It was, we have said, the first of July, and such being the time of the year, the ladies, after sitting in the drawing-room for half an hour or so, began to think that they might as well go through the drawing-room windows on to the lawn. First one slipped out a little way, and then another; and then they got on to the lawn; and then they talked of their hats; till, by degrees, the younger ones of the party, and the last of the elder also, found themselves dressed for walking.
The windows, both of the drawing-room, and the dining-room, looked out on to the lawn; and it was only natural that the girls should walk from the former to the latter. It was only natural that they, being there, should tempt their swains to come to them by the sight of their broad-brimmed hats and evening dresses; and natural, also, that the temptation should not be resisted. The squire, therefore, and the elder male guests soon found themselves alone round their wine.
‘Upon my word, we were enchanted by your eloquence, Mr Gresham, were we not?’ said Miss Oriel, turning to one of the De Courcy girls who was with her.
Miss Oriel was a very pretty girl; a little older than Frank Gresham—perhaps a year or so. She had dark hair, large round dark eyes, a nose a little too broad, a pretty mouth, a beautiful chin, and, as we have said before, a large fortune;—that is, moderately large—let us say twenty thousand pounds, there or thereabouts. She and her brother had been living at Greshamsbury for the last two years, the living having been purchased for him—such were Mr Gresham’s necessities—during the lifetime of the last old incumbent. Miss Oriel was in every respect a nice neighbour; she was good-humoured, lady-like, lively, neither too clever nor too stupid, belonging to a good family, sufficiently fond of this world’s good things, as became a pretty young lady so endowed, and sufficiently fond, also, of the other world’s good things, as became the mistress of a clergyman’s house.
‘Indeed, yes;’ said the Lady Margaretta. ‘Frank is very eloquent. When he described our rapid journey from London, he nearly moved me to tears. But well as he talks, I think he carves better.’
‘I wish you’d had to do it, Margaretta; both the carving and the talking.’
‘Thank you, Frank; you’re very civil.’
‘But there’s one comfort, Miss Oriel; it’s over now, and done. A fellow can’t be made to come of age twice.’
‘But you’ll take your degree, Mr Gresham; and then, of course, there’ll be another speech; and then you’ll get married, and there will be two or three more.’
‘I’ll speak at your wedding, Miss Oriel, before I do at my own.’
‘I shall not have the slightest objection. It will be so kind of you to patronize my husband.’
‘But, by Jove, will he patronize me? I know you’ll marry some awful bigwig, or some terribly clever fellow; won’t she, Margaretta?’
‘Miss Oriel was saying so much in praise of you before you came out,’ said Margaretta, ‘that I began to think that her mind was intent at remaining at Greshamsbury all her life.’
Frank blushed, and Patience laughed. There was but a year’s difference in their age; but Frank, however, was still a boy, though Patience was fully a woman.
‘I am ambitious, Lady Margaretta,’ said she. ‘I own it; but I am moderate in my ambition. I do love Greshamsbury, and if Mr Gresham had a younger brother, perhaps, you know —’
‘Another just like myself, I suppose,’ said Frank.
‘Oh, yes. I could not possibly wish for any change.’
‘Just as eloquent as you are, Frank,’ said the Lady Margaretta.
‘And as good a carver,’ said Patience.
‘Miss Bateson has lost her heart to him for ever, because of his carving,’ said the Lady Margaretta.
‘But perfection never repeats itself,’ said Patience.
‘Well, you see, I have not got any brothers,’ said Frank; ‘so all I can do is to sacrifice myself.’
‘Upon my word, Mr Gresham, I am under more than ordinary obligations to you; I am indeed,’ said Miss Oriel, stood still in the path, and made a very graceful curtsy. ‘Dear me! only think, Lady Margaretta, that I should be honoured with an offer from the heir the very moment he is legally entitled to make one.’
‘And done with so much true gallantry, too,’ said the other; ‘expressing himself quite willing to postpone any views of his own for your advantage.’
‘Yes;’ said Patience; ‘that’s what I value so much: had he loved me now, there would have been no merit on his part; but a sacrifice you know —’
‘Yes, ladies are so fond of such sacrifices, Frank, upon my word, I had no idea you were so very excellent at making speeches.’
