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- Doctor Thorne - 100/119 -
Get what assistance she wanted in the village! What words were those that he heard? 'Mr Gresham, eh--hem--perhaps I do not completely--' Yes, alas! he had completely understood what Frank had meant that he should understand. Frank desired to be civil, but he had no idea of beating unnecessarily about the bush on such an occasion as this.
'It's by Sir Omicron's advice, Dr Fillgrave. You see, this man here'--and he nodded his head towards the doctor's house, being still anxious not to pronounce the hideous name--'has known my mother's constitution for so many years.'
'Oh, Mr Gresham; of course, if it is wished.'
'Yes, Dr Fillgrave, it is wished. Lunch is coming directly:' and Frank rang the bell.
'Nothing, I thank you, Mr Gresham.'
'Do take a glass of sherry.'
'Nothing at all, I am very much obliged to you.'
'Won't you let the horses get some oats?'
'I will return at once, if you please, Mr Gresham.' And the doctor did return, taking with him, on this occasion, the fee that was offered to him. His experience had at any rate taught him so much.
But though Frank could do this for Lady Arabella, he could not receive Dr Thorne on her behalf. The bitterness of that interview had to be borne by herself. A messenger had been sent for him, and he was upstairs with her ladyship while his rival was receiving his conge downstairs. She had two objects to accomplish, if it might be possible: she had found that high words with the doctor were of no avail; but it might be possible that Frank could be saved by humiliation on her part. If she humbled herself before this man, would he consent to acknowledge that his niece was not the fit bride for the heir of Greshamsbury?
The doctor entered the room where she was lying on her sofa, and walking up to her with a gentle, but yet not constrained step, took the seat beside her little table, just as he had always been accustomed to do, and as though there had been no break in the intercourse.
'Well, doctor, you see that I have come back to you,' she said, with a faint smile.
'Or, rather I have come back to you. And, believe me, Lady Arabella, I am very happy to do so. There need be no excuses. You were, doubtless, right to try what other skill could do; and I hope it has not been tried in vain.'
She had meant to have been so condescending; but now all that was put quite beyond her power. It was not easy to be condescending to the doctor: she had been trying all her life, and had never succeeded.
'I have had Sir Omicron Pie,' she said.
'So I was glad to hear. Sir Omicron is a clever man, and has a good name. I always recommend Sir Omicron myself.'
'And Sir Omicron returns the compliment,' said she, smiling gracefully, 'for he recommends you. He told Mr Gresham that I was very foolish to quarrel with my best friend. So now we are friends again, are we not? You see how selfish I am.' And she put out her hand to him.
The doctor took her hand cordially, and assured her that he bore her no ill-will; that he fully understood her conduct--and that he had never accused her of selfishness. This was all very well and very gracious; but, nevertheless, Lady Arabella felt that the doctor kept the upper hand in those sweet forgivenesses. Whereas, she had intended to keep the upper hand, at least for a while, so that her humiliation might be more effective when it did come.
And then the doctor used his surgical lore, as he well knew how to use it. There was an assured confidence about him, an air which seemed to declare that he really knew what he was doing. These were very comfortable to his patients, but they were wanting in Dr Fillgrave. When he had completed his examinations and questions, and she had completed her little details and made her answer, she was certainly more at ease than she had been since the doctor had last left her.
'Don't go yet, for a moment,' she said. 'I have one word to say to you.'
He declared that he was not in the least in a hurry. He desired nothing better, he said, than to sit there and talk to her. 'And I owe you a most sincere apology, Lady Arabella.'
'A sincere apology!' said she, becoming a little red. Was he going to say anything about Mary? Was he going to own that he, and Mary, and Frank had all been wrong?
'Yes, indeed. I ought not to have brought Sir Louis Scatcherd here: I ought to have known that he would have disgraced himself.'
'Oh! it does not signify,' said her ladyship in a tone almost of disappointment. 'I had forgotten it. Mr Gresham and you had more inconvenience than we had.'
