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a very low voice to one or two gentlemen who stood nearest to him.
The crowd, in the meanwhile, became suddenly silent. Frank, when he
found that the duke did not come and speak to him, felt that he ought
to go and speak to the duke; but no one else did so, and when he
whispered his surprise to Mr Athill, that gentleman told him that
this was the duke's practice on all such occasions.

"Fothergill," said the duke - and it was the only word he had yet
spoken out loud - "I believe we are ready for dinner." Now Mr
Fothergill was the duke's land-agent, and he it was who had greeted
Frank and his friends at their entrance.

Immediately the gong was again sounded, and another door leading out
of the drawing-room into the dining-room was opened. The duke led the
way, and then the guests followed. "Stick close to me, Mr Gresham,"
said Athill, "we'll get about the middle of the table, where we shall
be cosy - and on the other side of the room, out of this dreadful
draught - I know the place well, Mr Gresham; stick to me."

Mr Athill, who was a pleasant, chatty companion, had hardly seated
himself, and was talking to Frank as quickly as he could, when Mr
Fothergill, who sat at the bottom of the table, asked him to say
grace. It seemed to be quite out of the question that the duke should
take any trouble with his guests whatever. Mr Athill consequently
dropped the word he was speaking, and uttered a prayer - if it was a
prayer - that they might all have grateful hearts for that which God
was about to give them.

If it was a prayer! As far as my own experience goes, such utterances
are seldom prayers, seldom can be prayers. And if not prayers, what
then? To me it is unintelligible that the full tide of glibbest
chatter can be stopped at a moment in the midst of profuse good
living, and the Giver thanked becomingly in words of heartfelt
praise. Setting aside for the moment what one daily hears and sees,
may not one declare that a change so sudden is not within the compass
of the human mind? But then, to such reasoning one cannot but add
what one does hear and see; one cannot but judge of the ceremony by
the manner in which one sees it performed - uttered, that is - and
listened to. Clergymen there are - one meets them now and then - who
endeavour to give to the dinner-table grace some of the solemnity of
a church ritual, and what is the effect? Much the same as though one
were to be interrupted for a minute in the midst of one of our church
liturgies to hear a drinking-song.

And it will be argued, that a man need be less thankful because, at
the moment of receiving, he utters no thanksgiving? or will it be
thought that a man is made thankful because what is called a grace is
uttered after dinner? It can hardly be imagined that any one will so
argue, or so think.

Dinner-graces are, probably, the last remaining relic of certain
daily services [1] which the Church in olden days enjoined: nones,
complines, and vespers were others. Of the nones and complines we
have happily got quit; and it might be well if we could get rid of
the dinner-graces also. Let any man ask himself whether, on his own
part, they are acts of prayer and thanksgiving - and if not that, what
then?


[Footnote 1: It is, I know, alleged that graces are said
before dinner, because our Saviour uttered a blessing before
his last supper. I cannot say that the idea of such analogy
is pleasing to me.]


When the large party entered the dining-room one or two gentlemen
might be seen to come in from some other door and set themselves at
the table near to the duke's chair. These were guests of his own, who
were staying in the house, his particular friends, the men with whom
he lived: the others were strangers whom he fed, perhaps once a year,
in order that his name might be known in the land as that of one who
distributed food and wine hospitably through the county. The food
and wine, the attendance also, and the view of the vast repository
of plate he vouchsafed willingly to his county neighbours; - but it
was beyond his good nature to talk to them. To judge by the present
appearance of most of them, they were quite as well satisfied to be
left alone.

Frank was altogether a stranger there, but Mr Athill knew every one
at the table.

"That's Apjohn," said he: "don't you know, Mr Apjohn, the attorney
from Barchester? he's always here; he does some of Fothergill's law
business, and makes himself useful. If any fellow knows the value of
a good dinner, he does. You'll see that the duke's hospitality will
not be thrown away on him."

"It's very much thrown away upon me, I know," said Frank, who could
not at all put up with the idea of sitting down to dinner without
having been spoken to by his host.

"Oh, nonsense!" said his clerical friend; "you'll enjoy yourself
amazingly by and by. There is not such champagne in any other house
in Barsetshire; and then the claret - " And Mr Athill pressed his lips
together, and gently shook his head, meaning to signify by the motion
that the claret of Gatherum Castle was sufficient atonement for any
penance which a man might have to go through in his mode of obtaining
it.