‘Well,’ said Frank, ‘I shouldn’t have said sacrifice, that was a slip; what I meant was —’
‘Oh, dear me,’ said Patience, ‘wait a minute; now we are going to have a regular declaration. Lady Margaretta, you haven’t a scent-bottle, have you? And if I should faint, where’s the garden-chair?’
‘Oh, but I’m not going to make a declaration at all,’ said Frank.
‘Are you not? Oh! Now, Lady Margaretta, I appeal to you; did you not understand him to say something very particular?’
‘Certainly, I thought nothing could be plainer,’ said the Lady Margaretta.
‘And so, Mr Gresham, I am to be told, that after all it means nothing,’ said Patience, putting her handkerchief up to her eyes.
‘It means that you are an excellent hand at quizzing a fellow like me.’
‘Quizzing! No; but you are an excellent hand at deceiving a poor girl like me. Well, remember, I have got a witness; here is Lady Margaretta, who heard it all. What a pity it is that my brother is a clergyman. You calculated on that, I know; or you would never had served me so.’
She said so just as her brother joined them, or rather just as he had joined Lady Margaretta de Courcy; for her ladyship and Mr Oriel walked on in advance by themselves. Lady Margaretta had found it rather dull work, making a third in Miss Oriel’s flirtation with her cousin; the more so as she was quite accustomed to take a principal part herself in all such transactions. She therefore not unwillingly walked on with Mr Oriel. Mr Oriel, it must be conceived, was not a common, everyday parson, but had points about him which made him quite fit to associate with an earl’s daughter. And as it was known that he was not a marrying man, having very exalted ideas on that point connected with his profession, the Lady Margaretta, of course, had the less objection to trust herself alone with him.
But directly she was gone, Miss Oriel’s tone of banter ceased. It was very well making a fool of a lad of twenty-one when others were by; but there might be danger in it when they were alone together.
‘I don’t know any position on earth more enviable than yours, Mr Gresham,’ said she, quite soberly and earnestly; ‘how happy you ought to be.’
‘What, in being laughed at by you, Miss Oriel, for pretending to be a man, when you choose to make out that I am only a boy? I can bear to be laughed at pretty well generally, but I can’t say that your laughing at me makes me feel so happy as you say I ought to be.’
Frank was evidently of an opinion totally different from that of Miss Oriel. Miss Oriel, when she found herself tete-a-tete with him, thought it was time to give over flirting; Frank, however, imagined that it was just the moment for him to begin. So he spoke and looked very languishing, and put on him quite the airs of an Orlando.
‘Oh, Mr Gresham, such good friends as you and I may laugh at each other, may we not?’
‘You may do what you like, Miss Oriel: beautiful women I believe always may; but you remember what the spider said to the fly, “That which is sport to you, may be death to me.”’ Anyone looking at Frank’s face as he said that, might well have imagined that he was breaking his very heart for love of Miss Oriel. Oh, Master Frank! Master Frank! if you act thus in the green leaf, what will you do in the dry?
While Frank Gresham was thus misbehaving himself, and going on as though to him belonged the privilege of falling in love with pretty faces, as it does to ploughboys and other ordinary people, his great interests were not forgotten by those guardian saints who were so anxious to shower down on his head all manner of temporal blessings.
Another conversation had taken place in the Greshamsbury gardens, in which nothing light had been allowed to present itself; nothing frivolous had been spoken. The countess, the Lady Arabella, and Miss Gresham had been talking over Greshamsbury affairs, and they had latterly been assisted by the Lady Amelia, than whom no De Courcy ever born was more wise, more solemn, more prudent, more proud. The ponderosity of her qualifications for nobility was sometimes too much even for her mother, and her devotion for the peerage was such, that she would certainly have declined a seat in heaven if offered to her without the promise that it should be in the upper house.
The subject first discussed had been Augusta’s prospects. Mr Moffat had been invited to Courcy Castle, and Augusta had been taken thither to meet him, with the express intention on the part of the countess, that they should be man and wife. The countess had been careful to make it intelligible to her sister-inlaw and niece, that though Mr Moffat would do excellently well for a daughter of Greshamsbury, he could not be allowed to raise his eyes to a female scion of Courcy Castle.
