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course you know that Beatrice is going to be married very shortly."

Mary acknowledged that she had heard so much.

"Yes: we think it will be in September - early in September - and that
is coming very soon now. The poor girl is anxious that you should be
at her wedding." Mary turned slightly red; but she merely said, and
that somewhat too coldly, that she was much indebted to Beatrice for
her kindness.

"I can assure you, Mary, that she is very fond of you, as much so as
ever; and so, indeed, am I, and all of us are so. You know that Mr
Gresham was always your friend."

"Yes, he always was, and I am grateful to Mr Gresham," answered Mary.
It was well for Lady Arabella that she had her temper under command,
for had she spoken her mind out there would have been very little
chance left for reconciliation between her and Mary.

"Yes, indeed he was; and I think we all did what little we could
to make you welcome at Greshamsbury, Mary, till those unpleasant
occurrences took place."

"What occurrences, Lady Arabella?"

"And Beatrice is so very anxious on this point," said her ladyship,
ignoring for the moment Mary's question. "You two have been so much
together, that she feels she cannot be quite happy if you are not
near her when she is being married."

"Dear Beatrice!" said Mary, warmed for the moment to an expression of
genuine feeling.

"She came to me yesterday, begging that I would waive any objection I
might have to your being there. I have made her no answer yet. What
answer do you think I ought to make her?"

Mary was astounded at this question, and hesitated in her reply.
"What answer ought you to make her?" she said.

"Yes, Mary. What answer do you think I ought to give? I wish to ask
you the question, as you are the person the most concerned."

Mary considered for a while, and then did give her opinion on the
matter in a firm voice. "I think you should tell Beatrice, that as
you cannot at present receive me cordially in your house, it will be
better that you should not be called on to receive me at all."

This was certainly not the sort of answer that Lady Arabella
expected, and she was now somewhat astounded in her turn. "But,
Mary," she said, "I should be delighted to receive you cordially if
I could do so."

"But it seems you cannot, Lady Arabella; and so there must be an end
of it."

"Oh, but I do not know that:" and she smiled her sweetest smile. "I
do not know that. I want to put an end to all this ill-feeling if I
can. It all depends upon one thing, you know."

"Does it, Lady Arabella?"

"Yes, upon one thing. You won't be angry if I ask you another
question - eh, Mary?"

"No; at least I don't think I will."

"Is there any truth in what we hear about your being engaged to
Frank?"

Mary made no immediate answer to this, but sat quite silent, looking
Lady Arabella in the face; not but that she had made up her mind as
to what answer she would give, but the exact words failed her at the
moment.

"Of course you must have heard of such a rumour," continued Lady
Arabella.

"Oh, yes, I have heard of it."

"Yes, and you have noticed it, and I must say very properly. When you
went to Boxall Hill, and before that with Miss Oriel's to her aunt's,
I thought you behaved extremely well." Mary felt herself glow with
indignation, and began to prepare words that should be sharp and
decisive. "But, nevertheless, people talk; and Frank, who is still
quite a boy" (Mary's indignation was not softened by this allusion
to Frank's folly), "seems to have got some nonsense in his head. I
grieve to say it, but I feel myself in justice bound to do so, that
in this matter he has not acted as well as you have done. Now,
therefore, I merely ask you whether there is any truth in the report.
If you tell me that there is none, I shall be quite contented."

"But it is altogether true, Lady Arabella; I am engaged to Frank
Gresham."

"Engaged to be married to him?"

"Yes; engaged to be married to him."

What was to say or do now? Nothing could be more plain, more decided,
or less embarrassed with doubt than Mary's declaration. And as she
made it she looked her visitor full in the face, blushing indeed, for
her cheeks were now suffused as well as her forehead; but boldly,
and, as it were, with defiance.

"And you tell me so to my face, Miss Thorne?"

"And why not? Did you not ask me the question; and would you have me
answer you with a falsehood? I am engaged to him. As you would put
the question to me, what other answer could I make? The truth is,
that I am engaged to him."

