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"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 look for 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 all legitimate position? What if there was no rank of life to
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 had 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 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 to her heart? 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-cases, 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
his child's heart and pride.

And so he walked slowly backwards and forwards through his garden,
meditating these things painfully enough.




CHAPTER VIII

Matrimonial Prospects


It will of course be remembered that Mary's interview with the other
girls at Greshamsbury took place some two or three days subsequently
to Frank's generous offer of his hand and heart. Mary had quite made
up her mind that the whole thing was to be regarded as a folly, and
that it was not to be spoken of to any one; but yet her heart was
sore enough. She was full of pride, and yet she knew she must bow her
neck to the pride of others. Being, as she was herself, nameless, she
could not but feel a stern, unflinching antagonism, the antagonism of
a democrat, to the pretensions of others who were blessed with that
of which she had been deprived. She had this feeling; and yet, of
all the things that she coveted, she most coveted that, for glorying
in which, she was determined to heap scorn on others. She said to
herself, proudly, that God's handiwork was the inner man, the inner
woman, the naked creature animated by a living soul; that all other
adjuncts were but man's clothing for the creature; all others,
whether stitched by tailors or contrived by kings. Was it not within
her capacity to do as nobly, to love as truly, to worship her God in
heaven with as perfect a faith, and her god on earth with as leal a
troth, as though blood had descended to her purely through scores
of purely born progenitors? So to herself she spoke; and yet, as
she said it, she knew that were she a man, such a man as the heir
of Greshamsbury should be, nothing would tempt her to sully her
children's blood by mating herself with any one that was base born.
She felt that were she an Augusta Gresham, no Mr Moffat, let his
wealth be what it might, should win her hand unless he too could tell
of family honours and a line of ancestors.

And so, with a mind at war with itself, she came forth armed to do
battle against the world's prejudices, those prejudices she herself
loved so well.

And was she to give up her old affections, her feminine loves,
because she found that she was a cousin to nobody? Was she no longer
to pour out her heart to Beatrice Gresham with all the girlish
volubility of an equal? Was she to be severed from Patience Oriel,
and banished - or rather was she to banish herself - from the free
place she had maintained in the various youthful female conclaves
held within that parish of Greshamsbury?

Hitherto, what Mary Thorne would say, what Miss Thorne suggested in
such or such a matter, was quite as frequently asked as any opinion
from Augusta Gresham - quite as frequently, unless when it chanced
that any of the de Courcy girls were at the house. Was this to be
given up? These feelings had grown up among them since they were
children, and had not hitherto been questioned among them. Now they
were questioned by Mary Thorne. Was she in fact to find that her
position had been a false one, and must be changed?

Such had been her feelings when she protested that she would not be
Augusta Gresham's bridesmaid, and offered to put her neck beneath
Beatrice's foot; when she drove the Lady Margaretta out of the room,
and gave her own opinion as to the proper grammatical construction of
the word humble; such also had been her feelings when she kept her
hand so rigidly to herself while Frank held the dining-room door open
for her to pass through.

"Patience Oriel," said she to herself, "can talk to him of her father
and mother: let Patience take his hand; let her talk to him;" and
then, not long afterwards, she saw that Patience did talk to him; and
seeing it, she walked along silent, among some of the old people, and
with much effort did prevent a tear from falling down her cheek.

But why was the tear in her eye? Had she not proudly told Frank that
his love-making was nothing but a boy's silly rhapsody? Had she not
said so while she had yet reason to hope that her blood was as good
as his own? Had she not seen at a glance that his love tirade was
worthy of ridicule, and of no other notice? And yet there was a tear
now in her eye because this boy, whom she had scolded from her, whose
hand, offered in pure friendship, she had just refused, because he,
so rebuffed by her, had carried his fun and gallantry to one who
would be less cross to him!

She could hear as she was walking, that while Lady Margaretta was
with them, their voices were loud and merry; and her sharp ear could
also hear, when Lady Margaretta left them, that Frank's voice became
low and tender. So she walked on, saying nothing, looking straight
before her, and by degrees separating herself from all the others.