‘Not that we personally dislike him,’ said the Lady Amelia; ‘but rank has its drawbacks, Augusta.’ As the Lady Amelia was now somewhat nearer forty than thirty, and was still allowed to walk,
‘In maiden meditation, fancy free,’
it may be presumed that in her case rank had been found to have serious drawbacks.
To this Augusta said nothing in objection. Whether desirable by a De Courcy or not, the match was to be hers, and there was no doubt whatever as to the wealth of the man whose name she was to take; the offer had been made, not to her, but to her aunt; the acceptance had been expressed, not by her, but by her aunt. Had she thought of recapitulating in her memory all that had ever passed between Mr Moffat and herself, she would have found that it did not amount to more than the most ordinary conversation between chance partners in a ball-room. Nevertheless, she was to be Mrs Moffat. All that Mr Gresham knew of him was, that when he met the young man for the first and only time in his life, he found him extremely hard to deal with in the matter of money. He had insisted on having ten thousand pounds with his wife, and at last refused to go on with the match unless he got six thousand pounds. This latter sum the poor squire had undertaken to pay him.
Mr Moffat had been for a year or two MP for Barchester; having been assisted in his views on that ancient city by all the De Courcy interest. He was a Whig, of course. Not only had Barchester, departing from the light of other days, returned a Whig member of Parliament, but it was declared, that at the next election, now near at hand, a Radical would be sent up, an man pledged to the ballot, to economies of all sorts, one who would carry out Barchester politics in all their abrupt, obnoxious, pestilent virulence. This was one Scatcherd, a great railway contractor, a man who was a native of Barchester, who had bought property in the neighbourhood, and who had achieved a sort of popularity there and elsewhere by the violence of his democratic opposition to the aristocracy. According to this man’s political tenets, the Conservatives should be laughed at as fools, but the Whigs should be hated as knaves.
Mr Moffat was now coming down to Courcy Castle to look after his electioneering interests, and Miss Gresham was to return with her aunt to meet him. The countess was very anxious that Frank should also accompany them. Her great doctrine, that he must marry money, had been laid down with authority, and received without doubt. She now pushed it further, and said that no time should be lost; that he should not only marry money, but do so very early in life; there was always a danger in delay. The Greshams—of course she alluded only to the males of the family—were foolishly soft-hearted; no one could say what might happen. There was that Miss Thorne always at Greshamsbury.
This was more than Lady Arabella could stand. She protested that there was at least no ground for supposing that Frank would absolutely disgrace his family.
Still the countess continued: ‘Perhaps not,’ she said; ‘but when young people of perfectly different ranks were allowed to associate together, there was no saying what danger might arise. They all know that old Mr Bateson—the present Mr Bateson’s father—had gone off with the governess; and young Mr Everbeery, near Taunton, had only the other day married a cook-maid.’
‘But Mr Everbeery was always drunk, aunt,’ said Augusta, feeling called upon to say something for her brother.
‘Never mind, my dear; these things do happen, and they are very dreadful.’
‘Horrible!’ said the Lady Amelia; ‘diluting the best blood of the country, and paving the way for revolution.’ This was very grand; but, nevertheless, Augusta could not but feel that she perhaps might be about to dilute the blood of her coming children in marrying the tailor’s son. She consoled herself by trusting that, at any rate, she paved the way for no revolution.
‘When a thing is so necessary,’ said the countess, ‘it cannot be done too soon. Now, Arabella, I don’t say that anything will come of it; but it may; Miss Dunstable is coming down to us next week. Now, we all know that when old Dunstable died last year, he left over two hundred thousand to his daughter.’
‘It is a great deal of money, certainly,’ said Lady Arabella.
‘It wold pay off everything, and a great deal more,’ said the countess.
‘It was ointment, was it not, aunt?’ said Augusta.
‘I believe so, my dear; something called the ointment of Lebanon, or something of that sort: but there’s no doubt about the money.’
‘But how old is she, Robina?’ asked the anxious mother.
‘About thirty, I suppose; but I don’t think that much signifies.’
