth of twenty-three, and such a youth as Frank, should be obstinately constant to a girl possessed of no great beauty—so argued Lady Arabella to herself—and who had neither wealth, birth, nor fashion to recommend her.
And this it was at last settled—the squire being a willing partner to the agreement—that Frank should go up and be badgered in lieu of his father. At his age it was possible to make a thing desirable, if not necessary—on account of the importance conveyed—to sit day after day in the chambers of Messrs Slow & Bideawhile, and hear musty law talk, and finger dusty law parchments. The squire had made many visits to Messrs Slow & Bideawhile, and he knew better. Frank had not hitherto been there on his own bottom, and thus he fell easily into the trap.
Mr Oriel was also going to London, and this was another reason for sending Frank. Mr Oriel had business of great importance, which it was quite necessary that he should execute before his marriage. How much of this business consisted in going to his tailor, buying a wedding-ring, and purchasing some other more costly present for Beatrice, we need not here inquire. But Mr Oriel was quite on Lady Arabella’s side with reference to this mad engagement, and as Frank and he were now fast friends, some good might be done in that way. ‘If we all caution him against it, he can hardly withstand us all!’ said Lady Arabella to herself.
The matter was broached to Frank on the Saturday evening, and settled between them all on the same night. Nothing, of course, was at that moment said about Mary; but Lady Arabella was too full of the subject to let him go to London without telling him that Mary was ready to recede if only he would allow her to do so. About eleven o’clock, Frank was sitting in his own room, coming over the difficulties of the situation—thinking of his father’s troubles, his own position—when he was roused from his reverie by a slight tap at the door.
‘Come in,’ he said somewhat loudly. He thought it was one of his sisters, who were apt to visit him at all hours and for all manner of reasons; and he, though he was usually gentle to them, was not at present exactly in a humour to be disturbed.
The door gently opened, and he saw his mother standing hesitating in the passage.
‘Can I come in, Frank?’ said she.
‘Oh, yes, mother; by all means:’ and then, with some surprise marked in his countenance, he prepared a seat for her. Such a visit as this from Lady Arabella was very unusual; so much so, that he had probably not seen her in his own room since the day when he first left school. He had nothing, however, to be ashamed of; nothing to conceal unless it were an open letter from Miss Dunstable which he had in his hand when she entered, and which he somewhat hurriedly thrust into his pocket.
‘I wanted to say a few words to you, Frank, before you start for London about this business.’ Frank signified by a gesture, that he was quite ready to listen to her.
‘I am so glad to see your father putting the matter into your hands. You are younger than he is; and then—I don’t know why, but somehow your father has never been a good man of business—everything has gone wrong with him.’
‘Oh, mother! do not say anything against him.’
‘No, Frank, I will not; I do not wish it. Things have been unfortunate, certainly. Ah me! I little thought when I married—but I don’t mean to complain—I have excellent children, and I ought to be thankful for that.’
Frank began to fear that no good would be coming when his mother spoke in that strain. ‘I will do the best I can,’ said he, ‘up in town. I can’t help thinking myself that Mr Gazebee might have done as well, but —’
‘Oh, dear no; by no means. In such cases the principal must show himself. Besides, it is right you should know how matters stand. Who is so much interested in it as you are? Poor Frank! I do so often feel for you when I think how the property has dwindled.’
‘Pray do not mind me, mother. Why should you talk of it as my matter while my father is not yet forty-five? His life, so to speak, is as good as mine. I can do very well without it; all I want is to be allowed to settle to something.’
‘You mean a profession.’
‘Yes; something of that sort.’
‘They are all so slow, dear Frank. You, who speak French so well—I should think my brother might get you in as an attache to some embassy.’
‘That wouldn’t suit me at all,’ said Frank.
‘Well, we’ll talk about that some other time. But I came about something else, and I do hope you will hear me.’
Frank’s brow again grew black, for he knew that his mother was about to say something which it would be disagreeable for him to hear.
‘I was with Mary, yesterday.’
