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this rumour was false, when she found that she was banished from
Greshamsbury for his sake, when she was forced to retreat with her
friend Patience, how could she but love him, in that he was not
mercenary? How could she not love him in that he was so faithful?

It was impossible that she should not love him. Was he not the
brightest and the best of men that she had ever seen, or was like
to see? - that she could possibly ever see, she would have said to
herself, could she have brought herself to own the truth? And then,
when she heard how true he was, how he persisted against father,
mother, and sisters, how could it be that that should not be a merit
in her eyes which was so great a fault in theirs? When Beatrice, with
would-be solemn face, but with eyes beaming with feminine affection,
would gravely talk of Frank's tender love as a terrible misfortune,
as a misfortune to them all, to Mary herself as well as others, how
could Mary do other than love him? "Beatrice is his sister," she
would say within her own mind, "otherwise she would never talk like
this; were she not his sister, she could not but know the value of
such love as this." Ah! yes; Mary did love him; love him with all the
strength of her heart; and the strength of her heart was very great.
And now by degrees, in those lonely donkey-rides at Boxall Hill, in
those solitary walks, she was beginning to own to herself the truth.

And now that she did own it, what should be her course? What should
she do, how should she act if this loved one persevered in his
love? And, ah! what should she do, how should she act if he did not
persevere? Could it be that there should be happiness in store for
her? Was it not too clear that, let the matter go how it would, there
was no happiness in store for her? Much as she might love Frank
Gresham, she could never consent to be his wife unless the squire
would smile on her as his daughter-in-law. The squire had been
all that was kind, all that was affectionate. And then, too, Lady
Arabella! As she thought of the Lady Arabella a sterner form of
thought came across her brow. Why should Lady Arabella rob her of her
heart's joy? What was Lady Arabella that she, Mary Thorne, need quail
before her? Had Lady Arabella stood only in her way, Lady Arabella,
flanked by the de Courcy legion, Mary felt that she could have
demanded Frank's hand as her own before them all without a blush of
shame or a moment's hesitation. Thus, when her heart was all but
ready to collapse within her, would she gain some little strength by
thinking of the Lady Arabella.

"Please, my lady, here be young squoire Gresham," said one of the
untutored servants at Boxall Hill, opening Lady Scatcherd's little
parlour door as her ladyship was amusing herself by pulling down and
turning, and re-folding, and putting up again, a heap of household
linen which was kept in a huge press for the express purpose of
supplying her with occupation.

Lady Scatcherd, holding a vast counterpane in her arms, looked back
over her shoulders and perceived that Frank was in the room. Down
went the counterpane on the ground, and Frank soon found himself in
the very position which that useful article had so lately filled.

"Oh! Master Frank! oh, Master Frank!" said her ladyship, almost in an
hysterical fit of joy; and then she hugged and kissed him as she had
never kissed and hugged her own son since that son had first left the
parent nest.

Frank bore it patiently and with a merry laugh. "But, Lady
Scatcherd," said he, "what will they all say? you forget I am a man
now," and he stooped his head as she again pressed her lips upon his
forehead.

"I don't care what none of 'em say," said her ladyship, quite going
back to her old days; "I will kiss my own boy; so I will. Eh, but
Master Frank, this is good of you. A sight of you is good for sore
eyes; and my eyes have been sore enough too since I saw you;" and she
put her apron up to wipe away a tear.

"Yes," said Frank, gently trying to disengage himself, but not
successfully; "yes, you have had a great loss, Lady Scatcherd. I was
so sorry when I heard of your grief."

"You always had a soft, kind heart, Master Frank; so you had. God's
blessing on you! What a fine man you have grown! Deary me! Well, it
seems as though it were only just t'other day like." And she pushed
him a little off from her, so that she might look the better into his
face.

"Well. Is it all right? I suppose you would hardly know me again now
I've got a pair of whiskers?"

"Know you! I should know you well if I saw but the heel of your
foot. Why, what a head of hair you have got, and so dark too! but it
doesn't curl as it used once." And she stroked his hair, and looked
into his eyes, and put her hand to his cheeks. "You'll think me an
old fool, Master Frank: I know that; but you may think what you like.
If I live for the next twenty years you'll always be my own boy; so
you will."