‘Thirty,’ said Lady Arabella, rather dolefully. ‘And what is she like? I think that Frank already begins to like girls that are young and pretty.’
‘But surely, aunt,’ said the Lady Amelia, ‘now that he has come to man’s discretion, he will not refuse to consider all that he owes to his family. A Mr Gresham of Greshamsbury has a position to support.’ The De Courcy scion spoke these last words in the sort of tone that a parish clergyman would use, in warning some young farmer’s son that he should not put himself on an equal footing with the ploughboys.
It was at last decided that the countess should herself convey to Frank a special invitation to Courcy Castle, and that when she got him there, she should do all that lay in her power to prevent his return to Cambridge, and to further the Dunstable marriage.
‘We did think of Miss Dunstable for Porlock, once,’ she said, naively; ‘but when we found that it wasn’t much over two hundred thousand, why that idea fell to the ground.’ The terms on which the De Courcy blood might be allowed to dilute itself were, it must be presumed, very high indeed.
Augusta was sent off to find her brother, and to send him to the countess in the small drawing-room. Here the countess was to have her tea, apart from the outer common world, and her, without interruption, she was to teach her great lesson to her nephew.
Augusta did find her brother, and found him in the worst of bad society—so at least the stern De Courcys would have thought. Old Mr Bateson and the governess, Mr Everbeery and his cook’s diluted blood, and ways paved for revolutions, all presented themselves to Augusta’s mind when she found her brother walking with no other company than Mary Thorne, and walking with her, too, in much too close proximity.
How he had contrived to be off with the old love and so soon on with the new, or rather, to be off with the new love and again on with the old, we will not stop to inquire. Had Lady Arabella, in truth, known all her son’s doings in this way, could she have guessed how very nigh he had approached the iniquity of old Mr Bateson, and to the folly of young Mr Everbeery, she would in truth have been in a hurry to send him off to Courcy Castle and Miss Dunstable. Some days before the commencement of our story, young Frank had sworn in sober earnest—in what he intended for his most sober earnest, his most earnest sobriety—that he loved Mary Thorne with a love for which words could find no sufficient expression—with a love that could never die, never grow dim, never become less, which no opposition on the part of others could extinguish, which no opposition on her part could repel; that he might, could, would, and should have her for his wife, and that if she told him she didn’t love him, he would —
‘Oh, oh! Mary; do you love me? Don’t you love me? Won’t you love me? Say you will. Oh, Mary, dearest Mary, will you? won’t you? do you? don’t you? Come now, you have a right to give a fellow an answer.’
With such eloquence had the heir of Greshamsbury, when not yet twenty-one years of age, attempted to possess himself of the affections of the doctor’s niece. And yet three days afterwards he was quite ready to flirt with Miss Oriel.
If such things are done in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?
And what had Mary said when those fervent protestations of an undying love had been thrown at her feet? Mary, it must be remembered, was very nearly of the same age as Frank; but, as I and others have so often said before, ‘Women grow on the sunny side of the wall.’ Though Frank was only a boy, it behoved Mary to be something more than a girl. Frank might be allowed, without laying himself open to much reproach, to throw all of what he believed to be his heart into a protestation of what he believed to be love; but Mary was in duty bound to be more thoughtful, more reticent, more aware of the facts of their position, more careful of her own feelings, and more careful also of his.
And yet she could not put him down as another young lady might put down another young gentleman. It is very seldom that a young man, unless he be tipsy, assumes an unwelcome familiarity in his early acquaintance with any girl; but when acquaintance has been long and intimate, familiarities must follow as a matter of course. Frank and Mary had been so much together in his holidays, had so constantly consorted together as boys and girls, that, as regarded her, he had not that innate fear of a woman which represses a young man’s tongue; and she was so used to his good-humour, his fun, and high jovial spirits, and was, withal, so fond of them and him, that it was very difficult for her to mark with accurate feeling, and stop with reserved brow, the shade of change from a boy’s liking to a man’s love.
