On the Monday morning at six o’clock, Mr Oriel and Frank started together; but early as it was, Beatrice was up to give them a cup of coffee, Mr Oriel having slept that night in the house. Whether Frank would have received the coffee from his sister’s fair hands had not Mr Oriel been there, may be doubted. He, however, loudly asserted that he should not have done so, when she laid claim to great merit for rising on his behalf.
Mr Oriel had been specially instigated by Lady Arabella to use the opportunity of their joint journey, for pointing out to Frank the iniquity as well as madness of the course he was pursuing; and he had promised to obey her ladyship’s request. But Mr Oriel was perhaps not an enterprising man, and was certainly not a presumptuous one. He did intend to do as he was bid; but when he began, with the object of leading up to the subject of Frank’s engagement, he always softened down into some much easier enthusiasm in the matter of his own engagement with Beatrice. He had not that perspicuous, but not over-sensitive strength of mind which had enabled Harry Baker to express his opinion out at once; and boldly as he did it, yet to do so without offence.
Four times before the train arrived in London, he made some little attempt; but four times he failed. As the subject was matrimony, it was his easiest course to begin about himself; but never could he get any further.
‘No man was ever more fortunate in a wife than I shall be,’ he said, with a soft, euphuistic self-complacency, which would have been silly had it been adopted to any other person than the bride’s brother. His intention, however, was very good, for he meant to show, that in his case marriage was prudent and wise, because his case differed so widely from that of Frank.
‘Yes,’ said Frank. ‘She is an excellent good girl:’ he had said it three times before, and was not very energetic.
‘Yes, and so exactly suited to me; indeed, all that I could have dreamed of. How very well she looked this morning! Some girls only look well at night. I should not like that at all.’
‘You mustn’t expect her to look like that always at six o’clock a.m.,’ said Frank, laughing. ‘Young ladies only take that trouble on very particular occasions. She wouldn’t have come down like that if my father or I had been going alone. No, and she won’t do that for you in a couple of years’ time.’
‘Oh, but she’s always nice. I have seen her at home as much almost as you could do; and then she’s so sincerely religious.’
‘Oh, yes, of course; that is, I am sure she is,’ said Frank, looking solemn as became him.
‘She’s made to be a clergyman’s wife.’
‘Well, so it seems,‘said Frank.
‘A married life, I’m sure, the happiest in the world — if people are only in a position to marry,’ said Mr Oriel, gradually drawing near to the accomplishment of his design.
‘Yes; quite so. Do you know, Oriel, I never was so sleepy in my life. What with all that fuss of Gazebee’s, and one thing and another, I could not get to bed till one o’clock; and then I couldn’t sleep. I’ll take a snooze now, if you won’t think it uncivil.’ And then, putting his feet on the opposite seat, he settled himself comfortably to his rest. And so Mr Oriel’s last attempt for lecturing Frank in the railway-carriage faded away and was annihilated.
By twelve o’clock Frank was with Messrs Slow & Bideawhile. Mr Bideawhile was engaged at the moment, but he found the managing Chancery clerk to be a very chatty gentleman. Judging from what he saw, he would have said that the work to be done at Messrs Slow & Bideawhile’s was not very heavy.
‘A singular man that Sir Louis,’ said the Chancery clerk.
‘Yes; very singular,’ said Frank.
‘Excellent security; no better; and yet he will foreclose; but you see he has no power himself. But the question is, can the trustee refuse? Then, again, trustees are so circumscribed nowadays that they are afraid to do anything. There has been so much said lately, Mr Gresham, that a man doesn’t know where he is, or what he is doing. Nobody trusts anybody. There have been such terrible things that we can’t wonder at it. Only think of the case of those Hills! How can any one expect that any one else will ever trust a lawyer again after that? But that’s Mr Bideawhile’s bell. How can one expect it? He will see you now, I dare say, Mr Gresham.’
So it turned out, and Frank was ushered into the presence of Mr Bideawhile. He had got his lesson by heart, and was going to rush into the middle of his subject; such a course, however, was not in accordance with Mr Bideawhile’s usual practice. Mr Bideawhile got up from his large wooden-seated Windsor chair, and, with a soft smile, in which, however, was mingled some slight dash of the attorney’s acuteness, put out his hand to his young client; not, indeed, as though he were going to shake hands with him, but as though the hand were some ripe fruit all but falling, which his visitor might take and pluck if he thought proper. Frank took hold of the hand, which returned no pressure, and then let it go again, not making any attempt to gather the fruit.
‘I have come up to town, Mr Bideawhile, about this mortgage.’
‘Mortgage — ah, sit down, Mr Gresham; sit down. I hope your father is quite well?’
‘Quite well, thank you.’