The decisive abruptness with which Mary declared her own iniquity
almost took away her ladyship's breath. She had certainly believed
that they were engaged, and had hardly hoped that Mary would deny it;
but she had not expected that the crime would be acknowledged, or, at
any rate, if acknowledged, that the confession would be made without
some show of shame. On this Lady Arabella could have worked; but
there was no such expression, nor was there the slightest hesitation.
"I am engaged to Frank Gresham," and having so said, Mary looked her
visitor full in the face.

"Then it is indeed impossible that you should be received at
Greshamsbury."

"At present, quite so, no doubt: in saying so, Lady Arabella, you
only repeat the answer I made to your first question. I can now go
to Greshamsbury only in one light: that of Mr Gresham's accepted
daughter-in-law."

"And that is perfectly out of the question; altogether out of the
question, now and for ever."

"I will not dispute with you about that; but, as I said before, my
being at Beatrice's wedding is not to be thought of."

Lady Arabella sat for a while silent, that she might meditate, if
possible, calmly as to what line of argument she had now better take.
It would be foolish in her, she thought, to return home, having
merely expressed her anger. She had now an opportunity of talking to
Mary which might not again occur: the difficulty was in deciding in
what special way she should use the opportunity. Should she threaten,
or should she entreat? To do her justice, it should be stated, that
she did actually believe that the marriage was all but impossible;
she did not think that it could take place. But the engagement might
be the ruin of her son's prospects, seeing how he had before him one
imperative, one immediate duty - that of marrying money.

Having considered all this as well as her hurry would allow her,
she determined first to reason, then to entreat, and lastly, if
necessary, to threaten.

"I am astonished! you cannot be surprised at that, Miss Thorne: I am
astonished at hearing so singular a confession made."

"Do you think my confession singular, or is it the fact of my being
engaged to your son?"

"We will pass over that for the present. But do let me ask you, do
you think it possible, I say possible, that you and Frank should be
married?"

"Oh, certainly; quite possible."

"Of course you know that he has not a shilling in the world."

"Nor have I, Lady Arabella."

"Nor will he have were he to do anything so utterly hostile to his
father's wishes. The property, you are aware, is altogether at Mr
Gresham's disposal."

"I am aware of nothing about the property, and can say nothing about
it except this, that it has not been, and will not be inquired after
by me in this matter. If I marry Frank Gresham, it will not be for
the property. I am sorry to make such an apparent boast, but you
force me to do it."

"On what then are you to live? You are too old for love in a cottage,
I suppose?"

"Not at all too old; Frank, you know is 'still quite a boy.'"

Impudent hussy! forward, ill-conditioned saucy minx! such were
the epithets which rose to Lady Arabella's mind; but she politely
suppressed them.

"Miss Thorne, this subject is of course to me very serious; very
ill-adapted for jesting. I look upon such a marriage as absolutely
impossible."

"I do not know what you mean by impossible, Lady Arabella."

"I mean, in the first place, that you two could not get yourselves
married."

"Oh, yes; Mr Oriel would manage that for us. We are his parishioners,
and he would be bound to do it."

"I beg your pardon; I believe that under all the circumstances it
would be illegal."

Mary smiled; but she said nothing. "You may laugh, Miss Thorne, but I
think you will find that I am right. There are still laws to prevent
such fearful distress as would be brought about by such a marriage."

"I hope that nothing I shall do will bring distress on the family."

"Ah, but it would; don't you know that it would? Think of it, Miss
Thorne. Think of Frank's state, and of his father's state. You know
enough of that, I am sure, to be well aware that Frank is not in a
condition to marry without money. Think of the position which Mr
Gresham's only son should hold in the county; think of the old name,
and the pride we have in it; you have lived among us enough to
understand all this; think of these things, and then say whether it
is possible such a marriage should take place without family distress
of the deepest kind. Think of Mr Gresham; if you truly love my son,
you could not wish to bring on him all this misery and ruin."

Mary now was touched, for there was truth in what Lady Arabella said.
But she had no power of going back; her troth was plighted, and
nothing that any human being could say should shake her from it. If
he, indeed, chose to repent, that would be another thing.