And Beatrice, too, had done harm in this matter. With a spirit painfully unequal to that of her grand relatives, she had quizzed Mary and Frank about their early flirtations. This she had done; but had instinctively avoided doing so before her mother and sister, and had thus made a secret of it, as it were, between herself, Mary, and her brother;—had given currency, as it were, to the idea that there might be something serious between the two. Not that Beatrice had ever wished to promote a marriage between them, or had even thought of such a thing. She was girlish, thoughtless, imprudent, inartistic, and very unlike a De Courcy. Very unlike a De Courcy she was in all that; but, nevertheless, she had the De Courcy veneration for blood, and, more than that, she had the Gresham feeling joined to that of the De Courcys. The Lady Amelia would not for worlds have had the De Courcy blood defiled; but gold she thought could not defile. Now Beatrice was ashamed of her sister’s marriage, and had often declared, within her own heart, that nothing could have made her marry a Mr Moffat.
She had said so also to Mary, and Mary had told her that she was right. Mary was also proud of blood, was proud of her uncle’s blood, and the two girls talked together in all the warmth of girlish confidence, of the great glories of family traditions and family honours. Beatrice had talked in utter ignorance as to her friend’s birth; and Mary, poor Mary, she had talked, being as ignorant; but not without a strong suspicion that, at some future time, a day of sorrow would tell her some fearful truth.
On one point Mary’s mind was strongly made up. No wealth, no mere worldly advantage could make any one her superior. If she were born a gentlewoman, then was she fit to match with any gentleman. Let the most wealthy man in Europe pour all his wealth at her feet, she could, if so inclined, give him back at any rate more than that. That offered at her feet she knew she would never tempt her to yield up the fortress of her heart, the guardianship of her soul, the possession of her mind; not that alone, nor that, even, as any possible slightest fraction of a make-weight.
If she were born a gentlewoman! And then came to her mind those curious questions; what makes a gentleman? what makes a gentlewoman? What is the inner reality, the spiritualised quintessence of that privilege in the world which men call rank, which forces the thousands and hundreds of thousands to bow down before the few elect? What gives, or can give it, or should give it?’
And she answered the question. Absolute, intrinsic, acknowledged, individual merit must give it to its possessor, let him be whom, and what, and whence he might. So far the spirit of democracy was strong with her. Beyond this it could be had but by inheritance, received as it were second-hand, or twenty-second hand. And so far the spirit of aristocracy was strong within her. All this she had, as may be imagined, learnt in early years from her uncle; and all this she was at great pains to teach Beatrice Gresham, the chosen of her heart.
When Frank declared that Mary had a right to give him an answer, he meant that he had a right to expect one. Mary acknowledged this right, and gave it to him.
‘Mr Gresham,’ she said.
‘Oh, Mary; Mr Gresham!’
‘Yes, Mr Gresham. It must be Mr Gresham, after that. And, moreover, it must be Miss Thorne as well.’
‘I’ll be shot if it shall, Mary.’
‘Well; I can’t say that I shall be shot if it be not so; but if it be not so, if you do not agree that it shall be so, I shall be turned out of Greshamsbury.’
‘What! you mean my mother?’ said Frank.
‘Indeed! I mean no such thing,’ said Mary, with a flash from her eye that made Frank almost start. ‘I mean no such thing. I mean you, not your mother. I am not in the least afraid of Lady Arabella; but I am afraid of you.’
‘Afraid of me, Mary!’
‘Miss Thorne; pray, pray, remember. It must be Miss Thorne. Do not turn me out of Greshamsbury. Do not separate me from Beatrice. It is you that will drive me out; no one else. I could stand my ground against your mother—I feel I could; but I cannot stand against you if you treat me otherwise than—than —’
‘Otherwise than what? I want to treat you as the girl I have chosen from all the world as my wife.’
‘I am sorry you should so soon have found it necessary to make a choice. But, Mr Gresham, we must not joke about this at present. I am sure you would not willingly injure me; but if you speak to me, or of me, again in that way, you will injure me, injure me so much that I shall be forced to leave Greshamsbury, in my own defence. I know you are too generous to drive me to that.’
And so the interview had ended. Frank, of course, went upstairs to see if his new pocket-pistols were all ready, properly cleaned, loaded, and capped, should he find, after a few days’ experience, that prolonged existence was unendurable.
However, he managed to live through the subsequent period; doubtless with a view of preventing any appointment to his father’s guests.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41