‘I have a great regard for your father. So I had for your grandfather; a very good man indeed. You, perhaps, don’t remember him, Mr Gresham?’
‘He died when I was only a year old.’
‘Oh, yes; no, you of course, can’t remember him; but I do well: he used to be very fond of some port wine I had. I think it was “11”; and if I don’t mistake, I have a bottle or two of it yet; but it is not worth drinking now. Port wine, you know, won’t keep beyond a certain time. That was very good wine. I don’t exactly remember what it stood me a dozen then; but such wine can’t be had now. As for the Madeira, you know there’s an end of that. Do you drink Madeira, Mr Gresham?’
‘No,’ said Frank, ‘not very often.’
‘I’m sorry for that, for it’s a fine wine; but then there’s none of it left, you know. I have a few dozen, I’m told they’re growing pumpkins where the vineyards were. I wonder what they do with all the pumpkins they grow in Switzerland! You’ve been to Switzerland, Mr Gresham?’
Frank said he had ben in Switzerland.
‘It’s a beautiful country; my girls made me go there last year. They said it would do me good; but then you know, they wanted to see it themselves; ha! ha! ha! However, I believe I shall go again this autumn. That is to Aix, or some of those places; just for three weeks. I can’t spare any more time, Mr Gresham. Do you like that dining at the tables d’hote?’
‘Pretty well, sometimes.’
‘One would get tired of it — eh! But they gave us capital dinners at Zurich. I don’t think much of their soup. But they had fish, and about seven kinds of meats and poultry, and three or four puddings, and things of that sort. Upon my word, I thought we did very well, and so did my girls, too. You see a great many ladies travelling now.’
‘Yes,’ said Frank; ‘a great many.’
‘Upon my word, I think they are right; that is, if they can afford time. I can’t afford time. I’m here every day till five, Mr Gresham; then I go out and dine in Fleet Street, and then back to work till nine.’
‘Dear me! that’s very hard.’
‘Well, yes it is hard work. My boys don’t like it; but I manage somehow. I get down to my little place in the country on Saturday. I shall be most happy to see you there next Saturday.’
Frank, thinking it would be outrageous on his part to take up much of the time of the gentleman who was constrained to work so unreasonably hard, began again to talk about his mortgages, and, in so doing, had to mention the name of Mr Yates Umblelby.
‘Ah, poor Umblelby!’ said Mr Bideawhile; ‘what is he doing now? I am quite sure your father was right, or he wouldn’t have done it; but I used to think that Umbleby was a decent sort of man enough. Not so grand, you know, as your Gazebees and Gumptions — eh, Mr Gresham? They do say young Gazebee is thinking of getting into Parliament. Let me see: Umbleby married — who was it he married? That was the way your father got hold of him; not your father, but your grandfather. I used to know all about it. Well, I was sorry for Umbleby. He has got something, I suppose — eh?’
Frank said that he believed Mr Yates Umbleby had something wherewith to keep the wolf from the door.
‘So you have got Gazebee down there now? Gumption, Gazebee & Gazebee: very good people, I’m sure; only, perhaps, they have a little too much on hand to do your father justice.’
‘But about Sir Louis Scatcherd, Mr Bideawhile.’
‘Well, about Sir Louis; a very bad sort of fellow, isn’t he? Drinks — eh? I knew his father a little. He was a rough diamond, too. I was once down in Northamptonshire, about some railway business; let me see; I almost forget whether I was with him, or against him. But I know he made sixty thousand pounds by one hour’s work; sixty thousand pounds! And then he got so mad with drinking that we all thought —’
And so Mr Bideawhile went on for two hours, and Frank found no opportunity of saying one word about the business which had brought him up to town. What wonder that such a man as this should be obliged to stay at his office every night till nine o’clock?
During these two hours, a clerk had come in three or four times, whispering something to the lawyer, who, on the last of such occasions, turned to Frank, saying, ‘Well, perhaps that will do for today. If you’ll manage to call tomorrow, say about two, I will have the whole thing looked up; or, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday would suit you better.’ Frank, declaring that the morrow would suit him very well, took his departure, wondering much at the manner in which business was done at the house of Messrs Slow and Bideawhile.
When he called the next day, the office seemed to be rather disturbed, and he was shown quickly into Mr Bideawhile’s room. ‘Have you heard this?’ said that gentleman, putting a telegram into his hands. It contained tidings of the death of Sir Louis Scatcherd. Frank immediately knew that these tidings must be of importance to his father; but he had no idea how vitally they concerned his own more immediate interests.
‘Dr Thorne will be up in town on Thursday evening after the funeral,’ said the talkative clerk. ‘And nothing of course can be done till he comes,’ said Mr Bideawhile. And so Frank, pondering on the mutability of human affairs, again took his departure.