By degrees, slow degrees, Frank managed to change the conversation,
and to induce Lady Scatcherd to speak on some other topic than his
own infantine perfections. He affected an indifference as he spoke of
her guest, which would have deceived no one but Lady Scatcherd; but
her it did deceive; and then he asked where Mary was.

"She's just gone out on her donkey - somewhere about the place. She
rides on a donkey mostly every day. But you'll stop and take a bit of
dinner with us? Eh, now do 'ee, Master Frank."

But Master Frank excused himself. He did not choose to pledge himself
to sit down to dinner with Mary. He did not know in what mood they
might return with regard to each other at dinner-time. He said,
therefore, that he would walk out and, if possible, find Miss Thorne;
and that he would return to the house again before he went.

Lady Scatcherd then began making apologies for Sir Louis. He was an
invalid; the doctor had been with him all the morning, and he was not
yet out of his room.

These apologies Frank willingly accepted, and then made his way as
he could on to the lawn. A gardener, of whom he inquired, offered to
go with him in pursuit of Miss Thorne. This assistance, however, he
declined, and set forth in quest of her, having learnt what were her
most usual haunts. Nor was he directed wrongly; for after walking
about twenty minutes, he saw through the trees the legs of a donkey
moving on the green-sward, at about two hundred yards from him. On
that donkey doubtless sat Mary Thorne.

The donkey was coming towards him; not exactly in a straight line,
but so much so as to make it impossible that Mary should not see him
if he stood still. He did stand still, and soon emerging from the
trees, Mary saw him all but close to her.

Her heart gave a leap within her, but she was so far mistress of
herself as to repress any visible sign of outward emotion. She did
not fall from her donkey, or scream, or burst into tears. She merely
uttered the words, "Mr Gresham!" in a tone of not unnatural surprise.

"Yes," said he, trying to laugh, but less successful than she had
been in suppressing a show of feeling. "Mr Gresham! I have come over
at last to pay my respects to you. You must have thought me very
uncourteous not to do so before."

This she denied. "She had not," she said, "thought him at all
uncivil. She had come to Boxall Hill to be out of the way; and, of
course, had not expected any such formalities." As she uttered this
she almost blushed at the abrupt truth of what she was saying. But
she was taken so much unawares that she did not know how to make the
truth other than abrupt.

"To be out of the way!" said Frank. "And why should you want to be
out of the way?"

"Oh! there were reasons," said she, laughing. "Perhaps I have
quarrelled dreadfully with my uncle."

Frank at the present moment had not about him a scrap of badinage. He
had not a single easy word at his command. He could not answer her
with anything in guise of a joke; so he walked on, not answering at
all.

"I hope all my friends at Greshamsbury are well," said Mary. "Is
Beatrice quite well?"

"Quite well," said he.

"And Patience?"

"What, Miss Oriel; yes, I believe so. I haven't seen her this day or
two." How was it that Mary felt a little flush of joy, as Frank spoke
in this indifferent way about Miss Oriel's health?

"I thought she was always a particular friend of yours," said she.

"What! who? Miss Oriel? So she is! I like her amazingly; so does
Beatrice." And then he walked about six steps in silence, plucking up
courage for the great attempt. He did pluck up his courage and then
rushed at once to the attack.

"Mary!" said he, and as he spoke he put his hand on the donkey's
neck, and looked tenderly into her face. He looked tenderly, and, as
Mary's ear at once told her, his voice sounded more soft than it had
ever sounded before. "Mary, do you remember the last time that we
were together?"

Mary did remember it well. It was on that occasion when he had
treacherously held her hand; on that day when, according to law, he
had become a man; when he had outraged all the propriety of the de
Courcy interest by offering his love to Mary in Augusta's hearing.
Mary did remember it well; but how was she to speak of it? "It was
your birthday, I think," said she.

"Yes, it was my birthday. I wonder whether you remember what I said
to you then?"

"I remember that you were very foolish, Mr Gresham."

"Mary, I have come to repeat my folly; - that is, if it be folly.
I told you then that I loved you, and I dare say that I did so
awkwardly, like a boy. Perhaps I may be just as awkward now; but you
ought at any rate to believe me when you find that a year has not
altered me."