'He is an unfortunate, wretched man--most unfortunate; with an immense fortune which he can never live to possess.'
'And who will the money go to, doctor?'
This was a question for which Dr Thorne was hardly prepared. 'Go to?' he repeated. 'Oh, some member of the family, I believe. There are plenty of nephews and nieces.'
'Yes; but will it be divided, or all go to one?'
'Probably to one, I think. Sir Roger had a strong idea of leaving it all in one hand.' If it should happen to be a girl, thought Lady Arabella, what an excellent opportunity would that be for Frank to marry money!
'And now, doctor, I want to say one word to you; considering the very long time that we have known each other, it is better that I should be open with you. This estrangement between us and dear Mary has given us all so much pain. Cannot we do anything to put an end to it?'
'Well, what can I say, Lady Arabella? That depends so wholly on yourself.'
'If it depends on me, it shall be done at once.'
The doctor bowed. And though he could hardly be said to do so stiffly, he did it coldly. His bow seemed to say, 'Certainly; if you choose to make a proper amende it can be done. But I think it is very unlikely that you will do so.'
'Beatrice is just going to be married, you know that, doctor.' The doctor said that he did know it. 'And it will be so pleasant that Mary should make one of us. Poor Beatrice; you don't know what she has suffered.'
'Yes,' said the doctor, 'there has been suffering, I am sure; suffering on both sides.'
'You cannot wonder that we should be so anxious about Frank, Dr Thorne; an only son, and the heir to an estate that has been so very long in the family:' and Lady Arabella put her handkerchief to her eyes, as though these facts were themselves melancholy, and not to be thought of by a mother without some soft tears. 'Now I wish you could tell me what your views are, in a friendly manner, between ourselves. You won't find me unreasonable.'
'My views, Lady Arabella?'
'Yes, doctor; about your niece, you know: you must have views of some sort; that's of course. It occurs to me, that perhaps were all in the dark together. If so, a little candid speaking between you and me may set it all right.'
Lady Arabella's career had not hitherto been conspicuous for candour, as far as Dr Thorne had been able to judge of it; but that was no reason why he should not respond to so very becoming an invitation on her part. He had no objection to a little candid speaking; at least, so he declared. As to his views with regard to Mary, they were merely these: that he would make her as happy and comfortable as he could while she remained with him; and that he would give her his blessing--for he had nothing else to give her--when she left him;--if ever she should do so.
Now, it will be said that the doctor was not very candid in this; not more so, perhaps, than was Lady Arabella herself. But when one is specially invited to be candid, one is naturally set upon one's guard. Those who by disposition are most open, are apt to become crafty when so admonished. When a man says to you, 'Let us be candid with each other,' you feel instinctively that he desires to squeeze you without giving a drop of water himself.
'Yes; but about Frank,' said Lady Arabella.
'About Frank!' said the doctor, with an innocent look, which her ladyship could hardly interpret.
'What I mean is this: can you give me your word that these young people do not intend to do anything rash? One word like that from you will set my mind quite at rest. And then we could be so happy together again.'
'Ah! who is to answer for what rash things a young man will do?' said the doctor, smiling.
Lady Arabella got up from the sofa, and pushed away the little table. The man was false, hypocritical, and cunning. Nothing could be made of him. They were all in a conspiracy together to rob her of her son; to make him marry without money! What should she do? Where should she turn for advice and counsel? She had nothing more to say to the doctor; and he, perceiving that this was the case, took his leave. This little attempt to achieve candour had not succeeded.
Dr Thorne had answered Lady Arabella as had seemed best to him on the spur of the moment; but he was by no means satisfied with himself. As he walked away through the gardens, he bethought himself whether it would be better for all parties if he could bring himself to be really candid. Would it not be better for him at once to tell the squire what were the future prospects of his niece, and let the father agree to the marriage, or not agree to it, as he might think fit. But then, if so, if he did do this, would he not in fact say, 'There is my niece, there is this girl of whom you have been talking for the last twelvemonth, indifferent to what agony of mind you may have occasioned to her; there she is, a
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