‘Don’t be angry with me, Frank; you can’t but know that the fate of an only son must be a subject of anxiety to a mother.’ Ah! how singularly altered was Lady Arabella’s tone since first she had taken upon herself to discuss the marriage prospects of her son! Then how autocratic had she been as she went him away, bidding him, with full command, to throw himself into the golden embraces of Miss Dunstable! But now, how humble, as she came suppliantly to his room, craving that she might have leave to whisper into his ear a mother’s anxious fears! Frank had laughed at her stern behests, though he had half obeyed them; but he was touched to the heart by her humility.
He drew his chair nearer to her, and took her by the hand. But she, disengaging hers, parted the hair from off his forehead, and kissed his brow. ‘Oh, Frank,’ she said, ‘I have been so proud of you, am still so proud of you. It will send me to my grave if I see you sink below your proper position. Not that it will be your fault. I am sure it will not be your fault. Only circumstanced as you are, you should be doubly, trebly, careful. If your father had not —’
‘Do not speak against my father.’
‘No, Frank; I will not—no, I will not; not another word. And now, Frank —’
Before we go on we must say one word further as to Lady Arabella’s character. It will probably be said that she was a consummate hypocrite; but at the present moment she was not hypocritical. She did love her son; was anxious—very, very anxious for him; was proud of him, and almost admired the obstinacy which so vexed her inmost soul. No grief would be to her so great as that of seeing him sink below what she conceived to be his position. She was as genuinely motherly, in wishing that he should marry money, as another woman might be in wishing to see her son a bishop; or as the Spartan matron, who preferred that her offspring should return on his shield, to hearing that he had come back whole in limb but tainted in honour. When Frank spoke of a profession, she instantly thought of what Lord de Courcy might do for him. If he would not marry money, he might, at any rate, be attache at an embassy. A profession—hard work, as a doctor, or as an engineer—would, according to her ideas, degrade him; cause him to sink below his proper position; but to dangle at a foreign court, to make small talk at evening parties of a lady ambassadress, and occasionally, perhaps, to write demi-official notes containing demi-official tittle-tattle; this would be in proper accordance with the high honour of a Gresham of Greshamsbury.
We may not admire the direction taken by Lady Arabella’s energy on behalf of her son, but that energy was not hypocritical.
‘And now, Frank —’ She looked wistfully into his face as she addressed him, as though half afraid to go on, and begging that he would receive with complaisance whatever she found herself forced to say.
‘I was with Mary yesterday.’
‘Yes, yes; what then? I know what your feelings are with regard to her.’
‘No, Frank; you wrong me. I have no feelings against her—none, indeed; none but this: that she is not fit to be your wife.’
‘I think her fit.’
‘Ah, yes; but how fit? Think of your position, Frank, and what means you have of keeping her. Think of what you are. Your father’s only son; the heir to Greshamsbury. If Greshamsbury be ever again more than a name, it is you that must redeem it. Of all men living you are the least able to marry a girl like Mary Thorne.’
‘Mother, I will not sell myself for what you call my position.’
‘Who asks you? I do not ask you; nobody asks you. I do not want you to marry any one. I did think once—but let that pass. You are now twenty-three. In ten years’ time you will still be a young man. I only ask you to wait. If you marry now, that is, marry such a girl as Mary Thorne —’
‘Such a girl! Where shall I find another?’
‘I mean as regards money, Frank; you know I mean that; how are you to live? Where are you to go? And then, her birth. Oh, Frank, Frank!’
‘Birth! I hate such pretence. What was—but I won’t talk about it. Mother, I tell you my word is pledged, and on no account will I be induced to break it.’
‘Ah, that’s just it; that’s just the point. Now, Frank, listen to me. Pray listen to me patiently for one minute.’
Frank promised that he would listen patiently; but he looked anything but patient as he said so.
‘I have seen Mary, as it was certainly my duty to do. You cannot be angry with me for that.’
‘Who said that I was angry, mother?’
‘Well, I have seen her, and I must own, that though she was not disposed to be courteous to me, personally, she said much that marked her excellent good sense. But the gist of it was this; that as she had made you a promise, nothing should turn her from that promise but your permission.’
