Mary had contrived to quiet her lover with considerable propriety of demeanour. Then came on her the somewhat harder task of quieting herself. Young ladies, on the whole, are perhaps quite as susceptible of the after feelings as young gentlemen are. Now Frank Gresham, was handsome, amiable, by no means a fool in intellect, excellent in heart; and he was, moreover, a gentleman, being the son of Mr Gresham of Greshamsbury. Mary had been, as it were, brought up to love him. Had aught but good happened to him, she would have cried as for a brother. It must not therefore be supposed that when Frank Gresham told her that he loved her, she had heard it altogether unconcerned.
He had not, perhaps, made his declaration with that propriety of language in which such scenes are generally described as being carried on. Ladies may perhaps think that Mary should have been deterred, by the very boyishness of his manner, from thinking at all seriously on the subject. His ‘will you, won’t you—do you, don’t you?’ does not sound like the poetic raptures of a highly inspired lover. But, nevertheless, there had been warmth, and a reality in it not in itself repulsive; and Mary’s anger—anger? no, not anger—her objections to the declarations were probably not based on the absurdity of her lover’s language.
We are inclined to think that these matters are not always discussed by mortal lovers in the poetically passionate phraseology which is generally thought to be appropriate for their description. A man cannot well describe that which he has never seen or heard; but the absolute words and acts of one such scene did once come to the author’s knowledge. The couple were by no means plebeian, or below the proper standard of high bearing and high breeding; they were a handsome pair, living among educated people, sufficiently given to mental pursuits, and in every way what a pair of polite lovers ought to be. The all-important conversation passed in this wise. The site of the passionate scene was the sea-shore, on which they were walking, in autumn.
Gentleman. ‘Well, Miss—the long and short of it is this: here I am; you can take me or leave me.’
Lady-scratching a gutter on the sand with her parasol, so as to allow a little salt water to run out of one hole into another. ‘Of course, I know that’s all nonsense.’
Gentleman. ‘Nonsense! By Jove, it isn’t nonsense at all: come, Jane; here I am: come, at any rate you can say something.’
Lady. ‘Yes, I suppose I can say something.’
Gentleman. ‘Well, which is it to be; take me or leave me?’
Lady—very slowly, and with a voice perhaps hardly articulate, carrying on, at the same time, her engineering works on a wider scale. ‘Well, I don’t exactly want to leave you.’
And so the matter was settled: settled with much propriety and satisfaction; and both the lady and gentleman would have thought, had they ever thought about the matter at all, that this, the sweetest moment of their lives, had been graced by all the poetry by which such moments ought to be hallowed.
When Mary had, as she thought, properly subdued young Frank, the offer of whose love she, at any rate, knew was, at such a period of his life, an utter absurdity, then she found it necessary to subdue herself. What happiness on earth could be greater than the possession of such a love, had the true possession been justly and honestly within her reach? What man could be more lovable than such a man as would grow from such a boy? And then, did she not love him—love him already, without waiting for any change? Did she not feel that there was that about him, about him and about herself, too, which might so well fit them for each other? It would be so sweet to be the sister of Beatrice, the daughter of the squire, to belong to Greshamsbury as a part and parcel of itself.
But though she could not restrain these thoughts, it never for a moment occurred to her to take Frank’s offer in earnest. Though she was a grown woman, he was still a boy. He would have to see the world before he settled in it, and would change his mind about woman half a score of times before he married. Then, too, though she did not like the Lady Arabella, she felt that she owed something, if not to her kindness, at least to her forbearance; and she knew, felt inwardly certain, that she would be doing wrong, that the world would say that she was doing wrong, that her uncle would think her wrong, if she endeavoured to take advantage of what had passed.
She had not for an instant doubted; not for a moment had she contemplated it as possible that she should ever become Mrs Gresham because Frank had offered to make her so; but, nevertheless, she could not help thinking of what had occurred—of thinking of it, most probably much more than Frank did himself.
A day or two afterwards, on the evening before Frank’s birthday, she was alone with her uncle, walking in the garden behind their house, and she then essayed to question him, with the object of learning if she were fitted by her birth to be the wife of such a one as Frank Gresham. They were in the habit of walking there together when he happened to be at home of a summer’s evening. This was not often the case, for his hours of labour extended much beyond those usual to the upper working world, the hours, namely, between breakfast and dinner; but those minutes that they did thus pass together, the doctor regarded as perhaps the pleasantest of his life.