Mary did not think him at all awkward, and she did believe him. But
how was she to answer him? She had not yet taught herself what answer
she ought to make if he persisted in his suit. She had hitherto been
content to run away from him; but she had done so because she would
not submit to be accused of the indelicacy of putting herself in his
way. She had rebuked him when he first spoke of his love; but she had
done so because she looked on what he said as a boy's nonsense. She
had schooled herself in obedience to the Greshamsbury doctrines. Was
there any real reason, any reason founded on truth and honesty, why
she should not be a fitting wife to Frank Gresham, - Francis Newbold
Gresham, of Greshamsbury, though he was, or was to be?

He was well born - as well born as any gentleman in England. She
was basely born - as basely born as any lady could be. Was this
sufficient bar against such a match? Mary felt in her heart that some
twelvemonth since, before she knew what little she did now know of
her own story, she would have said it was so. And would she indulge
her own love by inveigling him she loved into a base marriage? But
then reason spoke again. What, after all, was this blood of which she
had taught herself to think so much? Would she have been more honest,
more fit to grace an honest man's hearthstone, had she been the
legitimate descendant of a score of legitimate duchesses? Was it not
her first duty to think of him - of what would make him happy? Then of
her uncle - what he would approve? Then of herself - what would best
become her modesty; her sense of honour? Could it be well that she
should sacrifice the happiness of two persons to a theoretic love of
pure blood?

So she had argued within herself; not now, sitting on the donkey,
with Frank's hand before her on the tame brute's neck; but on other
former occasions as she had ridden along demurely among those trees.
So she had argued; but she had never brought her arguments to a
decision. All manner of thoughts crowded on her to prevent her doing
so. She would think of the squire, and resolve to reject Frank; and
would then remember Lady Arabella, and resolve to accept him. Her
resolutions, however, were most irresolute; and so, when Frank
appeared in person before her, carrying his heart in his hand, she
did not know what answer to make to him. Thus it was with her as with
so many other maidens similarly circumstanced; at last she left it
all to chance.

"You ought, at any rate, to believe me," said Frank, "when you find
that a year has not altered me."

"A year should have taught you to be wiser," said she. "You should
have learnt by this time, Mr Gresham, that your lot and mine are not
cast in the same mould; that our stations in life are different.
Would your father or mother approve of your even coming here to see
me?"

Mary, as she spoke these sensible words, felt that they were "flat,
stale, and unprofitable." She felt, also, that they were not true in
sense; that they did not come from her heart; that they were not such
as Frank deserved at her hands, and she was ashamed of herself.

"My father I hope will approve of it," said he. "That my mother
should disapprove of it is a misfortune which I cannot help; but
on this point I will take no answer from my father or mother; the
question is one too personal to myself. Mary, if you say that you
will not, or cannot return my love, I will go away; - not from here
only, but from Greshamsbury. My presence shall not banish you from
all that you hold dear. If you can honestly say that I am nothing to
you, can be nothing to you, I will then tell my mother that she may
be at ease, and I will go away somewhere and get over it as I may."
The poor fellow got so far, looking apparently at the donkey's ears,
with hardly a gasp of hope in his voice, and he so far carried Mary
with him that she also had hardly a gasp of hope in her heart. There
he paused for a moment, and then looking up into her face, he spoke
but one word more. "But," said he - and there he stopped. It was
clearly told in that "but." Thus would he do if Mary would declare
that she did not care for him. If, however, she could not bring
herself so to declare, then was he ready to throw his father and
mother to the winds; then would he stand his ground; then would he
look all other difficulties in the face, sure that they might finally
be overcome. Poor Mary! the whole onus of settling the matter was
thus thrown upon her. She had only to say that he was indifferent to
her; - that was all.

If "all the blood of the Howards" had depended upon it, she could
not have brought herself to utter such a falsehood. Indifferent to
her, as he walked there by her donkey's side, talking thus earnestly
of his love for her! Was he not to her like some god come from the
heavens to make her blessed? Did not the sun shine upon him with a
halo, so that he was bright as an angel? Indifferent to her! Could
the open unadulterated truth have been practicable for her, she
would have declared her indifference in terms that would truly have
astonished him. As it was, she found it easier to say nothing. She
bit her lips to keep herself from sobbing. She struggled hard, but
in vain, to prevent her hands and feet from trembling. She seemed to
swing upon her donkey as though like to fall, and would have given
much to be upon her own feet upon the sward.