The Greshamsbury grounds were on one side somewhat too closely hemmed
in by the village. On this side was a path running the length of one
of the streets of the village; and far down the path, near to the
extremity of the gardens, and near also to a wicket-gate which led
out into the village, and which could be opened from the inside, was
a seat, under a big yew-tree, from which, through a breach in the
houses, might be seen the parish church, standing in the park on the
other side. Hither Mary walked alone, and here she seated herself,
determined to get rid of her tears and their traces before she again
showed herself to the world.

"I shall never be happy here again," said she to herself; "never. I
am no longer one of them, and I cannot live among them unless I am
so." And then an idea came across her mind that she hated Patience
Oriel; and then, instantly another idea followed it - quick as such
thoughts are quick - that she did not hate Patience Oriel at all; that
she liked her, nay, loved her; that Patience Oriel was a sweet girl;
and that she hoped the time would come when she might see her the
lady of Greshamsbury. And then the tear, which had been no whit
controlled, which indeed had now made itself master of her, came to a
head, and, bursting through the floodgates of the eye, came rolling
down, and in its fall, wetted her hand as it lay on her lap. "What a
fool! what an idiot! what an empty-headed cowardly fool I am!" said
she, springing up from the bench on her feet.

As she did so, she heard voices close to her, at the little gate.
They were those of her uncle and Frank Gresham.

"God bless you, Frank!" said the doctor, as he passed out of the
grounds. "You will excuse a lecture, won't you, from so old a
friend? - though you are a man now, and discreet, of course, by Act of
Parliament."

"Indeed I will, doctor," said Frank. "I will excuse a longer lecture
than that from you."

"At any rate it won't be to-night," said the doctor, as he
disappeared. "And if you see Mary, tell her that I am obliged to go;
and that I will send Janet down to fetch her."

Now Janet was the doctor's ancient maid-servant.

Mary could not move on without being perceived; she therefore stood
still till she heard the click of the door, and then began walking
rapidly back to the house by the path which had brought her thither.
The moment, however, that she did so, she found that she was
followed; and in a very few moments Frank was alongside of her.

"Oh, Mary!" said he, calling to her, but not loudly, before he quite
overtook her, "how odd that I should come across you just when I have
a message for you! and why are you all alone?"

Mary's first impulse was to reiterate her command to him to call her
no more by her Christian name; but her second impulse told her that
such an injunction at the present moment would not be prudent on her
part. The traces of her tears were still there; and she well knew
that a very little, the slightest show of tenderness on his part, the
slightest effort on her own to appear indifferent, would bring down
more than one other such intruder. It would, moreover, be better
for her to drop all outward sign that she remembered what had taken
place. So long, then, as he and she were at Greshamsbury together, he
should call her Mary if he pleased. He would soon be gone; and while
he remained, she would keep out of his way.

"Your uncle has been obliged to go away to see an old woman at
Silverbridge."

"At Silverbridge! why, he won't be back all night. Why could not the
old woman send for Dr Century?"

"I suppose she thought two old women could not get on well together."

Mary could not help smiling. She did not like her uncle going off so
late on such a journey; but it was always felt as a triumph when he
was invited into the strongholds of his enemies.

"And Janet is to come over for you. However, I told him it was quite
unnecessary to disturb another old woman, for that I should of course
see you home."

"Oh, no, Mr Gresham; indeed you'll not do that."

"Indeed, and indeed, I shall."

"What! on this great day, when every lady is looking for you, and
talking of you. I suppose you want to set the countess against me for
ever. Think, too, how angry Lady Arabella will be if you are absent
on such an errand as this."

"To hear you talk, Mary, one would think that you were going to
Silverbridge yourself."

"Perhaps I am."

"If I did not go with you, some of the other fellows would. John, or
George - "

"Good gracious, Frank! Fancy either of the Mr de Courcys walking home
with me!"

She had forgotten herself, and the strict propriety on which she had
resolved, in the impossibility of forgoing her little joke against
the de Courcy grandeur; she had forgotten herself, and had called
him Frank in her old, former, eager, free tone of voice; and then,
remembering she had done so, she drew herself up, but her lips, and
determined to be doubly on her guard in the future.

"Well, it shall be either one of them or I," said Frank: "perhaps you
would prefer my cousin George to me?"

"I should prefer Janet to either, seeing that with her I should not
suffer the extreme nuisance of knowing that I was a bore."

"A bore! Mary, to me?"

"Yes, Mr Gresham, a bore to you. Having to walk home through the mud
with village young ladies is boring. All gentlemen feel it to be so."