‘Uncle,’ said she, after a while, ‘what do you think of this marriage of Miss Gresham’s?’
‘Well, Minnie’—such was his name of endearment for her —‘I can’t say I have thought much about it, and I don’t suppose anybody else has either.’
‘She must think about it, of course; and so must he, I suppose.’
‘I’m not so sure of that. Some folks would never get married if they had to trouble themselves with thinking about it.’
‘I suppose that’s why you never got married, uncle?’
‘Either that, or thinking of it too much. One is as bad as the other.’
‘Well, I have been thinking about it, at any rate, uncle.’
‘That’s very good of you; that will save me the trouble; and perhaps save Miss Gresham too. If you have thought it over thoroughly, that will do for all.’
‘I believe Mr Moffat is a man of no family.’
‘He’ll mend in that point, no doubt, when he has got a wife.’
‘Uncle, you’re a goose; and what is worse, a very provoking goose.’
‘Niece, you’re a gander; and what is worse, a very silly gander. What is Mr Moffat’s family to you, and me? Mr Moffat has that which ranks above family honours. He is a very rich man.’
‘Yes,’ said Mary, ‘I know he is rich; and a rich man I suppose can buy anything—except a woman that is worth having.’
‘A rich man can buy anything,’ said the doctor; ‘not that I meant to say that Mr Moffat has bought Miss Gresham. I have no doubt that they will suit each other very well,’ he added with an air of decisive authority, as though he had finished the subject.
But his niece was determined not to let him pass so. ‘Now, uncle,‘said she, ‘you know you are pretending to a great deal of worldly wisdom, which, after all, is not wisdom at all in your eyes.’
‘You know you are: and as for the impropriety of discussing Miss Gresham’s marriage —’
‘I did not say it was improper.’
‘Oh, yes, you did; of course such things must be discussed. How is one to have an opinion if one does not get it by looking at the things that happen around us?’
‘Now I am going to be blown up,’ said Dr Thorne.
‘Dear uncle, do be serious with me.’
‘Well, then, seriously, I hope Miss Gresham will be very happy as Mrs Moffat.’
‘Of course you do: so do I. I hope it as much as I can hope what I don’t at all see ground for expecting.’
‘People constantly hope without any such ground.’
‘Well, then, I’ll hope in this case. But, uncle —’
‘Well, my dear?’
‘I want your opinion, truly and really. If you were a girl —’
‘I am perfectly unable to give any opinion founded on so strange an hypothesis.’
‘Well; but if you were a marrying man.’
‘The hypothesis is quite as much out of my way.’
‘But, uncle, I am a girl, and perhaps I may marry;—or at any rate think of marrying some day.’
‘The latter alternative is certainly possible enough.’
‘Therefore, in seeing a friend taking such a step, I cannot but speculate on the matter as though I were myself in her place. If I were Miss Gresham, should I be right?’
‘But, Minnie, you are not Miss Gresham.’
‘No, I am Mary Thorne; it is a very different thing, I know. I suppose I might marry any one without degrading myself.’
It was almost ill-natured of her to say this; but she had not meant to say it in the sense which the sounds seemed to bear. She had failed in being able to bring her uncle to the point she wished by the road she had planned, and in seeking another road, she had abruptly fallen into unpleasant places.
‘I should be very sorry that my niece should think so,’ said he; ‘and am sorry, too, that she should say so. But, Mary, to tell the truth, I hardly know at what you are driving. You are, I think, not so clear minded—certainly, not so clear worded—as is usual with you.’
‘I will tell you, uncle;’ and, instead of looking up into his face, she turned her eyes down on to the green lawn beneath her feet.
‘Well, Minnie, what is it?’ and he took both her hands in his.
‘I think that Miss Gresham should not marry Mr Moffat. I think so because her family is high and noble, and because he is low and ignoble. When one has an opinion on such matters, one cannot but apply it to things and people around one; and having applied my opinion to her, the next step naturally is to apply it to myself. Were I Miss Gresham, I would not marry Mr Moffat though he rolled in gold. I know where to rank Miss Gresham. What I want to know is, where I ought to rank myself?’
They had been standing when she commenced he last speech; but as she finished it, the doctor moved on again, and she moved with him. He walked on very slowly without answering her; and she, out of her full mind, pursued aloud the tenor of her thoughts.
‘That does not follow,’ said the doctor quickly. ‘A man raises a woman to his own standard, but a woman must take that of her husband.’