"Who's that funny little man sitting there, next but one to Mr de
Courcy? I never saw such a queer fellow in my life."

"Don't you know old Bolus? Well, I thought every one in Barsetshire
knew Bolus; you especially should do so, as he is such a dear friend
of Dr Thorne."

"A dear friend of Dr Thorne?"

"Yes; he was apothecary at Scarington in the old days, before Dr
Fillgrave came into vogue. I remember when Bolus was thought to be a
very good sort of doctor."

"Is he - is he - " whispered Frank, "is he by way of a gentleman?"

"Ha! ha! ha! Well, I suppose we must be charitable, and say that he
is quite as good, at any rate, as many others there are here - " and
Mr Athill, as he spoke, whispered into Frank's ear, "You see there's
Finnie here, another Barchester attorney. Now, I really think where
Finnie goes Bolus may go too."

"The more the merrier, I suppose," said Frank.

"Well, something a little like that. I wonder why Thorne is not here?
I'm sure he was asked."

"Perhaps he did not particularly wish to meet Finnie and Bolus. Do
you know, Mr Athill, I think he was quite right not to come. As for
myself, I wish I was anywhere else."

"Ha! ha! ha! You don't know the duke's ways yet; and what's more,
you're young, you happy fellow! But Thorne should have more sense; he
ought to show himself here."

The gormandizing was now going on at a tremendous rate. Though the
volubility of their tongues had been for a while stopped by the first
shock of the duke's presence, the guests seemed to feel no such
constraint upon their teeth. They fed, one may almost say, rabidly,
and gave their orders to the servants in an eager manner; much more
impressive than that usual at smaller parties. Mr Apjohn, who sat
immediately opposite to Frank, had, by some well-planned manoeuvre,
contrived to get before him the jowl of a salmon; but, unfortunately,
he was not for a while equally successful in the article of sauce. A
very limited portion - so at least thought Mr Apjohn - had been put on
his plate; and a servant, with a huge sauce tureen, absolutely passed
behind his back inattentive to his audible requests. Poor Mr Apjohn
in his despair turned round to arrest the man by his coat-tails; but
he was a moment too late, and all but fell backwards on the floor. As
he righted himself he muttered an anathema, and looked with a face of
anguish at his plate.

"Anything the matter, Apjohn?" said Mr Fothergill, kindly, seeing
the utter despair written on the poor man's countenance; "can I get
anything for you?"

"The sauce!" said Mr Apjohn, in a voice that would have melted a
hermit; and as he looked at Mr Fothergill, he pointed at the now
distant sinner, who was dispensing his melted ambrosia at least ten
heads upwards, away from the unfortunate supplicant.

Mr Fothergill, however, knew where to look for balm for such wounds,
and in a minute or two, Mr Apjohn was employed quite to his heart's
content.

"Well," said Frank to his neighbour, "it may be very well once in a
way; but I think that on the whole Dr Thorne is right."

"My dear Mr Gresham, see the world on all sides," said Mr Athill,
who had also been somewhat intent on the gratification of his own
appetite, though with an energy less evident than that of the
gentleman opposite. "See the world on all sides if you have an
opportunity; and, believe me, a good dinner now and then is a very
good thing."

"Yes; but I don't like eating it with hogs."

"Whish-h! softly, softly, Mr Gresham, or you'll disturb Mr Apjohn's
digestion. Upon my word, he'll want it all before he has done. Now, I
like this kind of thing once in a way."

"Do you?" said Frank, in a tone that was almost savage.

"Yes; indeed I do. One sees so much character. And after all, what
harm does it do?"

"My idea is that people should live with those whose society is
pleasant to them."

"Live - yes, Mr Gresham - I agree with you there. It wouldn't do for me
to live with the Duke of Omnium; I shouldn't understand, or probably
approve, his ways. Nor should I, perhaps, much like the constant
presence of Mr Apjohn. But now and then - once in a year or so - I do
own I like to see them both. Here's the cup; now, whatever you do, Mr
Gresham, don't pass the cup without tasting it."

And so the dinner passed on, slowly enough as Frank thought, but
all too quickly for Mr Apjohn. It passed away, and the wine came
circulating freely. The tongues again were loosed, the teeth being
released from their labours, and under the influence of the claret
the duke's presence was forgotten.