‘And do you think —’
‘Wait a moment, Frank, and listen to me. She confessed that this marriage was one which would necessarily bring distress on all your family; that it was one which would probably be ruinous to yourself; that it was a match which could not be approved of: she did, indeed; she confessed all that. “I have nothing”, she said—those were her own words —“I have nothing to say in favour of this engagement, except that he wishes it.” That is what she thinks of it herself. “His wishes are not a reason; but a law,” she said —’
‘And, mother, would you have me desert such a girl as that?’
‘It is not deserting, Frank: it would not be deserting: you would be doing that which she herself approves of. She feels the impropriety of going on; but she cannot draw back because of her promise to you. She thinks that she cannot do it, even though she wishes it.’
‘Wishes it! Oh, mother!’
‘I do believe she does, because she has sense to feel the truth of all that your friends say. Oh, Frank, I will go on my knees to you if you will listen to me.’
‘Oh, mother! mother! mother!’
‘You should think twice, Frank, before you refuse the only request your mother ever made you. And why do I ask you? why do I come to you thus? Is it for my own sake? Oh, my boy! my darling boy! will you lose everything in life, because you love the child with whom you played with as a child?’
‘Whose fault is it that we were together as children? She is now more than a child. I look on her already as my wife.’
‘But she is not your wife, Frank; and she knows that she ought not to be. It is only because you hold her to it that she consents to it.’
‘Do you mean to say that she does not love me?’
Lady Arabella would probably have said this, also, had she dared; but she felt that in doing so, she would be going too far. It was useless for her to say anything that would be utterly contradicted by an appeal to Mary herself.
‘No, Frank; I do not mean to say that you do not love her. What I do mean is this: that it is not becoming in you to give up everything—not only yourself, but all your family—for such a love as this; and that she, Mary herself acknowledges this. Every one is of the same opinion. Ask your father: I need not say that he would agree with you about everything he could. I will not say the De Courcys.’
‘Oh, the De Courcys!’
‘Yes, they are my relations, I know that.’ Lady Arabella could not quite drop the tone of bitterness which was natural to her in saying this. ‘But ask your sisters; ask Mr Oriel, whom you esteem so much; ask your friend Harry Baker.’
Frank sat silent for a moment or two while his mother, with a look almost of agony, gazed into his face. ‘I will ask no one,’ at last he said.
‘Oh, my boy! my boy!’
‘No one but myself can know my heart.’
‘And you will sacrifice all to such a love as that, all; her, also, whom you say that you so love? What happiness can you give her as your wife? Oh, Frank! is that the only answer you will make to your mother on her knees?
‘Oh, mother! mother!’
‘No, Frank, I will not let you ruin yourself; I will not let you destroy yourself. Promise this, at least, that you will think of what I have said.’
‘Think of it! I do think of it.’
‘Ah, but think of it in earnest. You will be absent now in London; you will have the business of the estate to manage; you will have heavy cares upon your hands. Think of it as a man, and not as a boy.’
‘I will see her tomorrow before I go.’
‘No, Frank, no; grant me that trifle, at any rate. Think upon this without seeing her. Do not proclaim yourself so weak that you cannot trust yourself to think over what your mother says to you without asking her leave. Though you be in love, do not be childish with it. What I have told you as coming from her is true, word for word; if it were not, you would soon learn so. Think now of what I have said, and of what she says, and when you come back from London, then you can decide.’
To so much Frank consented after some further parley; namely, that he would proceed to London on the following Monday morning without again seeing Mary. And in the meantime, she was waiting with sore heart for his answer to that letter that was lying, and was still to lie for so many hours, in the safe protection of Silverbridge postmistress.
It may seem strange; but, in truth, his mother’s eloquence had more effect on Frank than that of his father: and yet, with his father he had always sympathized. But his mother had been energetic; whereas, his father, if not lukewarm, had, at any rate, been timid. ‘I will ask no one,’ Frank had said in the strong determination of his heart; and yet the words were hardly out of his mouth before he bethought himself that he would talk the thing over with Harry Baker. ‘Not,’ said he to himself, ‘that I have any doubt: I have no doubt; but I hate to have all the world against me. My mother wishes me to ask Harry Baker. Harry is a good fellow, and I will ask him.’ And with this resolve he betook himself to bed.