"_Si la jeunesse savait . . ._" There is so much in that wicked old
French proverb! Had Frank known more about a woman's mind - had he,
that is, been forty-two instead of twenty-two - he would at once have
been sure of his game, and have felt that Mary's silence told him
all he wished to know. But then, had he been forty-two instead of
twenty-two, he would not have been so ready to risk the acres of
Greshamsbury for the smiles of Mary Thorne.

"If you can't say one word to comfort me, I will go," said he,
disconsolately. "I made up my mind to tell you this, and so I came
over. I told Lady Scatcherd I should not stay, - not even for dinner."

"I did not know you were so hurried," said she, almost in a whisper.

On a sudden he stood still, and pulling the donkey's rein, caused him
to stand still also. The beast required very little persuasion to be
so guided, and obligingly remained meekly passive.

"Mary, Mary!" said Frank, throwing his arms round her knees as she
sat upon her steed, and pressing his face against her body. "Mary,
you were always honest; be honest now. I love you with all my heart.
Will you be my wife?"

But still Mary said not a word. She no longer bit her lips; she was
beyond that, and was now using all her efforts to prevent her tears
from falling absolutely on her lover's face. She said nothing. She
could no more rebuke him now and send him from her than she could
encourage him. She could only sit there shaking and crying and
wishing she was on the ground. Frank, on the whole, rather liked the
donkey. It enabled him to approach somewhat nearer to an embrace than
he might have found practicable had they both been on their feet. The
donkey himself was quite at his ease, and looked as though he was
approvingly conscious of what was going on behind his ears.

"I have a right to a word, Mary; say 'Go,' and I will leave you at
once."

But Mary did not say "Go." Perhaps she would have done so had she
been able; but just at present she could say nothing. This came from
her having failed to make up her mind in due time as to what course
it would best become her to follow.

"One word, Mary; one little word. There, if you will not speak,
here is my hand. If you will have it, let it lie in yours; - if not,
push it away." So saying, he managed to get the end of his fingers
on to her palm, and there it remained unrepulsed. "La jeunesse"
was beginning to get a lesson; experience when duly sought after
sometimes comes early in life.

In truth Mary had not strength to push the fingers away. "My love,
my own, my own!" said Frank, presuming on this very negative sign of
acquiescence. "My life, my own one, my own Mary!" and then the hand
was caught hold of and was at his lips before an effort could be made
to save it from such treatment.

"Mary, look at me; say one word to me."

There was a deep sigh, and then came the one word - "Oh, Frank!"

"Mr Gresham, I hope I have the honour of seeing you quite well,"
said a voice close to his ear. "I beg to say that you are welcome to
Boxall Hill." Frank turned round and instantly found himself shaking
hands with Sir Louis Scatcherd.

How Mary got over her confusion Frank never saw, for he had enough
to do to get over his own. He involuntarily deserted Mary and began
talking very fast to Sir Louis. Sir Louis did not once look at Miss
Thorne, but walked back towards the house with Mr Gresham, sulky
enough in temper, but still making some effort to do the fine
gentleman. Mary, glad to be left alone, merely occupied herself with
sitting on the donkey; and the donkey, when he found that the two
gentlemen went towards the house, for company's sake and for his
stable's sake, followed after them.

Frank stayed but three minutes in the house; gave another kiss to
Lady Scatcherd, getting three in return, and thereby infinitely
disgusting Sir Louis, shook hands, anything but warmly, with the
young baronet, and just felt the warmth of Mary's hand within his
own. He felt also the warmth of her eyes' last glance, and rode home
a happy man.




CHAPTER XXX

Post Prandial


Frank rode home a happy man, cheering himself, as successful lovers
do cheer themselves, with the brilliancy of his late exploit: nor was
it till he had turned the corner into the Greshamsbury stables that
he began to reflect what he would do next. It was all very well to
have induced Mary to allow his three fingers to lie half a minute
in her soft hand; the having done so might certainly be sufficient
evidence that he had overcome one of the lions in his path; but it
could hardly be said that all his difficulties were now smoothed. How
was he to make further progress?