He could do nothing now but wait for Dr Thorne’s arrival, and so he amused himself in the interval by running down to Malvern, and treating with Miss Dunstable in person for the oil of Lebanon. He went down on the Wednesday, and thus, failed to receive, on the Thursday morning, Mary’s letter, which reached London on that day. He returned, however, on the Friday, and then got it; and perhaps it was well for Mary’s happiness that he had seen Miss Dunstable in the interval. ‘I don’t care what your mother says,’ said she, with emphasis. ‘I don’t care for any Harry, whether it be Harry Baker or old Harry himself. You made her a promise, and you are bound to keep it; if not on one day, then on another. What! because you cannot draw back yourself, get out of it by inducing her to do so! Aunt de Courcy herself could not improve upon that.’ Fortified in this manner, he returned to town on the Friday morning, and then got Mary’s letter. Frank also got a note from Dr Thorne, stating that he had taken up his temporary domicile at the Gray’s Inn Coffee-house, so as to be near the lawyers.
It has been suggested that the modern English writers of fiction should among them keep a barrister, in order that they may be set right on such legal points as will arise in their little narratives, and thus avoid the exposure of their own ignorance of the laws, which, now, alas! they too often make. The idea is worthy of consideration, and I can only say, that if such an arrangement can be made, and if a counsellor adequately skilful can be found to accept the office, I shall be happy to subscribe my quota; it would be but a modest tribute towards the cost.
But as the suggestion has not yet been carried out, and as there is at present no learned gentleman whose duty would induce him to set me right, I can only plead for mercy if I be wrong allotting all Sir Roger’s vast possessions in perpetuity to Miss Thorne, alleging also, in excuse, that the course of my narrative absolutely demands that she shall be ultimately recognized as Sir Roger’s undoubted heiress.
Such, after a not immoderate delay, was the opinion expressed to Dr Thorne by his law advisers; and such, in fact, turned out to be the case. I will leave the matter so, hoping that my very absence of defence may serve to protect me from severe attack. If under such a will as that described as having been made by Sir Roger, Mary would not have been the heiress, that will must have been described wrongly.
But it was not quite at once that those tidings made themselves absolutely certain to Dr Thorne’s mind; nor was he able to express any such opinion when he first met Frank in London. At that time Mary’s letter was in Frank’s pocket; and Frank, though his real business appertained much more to the fact of Sir Louis’s death, and the effect that would immediately have on his father’s affairs, was much more full of what so much more nearly concerned himself. ‘I will show it Dr Thorne himself,’ said he, ‘and ask him what he thinks.’
Dr Thorne was stretched fast asleep on the comfortless horse-hair sofa in the dingy sitting-room at the Gray’s Inn Coffee-house when Frank found him. The funeral, and his journey to London, and the lawyers had together conquered his energies, and he lay and snored, with nose upright, while heavy London summer flies settled on his head and face, and robbed his slumbers of half their charms.
‘I beg your pardon,’ said he, jumping up as though he had been detected in some disgraceful act. ‘Upon my word, Frank, I beg your pardon; but — well, my dear fellow, all well at Greshamsbury — eh?’ and as he shook himself, he made a lunge at one uncommonly disagreeable fly that had been at him for the last ten minutes. It is hardly necessary to say that he missed his enemy.
‘I should have been with you before, doctor, but I was down at Malvern.’
‘At Malvern, eh? Ah! so Oriel told me. The death of poor Sir Louis was very sudden — was it not?’
‘Poor fellow — poor fellow! His fate has for some time been past hope. It is a madness, Frank; the worst of madness. Only think of it — father and son! And such a career as the father had — such a career as the son might have had!’
‘It has been very quickly run,’ said Frank.
‘May it be all forgiven him! I sometimes cannot but believe in a special Providence. That poor fellow was not able, never would have been able, to make proper use of the means which fortune had given him. I hope they may fall into better hands. There is no use in denying it, his death will be an immense relief to me, and a relief also to your father. All this law business will now, of course, be stopped. As for me, I hope I may never be trustee again.’
Frank had put his hand four or five times into his breast-pocket, and had as often taken out and put back again Mary’s letter before he could find himself able to bring Dr Thorne to the subject. At last there was a lull in the purely legal discussion, caused by the doctor intimating that he supposed Frank would now soon return to Greshamsbury.
‘Yes; I shall go tomorrow morning.’
‘What! so soon as that? I counted on having you one day in London with me.’