Again they were silent, and again they walked on, Mary holding her uncle’s arm with both her hands. She was determined, however, to come to the point, and after considering for a while how best she might do it, she ceased to beat any longer about the bush, and asked him a plain question.
‘The Thornes are as good a family as the Greshams are they not?’
‘In absolute genealogy they are, my dear. That is, when I choose to be an old fool and talk of such matters in a sense different from that in which they are spoken of by the world at large, I may say that the Thornes are as good, or perhaps better, than the Greshams, but I should be sorry to say so seriously to any one. The Greshams now stand much higher in the county than the Thornes do.’
‘But they are of the same class.’
‘Yes, yes; Wilfred Thorne of Ullathorne, and our friend the squire here, are of the same class.’
‘But, uncle, I and Augusta Gresham—are we of the same class?’
‘Well, Minnie, you would hardly have me boast that I am the same class with the squire—I, a poor country doctor?’
‘You are not answering me fairly, dear uncle; dearest uncle, do you not know that you are not answering me fairly? You know what I mean. Have I a right to call the Thornes of Ullathorne my cousins?’
‘Mary, Mary, Mary!’ said he after a minute’s pause, still allowing his arm to hang loose, that she might hold it with both her hands. ‘Mary, Mary, Mary! I would that you had spared me this!’
‘I could not have spared it to you for ever, uncle.’
‘I would that you could have done so; I would that you could!’
‘It is over now, uncle: it is told now. I will grieve you no more. Dear, dear, dearest! I should love you more than ever now; I would, I would, I would if that were possible. What should I be but for you? What must I have been but for you?’ And she threw herself on his breast, and clinging with her arms round his neck, kissed his forehead, cheeks, and lips.
There was nothing more said then on the subject between them. Mary asked no further question, nor did the doctor volunteer further information. She would have been most anxious to ask about her mother’s history had she dared to do so; but she did not dare to ask; she could not bear to be told that her mother had been, perhaps was, a worthless woman. That she was truly a daughter of a brother of the doctor, that she did know. Little as she had heard of her relatives in her early youth, few as had been the words which had fallen from her uncle in her hearing as to her parentage, she did know this, that she was the daughter of Henry Thorne, a brother of the doctor, and a son of the old prebendary. Trifling little things that had occurred, accidents which could not be prevented, had told her this; but not a word had ever passed any one’s lips as to her mother. The doctor, when speaking of his youth, had spoken of her father; but no one had spoken of her mother. She had long known that she was the child of a Thorne; now she knew also that she was no cousin of the Thornes of Ullathorne; no cousin, at least, in the world’s ordinary language, no niece indeed of her uncle, unless by his special permission that she should be so.
When the interview was over, she went up alone to the drawing-room, and there she sat thinking. She had not been there long before her uncle came up to her. He did not sit down, or even take off the hat which he still wore; but coming close to her, and still standing, he spoke thus:-
‘Mary, after what has passed I should be very unjust and very cruel to you not to tell you one thing more than you have now learned. Your mother was unfortunate in much, not in everything; but the world, which is very often stern in such matters, never judged her to have disgraced herself. I tell you this, my child, in order that you may respect her memory;’ and so saying, he again left her without giving her time to speak a word.
What he then told her he had told in mercy. He felt what must be her feelings when she reflected that she had to blush for her mother; that not only could she not speak of her mother, but that she might hardly think of her with innocence; and to mitigate such sorrow as this, and also to do justice to the woman whom his brother had so wronged, he had forced himself to reveal so much as is stated above.
And then he walked slowly by himself, backwards and forwards through the garden, thinking of what he had done with reference to this girl, and doubting whether he had done wisely and well. He had resolved, when first the little infant was given over to his charge, that nothing should be known of her or by her as to her mother. He was willing to devote himself to this orphan child of his brother, this last seedling of his father’s house; but he was not willing so to do this as to bring himself in any manner into familiar contact with the Scatcherds. He had boasted to himself that he, at any rate, was a gentleman; and that she, if she were to live in his house, sit at his table, and share his hearth, must be a lady. He would tell no lie about her; he would not to any one make her out to be aught other or aught better than she was; people would talk about her of course, only let them not talk to him; he conceived of himself—and the conception was not without due ground—that should any do so, he had that within him which would silence them. He would never claim for this little creature—thus brought into the world without a legitimate position in which to stand—he would never claim for her any station that would not properly be her own. He would make for her a station as best he could. As he might sink or swim, so should she.