To Mary, also, the same ideas no doubt occurred - with many others.
But, then, it was not for Mary to make any progress in the matter. To
her at least belonged this passive comfort, that at present no act
hostile to the de Courcy interest would be expected from her. All
that she could do would be to tell her uncle so much as it was
fitting that he should know. The doing this would doubtless be in
some degree difficult; but it was not probable that there would be
much difference, much of anything but loving anxiety for each other,
between her and Dr Thorne. One other thing, indeed, she must do;
Frank must be made to understand what her birth had been. "This," she
said to herself, "will give him an opportunity of retracting what
he has done should he choose to avail himself of it. It is well he
should have such opportunity."

But Frank had more than this to do. He had told Beatrice that he
would make no secret of his love, and he fully resolved to be as good
as his word. To his father he owed an unreserved confidence; and he
was fully minded to give it. It was, he knew, altogether out of the
question that he should at once marry a portionless girl without his
father's consent; probably out of the question that he should do so
even with it. But he would, at any rate, tell his father, and then
decide as to what should be done next. So resolving, he put his black
horse into the stable and went in to dinner. After dinner he and his
father would be alone.

Yes; after dinner he and his father would be alone. He dressed
himself hurriedly, for the dinner-bell was almost on the stroke as he
entered the house. He said this to himself once and again; but when
the meats and the puddings, and then the cheese, were borne away,
as the decanters were placed before his father, and Lady Arabella
sipped her one glass of claret, and his sisters ate their portion of
strawberries, his pressing anxiety for the coming interview began to
wax somewhat dull.

His mother and sisters, however, rendered him no assistance by
prolonging their stay. With unwonted assiduity he pressed a second
glass of claret on his mother. But Lady Arabella was not only
temperate in her habits, but also at the present moment very angry
with her son. She thought that he had been to Boxall Hill, and was
only waiting a proper moment to cross-question him sternly on the
subject. Now she departed, taking her train of daughters with her.

"Give me one big gooseberry," said Nina, as she squeezed herself in
under her brother's arm, prior to making her retreat. Frank would
willingly have given her a dozen of the biggest, had she wanted them;
but having got the one, she squeezed herself out again and scampered
off.

The squire was very cheery this evening; from what cause cannot now
be said. Perhaps he had succeeded in negotiating a further loan, thus
temporarily sprinkling a drop of water over the ever-rising dust of
his difficulties.

"Well, Frank, what have you been after to-day? Peter told me you had
the black horse out," said he, pushing the decanter to his son. "Take
my advice, my boy, and don't give him too much summer road-work. Legs
won't stand it, let them be ever so good."

"Why, sir, I was obliged to go out to-day, and therefore, it had to
be either the old mare or the young horse."

"Why didn't you take Ramble?" Now Ramble was the squire's own saddle
hack, used for farm surveying, and occasionally for going to cover.

"I shouldn't think of doing that, sir."

"My dear boy, he is quite at your service; for goodness' sake do let
me have a little wine, Frank - quite at your service; any riding I
have now is after the haymakers, and that's all on the grass."

"Thank'ee, sir. Well, perhaps I will take a turn out of Ramble should
I want it."

"Do, and pray, pray take care of that black horse's legs. He's
turning out more of a horse than I took him to be, and I should be
sorry to see him injured. Where have you been to-day?"

"Well, father, I have something to tell you."

"Something to tell me!" and then the squire's happy and gay look,
which had been only rendered more happy and more gay by his assumed
anxiety about the black horse, gave place to that heaviness of visage
which acrimony and misfortune had made so habitual to him. "Something
to tell me!" Any grave words like these always presaged some money
difficulty to the squire's ears. He loved Frank with the tenderest
love. He would have done so under almost any circumstances; but,
doubtless, that love had been made more palpable to himself by the
fact that Frank had been a good son as regards money - not exigeant
as was Lady Arabella, or selfishly reckless as was his nephew Lord
Porlock. But now Frank must be in difficulty about money. This was
his first idea. "What is it, Frank; you have seldom had anything
to say that has not been pleasant for me to hear?" And then the



Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeDoctor Thorne → online text (page 31 of 49)