But very speedily the coffee was brought. "This will soon be over
now," said Frank, to himself, thankfully; for, though he be no means
despised good claret, he had lost his temper too completely to enjoy
it at the present moment. But he was much mistaken; the farce as yet
was only at its commencement. The duke took his cup of coffee, and so
did the few friends who sat close to him; but the beverage did not
seem to be in great request with the majority of the guests. When the
duke had taken his modicum, he rose up and silently retired, saying
no word and making no sign. And then the farce commenced.

"Now, gentlemen," said Mr Fothergill, cheerily, "we are all right.
Apjohn, is there claret there? Mr Bolus, I know you stick to the
Madeira; you are quite right, for there isn't much of it left, and my
belief is there'll never be more like it."

And so the duke's hospitality went on, and the duke's guests drank
merrily for the next two hours.

"Shan't we see any more of him?" asked Frank.

"Any more of whom?" said Mr Athill.

"Of the duke?"

"Oh, no; you'll see no more of him. He always goes when the coffee
comes. It's brought in as an excuse. We've had enough of the light of
his countenance to last till next year. The duke and I are excellent
friends; and have been so these fifteen years; but I never see more
of him than that."

"I shall go away," said Frank.

"Nonsense. Mr de Courcy and your other friend won't stir for this
hour yet."

"I don't care. I shall walk on, and they may catch me. I may be
wrong; but it seems to me that a man insults me when he asks me to
dine with him and never speaks to me. I don't care if he be ten times
Duke of Omnium; he can't be more than a gentleman, and as such I
am his equal." And then, having thus given vent to his feelings in
somewhat high-flown language, he walked forth and trudged away along
the road towards Courcy.

Frank Gresham had been born and bred a Conservative, whereas the
Duke of Omnium was well known as a consistent Whig. There is no one
so devoutly resolved to admit of no superior as your Conservative,
born and bred, no one so inclined to high domestic despotism as your
thoroughgoing consistent old Whig.

When he had proceeded about six miles, Frank was picked up by his
friends; but even then his anger had hardly cooled.

"Was the duke as civil as ever when you took your leave of him?" said
he to his cousin George, as he took his seat on the drag.

"The juke was jeuced jude wine - lem me tell you that, old fella,"
hiccupped out the Honourable George, as he touched up the leader
under the flank.




CHAPTER XX

The Proposal


And now the departures from Courcy Castle came rapidly one after
another, and there remained but one more evening before Miss
Dunstable's carriage was to be packed. The countess, in the early
moments of Frank's courtship, had controlled his ardour and checked
the rapidity of his amorous professions; but as days, and at last
weeks, wore away, she found that it was necessary to stir the fire
which she had before endeavoured to slacken.

"There will be nobody here to-night but our own circle," said she to
him, "and I really think you should tell Miss Dunstable what your
intentions are. She will have fair ground to complain of you if you
do not."

Frank began to feel that he was in a dilemma. He had commenced making
love to Miss Dunstable partly because he liked the amusement, and
partly from a satirical propensity to quiz his aunt by appearing to
fall into her scheme. But he had overshot the mark, and did not know
what answer to give when he was thus called upon to make a downright
proposal. And then, although he did not care two rushes about Miss
Dunstable in the way of love, he nevertheless experienced a sort of
jealousy when he found that she appeared to be indifferent to him,
and that she corresponded the meanwhile with his cousin George.
Though all their flirtations had been carried on on both sides
palpably by way of fun, though Frank had told himself ten times a
day that his heart was true to Mary Thorne, yet he had an undefined
feeling that it behoved Miss Dunstable to be a little in love with
him. He was not quite at ease in that she was not a little melancholy
now that his departure was so nigh; and, above all, he was anxious to
know what were the real facts about that letter. He had in his own
breast threatened Miss Dunstable with a heartache; and now, when the
time for their separation came, he found that his own heart was the
more likely to ache of the two.

"I suppose I must say something to her, or my aunt will never be
satisfied," said he to himself as he sauntered into the little
drawing-room on that last evening. But at the very time he was
ashamed of himself, for he knew he was going to ask badly.

His sister and one of his cousins were in the room, but his aunt, who
was quite on the alert, soon got them out of it, and Frank and Miss
Dunstable were alone.