The following day was Sunday. After breakfast Frank went with the family to church, as was usual; and there, as usual, he saw Mary in Dr Thorne’s pew. She, as she looked at him, could not but wonder why he had not answered the letter which was still at Silverbridge; and he endeavoured to read into her face whether it was true, as his mother told him, that she was quite ready to give him up. The prayers of both of them were disturbed, as is so often the case with the prayers of other anxious people.
There was a separate door opening from the Greshamsbury pew out into the Greshamsbury grounds, so that the family were not forced into unseemly community with the village multitude in going to and from their prayers; for the front door of the church led out into a road which had no connexion with the private path. It was not unusual with Frank and his father to go round, after the service, to the chief entrance, so that they might speak to their neighbours, and get rid of some of the exclusiveness which was intended for them. On this morning the squire did so; but Frank walked home with his mother and sisters, so that Mary saw no more of him.
I have said that he walked home with his mother and sisters; but he rather followed in their path. He was not inclined to talk much, at least, not to them; and he continued asking himself the question—whether it could be possible that he was wrong in remaining true to his promise? Could it be that he owed more to his father and his mother, and what they chose to call his position, than he did to Mary?
After church, Mr Gazebee tried to get hold of him, for there was still much to be said, and many hints to be given, as to how Frank should speak, and, more especially, as to how to hold his tongue among the learned pundits in and about Chancery Lane. ‘You must be very wide awake with Messrs Slow and Bideawhile,’ said Mr Gazebee. But Frank would not hearken to him just at that moment. He was going to ride over to Harry Baker, so he put Mr Gazebee off till the half-hour before dinner—or else the half-hour after tea.
On the previous day he had received a letter from Miss Dunstable, which he had hitherto read but once. His mother had interrupted him as he was about to refer to it; and now, as his father’s nag was being saddled—he was still prudent in saving the black horse—he again took it out.
Miss Dunstable had written in excellent humour. She was in great distress about the oil of Lebanon, she said. ‘I have been trying to get a purchaser for the last two years; but my lawyer won’t let me sell it, because the would-be purchasers offer a thousand pounds or so less than the value. I would give ten to get rid of the bore; but I am as little able to act myself as Sancho was in his government. The oil of Lebanon! Did you hear anything of it when you were in those parts? I thought of changing the name to “London particular”; but my lawyers says the brewers would bring an action against me.’
‘I was going down to your neighbourhood—to your friend the duke’s, at least. But I am prevented by my poor doctor, who is so weak that I must take him to Malvern. It is a great bore; but I have the satisfaction that I do my duty by him!
‘Your cousin George is to be married at last. So I hear, at least. He loves wisely, if not well; for his widow has the name of being prudent and fairly well to do in the world. She has got over the caprices of her youth. Dear Aunt De Courcy will be so delighted. I might perhaps have met her at Gatherum Castle. I do so regret it.
‘Mr Moffat has turned up again. We all thought you had finally extinguished him. He left a card the other day, and I have told the servant always to say that I am at home, and that you are with me. He is going to stand for some borough in the west of Ireland. He’s used to shillelaghs by this time.
‘By the by, I have a cadeau for a friend of yours. I won’t tell you what it is, nor permit you to communicate the fact. But when you tell me that in sending it I may fairly congratulate her on having so devoted a slave as you, it shall be sent.
‘If you have nothing better to do at present, do come and see my invalid at Malvern. Perhaps you might have a mind to treat for the oil of Lebanon. I’ll give you all the assistance I can in cheating my lawyers.’
There was not much about Mary in this; but still, the little that was said made him again declare that neither father nor mother should move him from his resolution. ‘I will write to her and say that she may send her present when she pleases. Or I will run down to Malvern for a day. It will do me good to see her.’ And so he resolved, he rode away to Mill Hill, thinking, as he went, how he would put the matter to Harry Baker.