"Lady Arabella," she said, "I have nothing to say in favour of this
engagement, except that he wishes it."

"And is that a reason, Mary?"

"To me it is; not only a reason, but a law. I have given him my
promise."

"And you will keep your promise even to his own ruin?"

"I hope not. Our engagement, unless he shall choose to break it off,
must necessarily be a long one; but the time will come - "

"What! when Mr Gresham is dead?"

"Before that, I hope."

"There is no probability of it. And because he is headstrong, you,
who have always had credit for so much sense, will hold him to this
mad engagement?"

"No, Lady Arabella; I will not hold him to anything to which he does
not wish to be held. Nothing that you can say shall move me: nothing
that anybody can say shall induce me to break my promise to him. But
a word from himself will do it. One look will be sufficient. Let him
give me to understand, in any way, that his love for me is injurious
to him - that he has learnt to think so - and then I will renounce my
part in this engagement as quickly as you could wish it."

There was much in this promise, but still not so much as Lady
Arabella wished to get. Mary, she knew, was obstinate, but yet
reasonable; Frank, she thought, was both obstinate and unreasonable.
It might be possible to work on Mary's reason, but quite impossible
to touch Frank's irrationality. So she persevered - foolishly.

"Miss Thorne - that, is, Mary, for I still wish to be thought your
friend - "

"I will tell you the truth, Lady Arabella: for some considerable time
past I have not thought you so."

"Then you have wronged me. But I will go on with what I was saying.
You quite acknowledge that this is a foolish affair?"

"I acknowledge no such thing."

"Something very much like it. You have not a word in its defence."

"Not to you: I do not choose to be put on my defence by you."

"I don't know who has more right; however, you promise that if Frank
wishes it, you will release him from his engagement."

"Release him! It is for him to release me, that is, if he wishes it."

"Very well; at any rate, you give him permission to do so. But will
it not be more honourable for you to begin?"

"No; I think not."

"Ah, but it would. If he, in his position, should be the first to
speak, the first to suggest that this affair between you is a foolish
one, what would people say?"

"They would say the truth."

"And what would you yourself say?"

"Nothing."

"What would he think of himself?"

"Ah, that I do not know. It is according as that may be, that he will
or will not act at your bidding."

"Exactly; and because you know him to be high-minded, because you
think that he, having so much to give, will not break his word to
you - to you who have nothing to give in return - it is, therefore,
that you say that the first step must be taken by him. Is that
noble?"

Then Mary rose from her seat, for it was no longer possible for her
to speak what it was in her to say, sitting there leisurely on her
sofa. Lady Arabella's worship of money had not hitherto been so
brought forward in the conversation as to give her unpardonable
offence; but now she felt that she could no longer restrain her
indignation. "To you who have nothing to give in return!" Had she not
given all that she possessed? Had she not emptied his store into his
lap? that heart of hers, beating with such genuine life, capable of
such perfect love, throbbing with so grand a pride; had she not given
that? And was it not that, between him and her, more than twenty
Greshamsburys, nobler than any pedigree? "To you who have nothing to
give," indeed! This to her who was so ready to give everything!

"Lady Arabella," she said, "I think that you do not understand me,
and that it is not likely that you should. If so, our further talking
will be worse than useless. I have taken no account of what will be
given between your son and me in your sense of the word giving. But
he has professed to - to love me" - as she spoke, she still looked on
the lady's face, but her eyelashes for a moment screened her eyes,
and her colour was a little heightened - "and I have acknowledged that
I also love him, and so we are engaged. To me my promise is sacred. I
will not be threatened into breaking it. If, however, he shall wish
to change his mind, he can do so. I will not upbraid him; will not,
if I can help it, think harshly of him. So much you may tell him if
it suits you; but I will not listen to your calculations as to how
much or how little each of us may have to give to the other."

She was still standing when she finished speaking, and so she
continued to stand. Her eyes were fixed on Lady Arabella, and her
position seemed to say that sufficient words had been spoken, and
that it was time that her ladyship should go; and so Lady Arabella
felt it. Gradually she also rose; slowly, but tacitly, she
acknowledged that she was in the presence of a spirit superior to her
own; and so she took her leave.