"So all our fun and all our laughter is come to an end," said she,
beginning the conversation. "I don't know how you feel, but for
myself I really am a little melancholy at the idea of parting;" and
she looked up at him with her laughing black eyes, as though she
never had, and never could have a care in the world.

"Melancholy! oh, yes; you look so," said Frank, who really did feel
somewhat lackadaisically sentimental.

"But how thoroughly glad the countess must be that we are both
going," continued she. "I declare we have treated her most
infamously. Ever since we've been here we've had all the amusement
to ourselves. I've sometimes thought she would turn me out of the
house."

"I wish with all my heart she had."

"Oh, you cruel barbarian! why on earth should you wish that?"

"That I might have joined you in your exile. I hate Courcy Castle,
and should have rejoiced to leave - and - and - "

"And what?"

"And I love Miss Dunstable, and should have doubly, trebly rejoiced
to leave it with her."

Frank's voice quivered a little as he made this gallant profession;
but still Miss Dunstable only laughed the louder. "Upon my word, of
all my knights you are by far the best behaved," said she, "and say
much the prettiest things." Frank became rather red in the face, and
felt that he did so. Miss Dunstable was treating him like a boy.
While she pretended to be so fond of him she was only laughing at
him, and corresponding the while with his cousin George. Now Frank
Gresham already entertained a sort of contempt for his cousin, which
increased the bitterness of his feelings. Could it really be possible
that George had succeeded while he had utterly failed; that his
stupid cousin had touched the heart of the heiress while she was
playing with him as with a boy?

"Of all your knights! Is that the way you talk to me when we are
going to part? When was it, Miss Dunstable, that George de Courcy
became one of them?"

Miss Dunstable for a while looked serious enough. "What makes you ask
that?" said she. "What makes you inquire about Mr de Courcy?"

"Oh, I have eyes, you know, and can't help seeing. Not that I see, or
have seen anything that I could possibly help."

"And what have you seen, Mr Gresham?"

"Why, I know you have been writing to him."

"Did he tell you so?"

"No; he did not tell me; but I know it."

For a moment she sat silent, and then her face again resumed its
usual happy smile. "Come, Mr Gresham, you are not going to quarrel
with me, I hope, even if I did write a letter to your cousin. Why
should I not write to him? I correspond with all manner of people.
I'll write to you some of these days if you'll let me, and will
promise to answer my letters."

Frank threw himself back on the sofa on which he was sitting, and, in
doing so, brought himself somewhat nearer to his companion than he
had been; he then drew his hand slowly across his forehead, pushing
back his thick hair, and as he did so he sighed somewhat plaintively.

"I do not care," said he, "for the privilege of correspondence on
such terms. If my cousin George is to be a correspondent of yours
also, I will give up my claim."

And then he sighed again, so that it was piteous to hear him. He was
certainly an arrant puppy, and an egregious ass into the bargain;
but then, it must be remembered in his favour that he was only
twenty-one, and that much had been done to spoil him. Miss Dunstable
did remember this, and therefore abstained from laughing at him.

"Why, Mr Gresham, what on earth do you mean? In all human probability
I shall never write another line to Mr de Courcy; but, if I did, what
possible harm could it do you?"

"Oh, Miss Dunstable! you do not in the least understand what my
feelings are."

"Don't I? Then I hope I never shall. I thought I did. I thought they
were the feelings of a good, true-hearted friend; feelings that I
could sometimes look back upon with pleasure as being honest when
so much that one meets is false. I have become very fond of you, Mr
Gresham, and I should be sorry to think that I did not understand
your feelings."

This was almost worse and worse. Young ladies like Miss
Dunstable - for she was still to be numbered in the category of young
ladies - do not usually tell young gentlemen that they are very fond
of them. To boys and girls they may make such a declaration. Now
Frank Gresham regarded himself as one who had already fought his
battles, and fought them not without glory; he could not therefore
endure to be thus openly told by Miss Dunstable that she was very
fond of him.

"Fond of me, Miss Dunstable! I wish you were."

"So I am - very."

"You little know how fond I am of you, Miss Dunstable," and he put
out his hand to take hold of hers. She then lifted up her own, and
slapped him lightly on the knuckles.