"There is no mud; if there were you would not be allowed to walk at
all."

"Oh! village young ladies never care for such things, though
fashionable gentlemen do."

"I would carry you home, Mary, if it would do you a service," said
Frank, with considerable pathos in his voice.

"Oh, dear me! pray do not, Mr Gresham. I should not like it at all,"
said she: "a wheelbarrow would be preferable to that."

"Of course. Anything would be preferable to my arm, I know."

"Certainly; anything in the way of a conveyance. If I were to act
baby; and you were to act nurse, it really would not be comfortable
for either of us."

Frank Gresham felt disconcerted, though he hardly knew why. He was
striving to say something tender to his lady-love; but every word
that he spoke she turned into joke. Mary did not answer him coldly
or unkindly; but, nevertheless, he was displeased. One does not like
to have one's little offerings of sentimental service turned into
burlesque when one is in love in earnest. Mary's jokes had appeared
so easy too; they seemed to come from a heart so little troubled.
This, also, was cause of vexation to Frank. If he could but have
known all, he would, perhaps, have been better pleased.

He determined not to be absolutely laughed out of his tenderness.
When, three days ago, he had been repulsed, he had gone away owning
to himself that he had been beaten; owning so much, but owning it
with great sorrow and much shame. Since that he had come of age;
since that he had made speeches, and speeches had been made to him;
since that he had gained courage by flirting with Patience Oriel. No
faint heart ever won a fair lady, as he was well aware; he resolved,
therefore, that his heart should not be faint, and that he would see
whether the fair lady might not be won by becoming audacity.

"Mary," said he, stopping in the path - for they were now near the
spot where it broke out upon the lawn, and they could already hear
the voices of the guests - "Mary, you are unkind to me."

"I am not aware of it, Mr Gresham; but if I am, do not you retaliate.
I am weaker than you, and in your power; do not you, therefore, be
unkind to me."

"You refused my hand just now," continued he. "Of all the people here
at Greshamsbury, you are the only one that has not wished me joy; the
only one - "

"I do wish you joy; I will wish you joy; there is my hand," and she
frankly put out her ungloved hand. "You are quite man enough to
understand me: there is my hand; I trust you use it only as it is
meant to be used."

He took it in his and pressed it cordially, as he might have done
that of any other friend in such a case; and then - did not drop it
as he should have done. He was not a St Anthony, and it was most
imprudent in Miss Thorne to subject him to such a temptation.

"Mary," said he; "dear Mary! dearest Mary! if you did but know how I
love you!"

As he said this, holding Miss Thorne's hand, he stood on the pathway
with his back towards the lawn and house, and, therefore, did not at
first see his sister Augusta, who had just at that moment come upon
them. Mary blushed up to her straw hat, and, with a quick jerk,
recovered her hand. Augusta saw the motion, and Mary saw that Augusta
had seen it.

From my tedious way of telling it, the reader will be led to imagine
that the hand-squeezing had been protracted to a duration quite
incompatible with any objection to such an arrangement on the part of
the lady; but the fault is mine: in no part hers. Were I possessed
of a quick spasmodic style of narrative, I should have been able
to include it all - Frank's misbehaviour, Mary's immediate anger,
Augusta's arrival, and keen, Argus-eyed inspection, and then Mary's
subsequent misery - in five words and half a dozen dashes and inverted
commas. The thing should have been so told; for, to do Mary justice,
she did not leave her hand in Frank's a moment longer than she could
help herself.

Frank, feeling the hand withdrawn, and hearing, when it was too late,
the step on the gravel, turned sharply round. "Oh, it's you, is it,
Augusta? Well, what do you want?"

Augusta was not naturally very ill-natured, seeing that in her veins
the high de Courcy blood was somewhat tempered by an admixture of
the Gresham attributes; nor was she predisposed to make her brother
her enemy by publishing to the world any of his little tender
peccadilloes; but she could not but bethink herself of what her aunt
had been saying as to the danger of any such encounters as that she
just now had beheld; she could not but start at seeing her brother
thus, on the very brink of the precipice of which the countess had
specially forewarned her mother. She, Augusta, was, as she well knew,



Online LibraryAnthony TrollopeDoctor Thorne → online text (page 9 of 49)