"Very well," she said, in a tone that was intended to be
grandiloquent, but which failed grievously; "I will tell him that he
has your permission to think a second time on this matter. I do not
doubt but that he will do so." Mary would not condescend to answer,
but curtsied low as her visitor left the room. And so the interview
was over.

The interview was over, and Mary was alone. She remained standing as
long as she heard the footsteps of Frank's mother on the stairs; not
immediately thinking of what had passed, but still buoying herself up
with her hot indignation, as though her work with Lady Arabella was
not yet finished; but when the footfall was no longer heard, and the
sound of the closing door told her that she was in truth alone, she
sank back in her seat, and, covering her face with her hands, burst
into bitter tears.

All that doctrine about money was horrible to her; that insolent
pretence, that she had caught at Frank because of his worldly
position, made her all but ferocious; but Lady Arabella had not the
less spoken much that was true. She did think of the position which
the heir of Greshamsbury should hold in the county, and of the fact
that a marriage would mar that position so vitally; she did think of
the old name, and the old Gresham pride; she did think of the squire
and his deep distress: it was true that she had lived among them
long enough to understand these things, and to know that it was not
possible that this marriage should take place without deep family
sorrow.

And then she asked herself whether, in consenting to accept Frank's
hand, she had adequately considered this; and she was forced to
acknowledge that she had not considered it. She had ridiculed Lady
Arabella for saying that Frank was still a boy; but was it not true
that his offer had been made with a boy's energy, rather than a man's
forethought? If so, if she had been wrong to accede to that offer
when made, would she not be doubly wrong to hold him to it now that
she saw their error?

It was doubtless true that Frank himself could not be the first to
draw back. What would people say of him? She could now calmly ask
herself the question that had so angered her when asked by Lady
Arabella. If he could not do it, and if, nevertheless, it behoved
them to break off this match, by whom was it to be done if not
by her? Was not Lady Arabella right throughout, right in her
conclusions, though so foully wrong in her manner of drawing them?

And then she did think for one moment of herself. "You who have
nothing to give in return!" Such had been Lady Arabella's main
accusation against her. Was it in fact true that she had nothing to
give? Her maiden love, her feminine pride, her very life, and spirit,
and being - were these things nothing? Were they to be weighed against
pounds sterling per annum? and, when so weighed, were they ever to
kick the beam like feathers? All these things had been nothing to
her when, without reflection, governed wholly by the impulse of the
moment, she had first allowed his daring hand to lie for an instant
in her own. She had thought nothing of these things when that other
suitor came, richer far than Frank, to love whom it was as impossible
to her as it was not to love him.

Her love had been pure from all such thoughts; she was conscious
that it ever would be pure from them. Lady Arabella was unable to
comprehend this, and, therefore, was Lady Arabella so utterly
distasteful to her.

Frank had once held her close to his warm breast; and her very soul
had thrilled with joy to feel that he so loved her, - with a joy which
she had hardly dared to acknowledge. At that moment, her maidenly
efforts had been made to push him off, but her heart had grown to
his. She had acknowledged him to be master of her spirit; her bosom's
lord; the man whom she had been born to worship; the human being to
whom it was for her to link her destiny. Frank's acres had been of no
account; nor had his want of acres. God had brought them two together
that they should love each other; that conviction had satisfied her,
and she had made it a duty to herself that she would love him with
her very soul. And now she was called upon to wrench herself asunder
from him because she had nothing to give in return!

Well, she would wrench herself asunder, as far as such wrenching
might be done compatibly with her solemn promise. It might be right
that Frank should have an opportunity offered him, so that he might
escape from his position without disgrace. She would endeavour to
give him this opportunity. So, with one deep sigh, she arose, took
herself pen, ink, and paper, and sat herself down again so that the
wrenching might begin.

And then, for a moment, she thought of her uncle. Why had he not
spoken to her of all this? Why had he not warned her? He who had ever
been so good to her, why had he now failed her so grievously? She had
told him everything, had had no secret from him; but he had never
answered her a word. "He also must have known," she said to herself,
piteously, "he also must have known that I could give nothing in
return." Such accusation, however, availed her not at all, so she sat
down and slowly wrote her letter.