"And what can you have to say to Miss Dunstable that can make it
necessary that you should pinch her hand? I tell you fairly, Mr
Gresham, if you make a fool of yourself, I shall come to a conclusion
that you are all fools, and that it is hopeless to look out for any
one worth caring for."

Such advice as this, so kindly given, so wisely meant, so clearly
intelligible, he should have taken and understood, young as he was.
But even yet he did not do so.

"A fool of myself! Yes; I suppose I must be a fool if I have so much
regard for Miss Dunstable as to make it painful for me to know that I
am to see her no more: a fool: yes, of course I am a fool - a man is
always a fool when he loves."

Miss Dunstable could not pretend to doubt his meaning any longer; and
was determined to stop him, let it cost what it would. She now put
out her hand, not over white, and, as Frank soon perceived, gifted
with a very fair allowance of strength.

"Now, Mr Gresham," said she, "before you go any further you shall
listen to me. Will you listen to me for a moment without interrupting
me?"

Frank was of course obliged to promise that he would do so.

"You are going - or rather you were going, for I shall stop you - to
make a profession of love."

"A profession!" said Frank making a slight unsuccessful effort to get
his hand free.

"Yes; a profession - a false profession, Mr Gresham, - a false
profession - a false profession. Look into your heart - into your heart
of hearts. I know you at any rate have a heart; look into it closely.
Mr Gresham, you know you do not love me; not as a man should love the
woman whom he swears to love."

Frank was taken aback. So appealed to he found that he could not any
longer say that he did love her. He could only look into her face
with all his eyes, and sit there listening to her.

"How is it possible that you should love me? I am Heaven knows how
many years your senior. I am neither young nor beautiful, nor have I
been brought up as she should be whom you in time will really love
and make your wife. I have nothing that should make you love me;
but - but I am rich."

"It is not that," said Frank, stoutly, feeling himself imperatively
called upon to utter something in his own defence.

"Ah, Mr Gresham, I fear it is that. For what other reason can you
have laid your plans to talk in this way to such a woman as I am?"

"I have laid no plans," said Frank, now getting his hand to himself.
"At any rate, you wrong me there, Miss Dunstable."

"I like you so well - nay, love you, if a woman may talk of love in
the way of friendship - that if money, money alone would make you
happy, you should have it heaped on you. If you want it, Mr Gresham,
you shall have it."

"I have never thought of your money," said Frank, surlily.

"But it grieves me," continued she, "it does grieve me, to think that
you, you, you - so young, so gay, so bright - that you should have
looked for it in this way. From others I have taken it just as the
wind that whistles;" and now two big slow tears escaped from her
eyes, and would have rolled down her rosy cheeks were it not that she
brushed them off with the back of her hand.

"You have utterly mistaken me, Miss Dunstable," said Frank.

"If I have, I will humbly beg your pardon," said she.
"But - but - but - "

"You have; indeed you have."

"How can I have mistaken you? Were you not about to say that you
loved me; to talk absolute nonsense; to make me an offer? If you were
not, if I have mistaken you indeed, I will beg your pardon."

Frank had nothing further to say in his own defence. He had not
wanted Miss Dunstable's money - that was true; but he could not deny
that he had been about to talk that absolute nonsense of which she
spoke with so much scorn.

"You would almost make me think that there are none honest in this
fashionable world of yours. I well know why Lady de Courcy has had
me here: how could I help knowing it? She has been so foolish in
her plans that ten times a day she has told her own secret. But I
have said to myself twenty times, that if she were crafty, you were
honest."

"And am I dishonest?"

"I have laughed in my sleeve to see how she played her game, and to
hear others around playing theirs; all of them thinking that they
could get the money of the poor fool who had come at their beck and
call; but I was able to laugh at them as long as I thought that I had
one true friend to laugh with me. But one cannot laugh with all the
world against one."

"I am not against you, Miss Dunstable."

"Sell yourself for money! why, if I were a man I would not sell one
jot of liberty for mountains of gold. What! tie myself in the heyday
of my youth to a person I could never love, for a price! perjure
myself, destroy myself - and not only myself, but her also, in order
that I might live idly! Oh, heavens! Mr Gresham! can it be that
the words of such a woman as your aunt have sunk so deeply in your
heart; have blackened you so foully as to make you think of such vile
folly as this? Have you forgotten your soul, your spirit, your man's
energy, the treasure of your heart? And you, so young! For shame, Mr



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