‘No, I shall go tomorrow. I’m not fit for company for any one. Nor am I fit for anything. Read that, doctor. It’s no use putting it off any longer. I must get you to talk this over with me. Just read that, and tell me what you think about it. It was written a week ago, but somehow I have only got it today.’ And putting the letter into the doctor’s hands, he turned away to the window, and looked out among the Holborn omnibuses. Dr Thorne took the letter and read it. Mary, after she had written it, had bewailed to herself that the letter was cold; but it had not seemed cold to her lover, nor did it appear so to her uncle. When Frank turned round from the window, the doctor’s handkerchief was up to his eyes; who, in order to hide the tears that were there, was obliged to go through a rather violent process of blowing his nose.
‘Well,’ he said, as he gave back the letter to Frank.
Well! what did well mean? Was it well? or would it be well were he, Frank, to comply with the suggestion made to him by Mary?
‘It is impossible,’ he said, ‘that matters should go on like that. Think what her sufferings must have been before she wrote that. I am sure she loves me.’
‘I think she does,’ said the doctor.
‘And it is out of the question that she should be sacrificed; nor will I consent to sacrifice my own happiness. I am quite willing to work for my bread, and I am sure that I am able. I will not submit to — Doctor, what answer do you think I ought to give to that letter? There can be no person so anxious for her happiness as you are — except myself.’ And as he asked the question, he again put into the doctor’s hands, almost unconsciously, the letter which he had still been holding in his own.
The doctor turned it over and over, and then opened it again.
‘What answer ought I to make to it?’ demanded Frank, with energy.
‘You see, Frank, I have never interfered in this matter, otherwise than to tell you the whole truth about Mary’s birth.’
‘Oh, but you must interfere: you should say what you think.’
‘Circumstanced as you are now — that is, just at the present moment — you could hardly marry immediately.’
‘Why not let me take a farm? My father could, at any rate, manage a couple of thousand pounds or so for me to stock it. That would not be asking much. If he could not give it me, I would not scruple to borrow so much elsewhere.’ And Frank bethought him of all Miss Dunstable’s offers.
‘Oh, yes; that could be managed.’
‘Then why not marry immediately; say in six months or so? I am not unreasonable; though, Heaven knows, I have been kept in suspense long enough. As for her, I am sure she must be suffering frightfully. You know her best, and, therefore, I ask you what answer I ought to make: as for myself, I have made up my own mind; I am not a child, nor will I let them treat me as such.’
Frank, as he spoke, was walking rapidly about the room; and h brought out his different positions, one after the other, with a little pause, while waiting for the doctor’s answer. The doctor was sitting, with the letter still in his hands, on the head of the sofa, turning over in his mind the apparent absurdity of Frank’s desire to borrow two thousand pounds for a farm, when, in all human probability, he might in a few months be in possession of almost any sum he should choose to name. And yet he would not tell him of Sir Roger’s will. ‘If it should turn out to be all wrong?’ said he to himself.
‘Do you wish me to give her up?’ said Frank, at last.
‘No. How can I wish it? How can I expect a better match for her? Besides, Frank, I love no man in the world so well as I do you.’
‘Then will you help me?’
‘What! against your father?’
‘Against! no, not against anybody. But will you tell Mary she has your consent?’
‘I think she knows that.’
‘But you have never said anything to her?’
‘Look here, Frank; you ask me for my advice, and I will give it you: go home, though, indeed, I would rather you went anywhere else.’
‘No, I must go home; and I must see her.’
‘Very well, go home: as for seeing Mary, I think you had better put it off for a fortnight.’
‘Well, that’s my advice. But, at any rate, make up your mind to nothing for a fortnight. Wait for one fortnight, and I then will tell you plainly — you and her too — what I think you ought to do. At the end of a fortnight come to me, and tell the squire that I will take it as a great kindness if he will come with you. She has suffered terribly, terribly; and it is necessary that something should be settled. But a fortnight can make no great difference.’
‘And the letter?’
‘Oh! there’s the letter.’
‘But what shall I say? Of course I shall write to her to-night.’
‘Tell her to wait a fortnight. And, Frank, mind you bring your father with you.’
Frank could draw nothing further from his friend save constant repetitions of this charge to him to wait a fortnight — just one other fortnight.
‘Well, I will come to you at any rate,’ said Frank; ‘and, if possible, I will bring my father. But I shall write to Mary to-night.’
On the Saturday morning, Mary, who was then nearly broken-hearted at her lover’s silence, received a short note:—
‘MY OWN MARY
‘I shall be home tomorrow. I will by no means release you from your promise. Of course you will perceive that I only got your letter today.’
Your own dearest, FRANK.’
Short as it was, this sufficed Mary. It is one thing for a young lady to make prudent, heart-breaking suggestions, but quite another to have them accepted. She did call him dearest Frank, even on that one day, almost as often as he had desired her.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55