So he had resolved; but things had arranged themselves, as they often do, rather than been arranged by him. During ten or twelve years no one had heard of Mary Thorne; the memory of Henry Thorne and his tragic death had passed away; the knowledge that an infant had been born whose birth was connected with that tragedy, a knowledge never widely spread, had faded down into utter ignorance. At the end of these twelve years, Dr Thorne had announced, that a young niece, a child of a brother long since dead, was coming to live with him. As he had contemplated, no one spoke to him; but some people did no doubt talk among themselves. Whether or not the exact truth was surmised by any, it matters not to say; with absolute exactness, probably not; with great approach to it, probably yes. By one person, at any rate, no guess whatever was made; no thought relative to Dr Thorne’s niece ever troubled him; no idea that Mary Scatcherd had left a child in England ever occurred to him; and that person was Roger Scatcherd, Mary’s brother.
To one friend, and only one, did the doctor tell the whole truth, and that was to the old squire. ‘I have told you,’ said the doctor, ‘partly that you may know that the child has no right to mix with your children if you think much of such things. Do you, however, see to this. I would rather that no one else should be told.’
No one else had been told; and the squire had ‘seen to it,’ by accustoming himself to look at Mary Thorne running about the house with his own children as though she were of the same brood. Indeed, the squire had always been fond of Mary, had personally noticed her, and, in the affair of Mam’selle Larron, had declared that he would have her placed at once on the bench of magistrates;—much to the disgust of the Lady Arabella.
And so things had gone on and on, and had not been thought of with much downright thinking; till now, when she was one-and-twenty years of age, his niece came to him, asking as to her position, and inquiring in what rank of life she was to find a husband.
And so the doctor walked, backwards and forwards through the garden, slowly, thinking now with some earnestness what if, after all, he had been wrong about his niece? What if by endeavouring to place her in the position of a lady, he had falsely so placed her, and robbed her of her legitimate position? What if there was no rank of life in which she could now properly attach herself?
And then, how had it answered, that plan of his of keeping her all to himself? He, Dr Thorne, was still a poor man; the gift of saving money had not been his; he had ever a comfortable house for her to live in, and, in spite of Doctors Fillgrave, Century, Rerechild, and others, had made from his profession an income sufficient for their joint wants; but he had not done as others do: he had no three or four thousand pounds in the Three per Cents., on which Mary might live in some comfort when he should die. Late in life he had insured his life for eight hundred pounds; and to that, and that only, had he to trust for Mary’s future maintenance. How had it answered, then, this plan of letting her be unknown to, and undreamed of, by, those who were as near to her on her mother’s side as he was on the father’s? On that side, though there had been utter poverty, there was now absolute wealth.
But when he took her to himself, had he not rescued her from the very depths of the lowest misery: from the degradation of the workhouse; from the scorn of honest-born charity-children; from the lowest of the world’s low conditions? Was she not now the apple of his eye, his one great sovereign comfort—his pride, his happiness, his glory? Was he to make her over, to make any portion of her over to others, if, by doing so, she might be able to share the wealth, as well as the coarse manners and uncouth society of her at present unknown connexions? He, who had never worshipped wealth on his own behalf; he, who had scorned the idol of the gold, and had ever been teaching her to scorn it; was he now to show that his philosophy had all been false as soon as the temptation to do so was put in his way?
But yet, what man would marry this bastard child, without a sixpence, and bring not only poverty, but ill blood also on his own children? It might be very well for him, Dr Thorne; for him whose career was made, whose name, at any rate, was his own; for him who had a fixed standing-ground in the world; it might be well for him to indulge in large views of a philosophy antagonistic to the world’s practice; but had he a right to do it for his niece? What man would marry a girl so placed? For those among whom she might have legitimately found a level, education had now utterly unfitted her. And then, he well knew that she would never put out her hand in token of love to any one without telling all she knew and all she surmised as to her own birth.
And that question of this evening; had it not been instigated by some appeal on her part? Was there not already within her breast some cause for disquietude which had made her so pertinacious? Why else had she told him then, for the first time, that she did not know where to rank herself? If such an appeal had been made to her, it must have come from young Frank Gresham. What, in such case, would it behove him to do? Should he pack up his all, his lancet-case, pestle and mortar, and seek anew fresh ground in a new world, leaving behind a huge triumph to those learned enemies of his, Fillgrave, Century, and Rerechild? Better that than remain at Greshamsbury at the cost of the child’s heart and pride.
And so he walked slowly backwards and forwards through his garden, meditating these things painfully enough.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41