"Dearest Frank," she began. She had at first written "dear Mr
Gresham;" but her heart revolted against such useless coldness. She
was not going to pretend she did not love him.


DEAREST FRANK,

Your mother has been here talking to me about our
engagement. I do not generally agree with her about such
matters; but she has said some things to-day which I
cannot but acknowledge to be true. She says, that our
marriage would be distressing to your father, injurious to
all your family, and ruinous to yourself. If this be so,
how can I, who love you, wish for such a marriage?

I remember my promise, and have kept it. I would not
yield to your mother when she desired me to disclaim our
engagement. But I do think it will be more prudent if
you will consent to forget all that has passed between
us - not, perhaps, to forget it; that may not be possible
for us - but to let it pass by as though it had never
been. If so, if you think so, dear Frank, do not have any
scruples on my account. What will be best for you, must be
best for me. Think what a reflection it would ever be to
me, to have been the ruin of one that I love so well.

Let me have but one word to say that I am released from my
promise, and I will tell my uncle that the matter between
us is over. It will be painful for us at first; those
occasional meetings which must take place will distress
us, but that will wear off. We shall always think well
of each other, and why should we not be friends? This,
doubtless, cannot be done without inward wounds; but such
wounds are in God's hands, and He can cure them.

I know what your first feelings will be on reading this
letter; but do not answer it in obedience to first
feelings. Think over it, think of your father, and all you
owe him, of your old name, your old family, and of what
the world expects from you. [Mary was forced to put her
hand to her eyes, to save her paper from her falling
tears, as she found herself thus repeating, nearly word
for word, the arguments that had been used by Lady
Arabella.] Think of these things, coolly, if you can, but,
at any rate, without passion: and then let me have one
word in answer. One word will suffice.

I have but to add this: do not allow yourself to think
that my heart will ever reproach you. It cannot reproach
you for doing that which I myself suggest. [Mary's logic
in this was very false; but she was not herself aware of
it.] I will never reproach you either in word or thought;
and as for all others, it seems to me that the world
agrees that we have hitherto been wrong. The world, I
hope, will be satisfied when we have obeyed it.

God bless you, dearest Frank! I shall never call you
so again; but it would be a pretence were I to write
otherwise in this letter. Think of this, and then let me
have one line.

Your affectionate friend,

MARY THORNE.

P.S. - Of course I cannot be at dear Beatrice's marriage;
but when they come back to the parsonage, I shall see her.
I am sure they will both be happy, because they are so
good. I need hardly say that I shall think of them on
their wedding day.


When she had finished her letter, she addressed it plainly, in her
own somewhat bold handwriting, to Francis N. Gresham, Jun., Esq., and
then took it herself to the little village post-office. There should
be nothing underhand about her correspondence: all the Greshamsbury
world should know of it - that world of which she had spoken in her
letter - if that world so pleased. Having put her penny label on it,
she handed it, with an open brow and an unembarrassed face, to the
baker's wife, who was Her Majesty's postmistress at Greshamsbury;
and, having so finished her work, she returned to see the table
prepared for her uncle's dinner. "I will say nothing to him," said
she to herself, "till I get the answer. He will not talk to me about
it, so why should I trouble him?"




CHAPTER XLIII

The Race of Scatcherd Becomes Extinct


It will not be imagined, at any rate by feminine readers, that Mary's
letter was written off at once, without alterations and changes, or
the necessity for a fair copy. Letters from one young lady to another
are doubtless written in this manner, and even with them it might
sometimes be better if more patience had been taken; but with Mary's
first letter to her lover - her first love-letter, if love-letter it
can be called - much more care was used. It was copied and re-copied,
and when she returned from posting it, it was read and re-read.

"It is very cold," she said to herself; "he will think I have no
heart, that I have never loved him!" And then she all but resolved to
run down to the baker's wife, and get back her letter, that she might
alter it. "But it will be better so," she said again. "If I touched



Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeDoctor Thorne → online text (page 43 of 49)