Harry was at home; but we need not describe the whole interview. Had Frank been asked beforehand, he would have declared, that on no possible subject could he have had the slightest hesitation in asking Harry any question, or communicating to him any tidings. But when the time came, he found that he did hesitate much. He did not want to ask his friend if he should be wise to marry Mary Thorne. Wise or not, he was determined to do that. But he wished to be quite sure that his mother was wrong in saying that all the world would dissuade him from it. Miss Dunstable, at any rate, did not do so.
At last, seated on a stile at the back of the Mill Hill stables, while Harry stood close before him with both his hands in his pockets, he did get his story told. It was by no means the first time that Harry Baker had heard about Mary Thorne, and he was not, therefore, so surprised as he might have been, had the affair been new to him. And thus, standing there in the position we have described, did Mr Baker, junior, give utterance to such wisdom as was in him on this subject.
‘You see, Frank, there are two sides to every question; and, as I take it, fellows are so apt to go wrong because they are so fond of one side, they won’t look at the other. There’s no doubt about it, Lady Arabella is a very clever woman, and knows what’s what; and there’s no doubt about this either, that you have a very ticklish hand of cards to play.’
‘I’ll play it straightforward; and that’s my game’ said Frank.
‘Well and good, my dear fellow. That’s the best game always. But what is straightforward? Between you and me, I fear there’s no doubt that your father’s property has got into a deuce of a mess.’
‘I don’t see that that has anything to do with it.’
‘Yes, but it has. If the estate was all right, and your father could give you a thousand a year to live on without feeling it, and if your eldest child would be cock-sure of Greshamsbury, it might be very well that you should please yourself as to marrying at once. But that’s not the case; and yet Greshamsbury is too good a card to be flung away.’
‘I could fling it away tomorrow,’ said Frank.
‘Ah! you think so,’ said Harry the Wise. ‘But if you were to hear tomorrow that Sir Louis Scatcherd were master of the whole place, and be d—d to him, you would feel very uncomfortable.’ Had Harry known how near Sir Louis was to his last struggle, he would not have spoken of him in this manner. ‘That’s all very fine talk, but it won’t bear wear and tear. You do care for Greshamsbury if you are the fellow I take you to be: care for it very much; and you care too much for your father being Gresham of Greshamsbury.’
‘This won’t affect my father at all.’
‘Ah, but it will affect him very much. If you were to marry Miss Thorne tomorrow, there would at once be an end to any hope to save your property.’
‘And do you mean to say I’m to be a liar to her for such reasons as that? Why, Harry, I should be as bad as Moffat. Only it would be ten times more cowardly, as she has no brother.’
‘I must differ from you there altogether; but mind, I don’t mean to say anything. Tell me that you have made up your mind to marry her, and I’ll stick to you through thick and thin. But if you ask my advice, why, I must give it. It is quite a different affair to that of Moffat’s. He had lots of tin, everything he could want, and there could be no reason why he should not marry—except that he was a snob, of whom your sister was well quit. But this is very different. If I, as your friend, were to put it to Miss Thorne, what do you think she would say herself?’
‘She would say whatever was best for me.’
‘Exactly: because she is a trump. And I say the same. There can be no doubt about it, Frank, my boy: such a marriage would be very foolish for you both; very foolish. Nobody can admire Miss Thorne more than I do; but you oughtn’t to be a marrying man for the next ten years, unless you get a fortune. If you tell her the truth, and if she’s the girl I take her to be, she’ll not accuse you of being false. She’ll peak for a while; and so will you, old chap. But others have had to do that before you. They have got over it and so will you.’
Such was the spoken wisdom of Harry Baker, and who can say that he was wrong? Frank sat a while on his rustle seat, paring his nails with his penknife, and then looking up, he thus thanked his friend:-
‘I’m sure you mean well, Harry; and I’m much obliged to you. I dare say you’re right too. But, somehow, it doesn’t come home to me. And what is more, after what has passed, I could not tell her that I wish to part from her. I could not do it. And besides, I have that sort of feeling, that if I heard she was to marry any one else, I am sure I would blow his brains out. Either his or my own.’
‘Well, Frank, you may count on me for anything, except the last proposition:’ and so they shook hands, and Frank rode back to Greshamsbury.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41