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- Doctor Thorne - 40/119 -


'Can't guess--he didn't kiss them, did he?'

'Kiss any of them? No; but he begged to give them his positive assurance as a gentleman that if he was returned to Parliament he would vote for an extension of the franchise, and the admission of the Jews into the Parliament.'

'Well, he is a muff,' said Frank.

CHAPTER XVI

MISS DUNSTABLE

At last the great Miss Dunstable came. Frank, when he heard that the heiress had arrived, felt some slight palpitation at his heart. He had not the remotest idea in the world of marrying her; indeed, during the last week past, absence had so heightened his love for Mary Thorne that he was more than ever resolved that he would never marry any one but her. He knew that he had made her a formal offer for her hand, and that it behoved him to keep to it, let the charms of Miss Dunstable be what they might; but, nevertheless, he was prepared to go through a certain amount of courtship, in obedience to his aunt's behests, and he felt a little nervous at being brought up in that way, face to face, to do battle with two hundred thousand pounds.

'Miss Dunstable has arrived,' said his aunt to him, with great complacency, on his return from an electioneering visit to the beauties of Barchester which he made with his cousin George on the day after the conversation which was repeated at the end of the last chapter. 'She has arrived, and is looking remarkably well; she has quite a distingue air, and will grace any circle to which she may be introduced. I will introduce you before dinner, and you can take her out.'

'I couldn't propose to her to-night, I suppose?' said Frank, maliciously.

'Don't talk nonsense, Frank,' said the countess angrily. 'I am doing what I can for you, and taking on an infinity of trouble to endeavour to place you in an independent position; and now you talk nonsense to me.'

Frank muttered some sort of apology, and then went to prepare himself for the encounter.

Miss Dunstable, though she had come by train, had brought with her her own carriage, her own horses, her own coachman and footman, and her own maid, of course. She had also brought with her half a score of trunks, full of wearing apparel; some of them nearly as rich as that wonderful box which was stolen a short time since from the top of a cab. But she brought these things, not in the least because she wanted them herself, but because she had been instructed to do so.

Frank was a little more than ordinarily careful in dressing. He spoilt a couple of white neckties before he was satisfied, and was rather fastidious as the set of his hair. There was not much of the dandy about him in the ordinary meaning of the word. But he felt that it was incumbent on him to look his best, seeing what it was expected he should now do. He certainly did not mean to marry Miss Dunstable; but as he was to have a flirtation with her, it was well that he should do so under the best possible auspices.

When he entered the drawing-room he perceived at once that the lady was there. She was seated between the countess and Mrs Proudie; and mammon, in her person, was receiving worship from the temporalities and spiritualities of the land. He tried to look unconcerned, and remained in the farther part of the room, talking with some of his cousins; but he could not keep his eye off the future possible Mrs Frank Gresham; and it seemed as though she was as much constrained to scrutinize him as he felt to scrutinize her.

Lady de Courcy had declared that she was looking extremely well, and had particularly alluded to her distingue appearance. Frank at once felt that he could not altogether go along with his aunt in this opinion. Miss Dunstable might be very well; but her style of beauty was one which did not quite meet with his warmest admiration.

In age she was about thirty; but Frank, who was no great judge in these matters, and who was accustomed to have very young girls round him, at once put her down as being ten years older. She had a very high colour, very red cheeks, a large mouth, big white teeth, a broad nose, and bright, small, black eyes. Her hair also was black and bright, but very crisp, and strong, and was combed close round her face in small crisp black ringlets. Since she had been brought out into the fashionable world some of her instructors in fashion had given her to understand that curls were not the thing. 'They'll always pass muster,' Miss Dunstable had replied, 'when they are done up with bank-notes.' It may therefore be presumed that Miss Dunstable had a will of her own.

'Frank,' said the countess, in the most natural and unpremeditated way, as soon as she caught her nephew's eye, 'come here. I want to introduce you to Miss Dunstable.' The introduction was then made. 'Mrs Proudie, would you excuse me? I must positively go and say a few words to Mrs Barlow, or the poor woman will feel herself huffed'; and so saying, she moved off, leaving the coast clear for Master Frank.

He of course slipped into his aunt's place, and expressed a hope that Miss Dunstable was not fatigued by her journey.

'Fatigued!' said she, in a voice rather loud, but very good-humoured, and not altogether unpleasing; 'I am not to be fatigued by such a thing as that. Why, in May we came through all the way from Rome to Paris without sleeping--that is, without sleeping in a bed--and we were upset three times out of the sledges coming over the Simplon. It was such fun! Why, I wasn't to say tired even then.'

'All the way from Rome to Paris!' said Mrs Proudie--in a tone of astonishment, meant to flatter the heiress--'and what made you in such a hurry?'

'Something about money matters,' said Miss Dunstable, speaking rather louder than usual. 'Something to do with the ointment. I was selling the business just then.'

Mrs Proudie bowed, and immediately changed the conversation. 'Idolatry is, I believe, more rampant than ever in Rome,' said she; 'and I fear there is no such thing at all as Sabbath observance.'

'Oh, not in the least,' said Miss Dunstable, with rather a joyous air; 'Sundays and week-days are all the same there.'

'How very frightful!' said Mrs Proudie.

'But it's a delicious place. I do like Rome, I must say. And as for the Pope, if he wasn't quite so fat he would be the nicest old fellow in the world. Have you been in Rome, Mrs Proudie?'

Mrs Proudie sighed as she replied in the negative, and declared her belief that danger was apprehended from such visits.

'Oh!--ah!--the malaria--of course--yes; if you go at the wrong time; but nobody is such a fool as that now.'

'I was thinking of the soul, Miss Dunstable,' said the lady-bishop, in her peculiar grave tone. 'A place where there are no Sabbath observances--'

'And have you been at Rome, Mr Gresham?' said the young lady, turning almost abruptly round to Frank, and giving a somewhat uncivilly cold shoulder to Mrs Proudie's exhortation. She, poor lady, was forced to finish her speech to the Honourable George, who was standing near to her. He having an idea that bishops and all their belongings, like other things appertaining to religion, should, if possible, be avoided; but if that were not possible, should be treated with much assumed gravity, immediately put on a long face, and remarked that--'it was a deuced shame: for his part he always liked to see people go quiet on Sundays. The parsons had only one day out of seven, and he thought they were fully entitled to that.' Satisfied with which, or not satisfied, Mrs Proudie had to remain silent till dinner-time.

'No,' said Frank; 'I never was in Rome. I was in Paris once, that's all.' And then, feeling not unnatural anxiety as to the present state of Miss Dunstable's worldly concerns, he took an opportunity of falling back on that part of her conversation which Mrs Proudie had exercised so much tact in avoiding.

'And was it sold?' said he.

'Sold! what sold?'

'You were saying about the business--that you came back without going to bed because of selling the business.'

'Oh!--the ointment. No; it was not sold. After all, the affair did not come off, and I might have remained and had another roll in the snow. Wasn't it a pity?'

'So,' said Frank to himself, 'if I should do it, I should be owner of the ointment of Lebanon: how odd!' And then he gave her his arm and handed her down to dinner.

He certainly found that his dinner was less dull than any other he had sat down to at Courcy Castle. He did not fancy that he should ever fall in love with Miss Dunstable; but she certainly was an agreeable companion. She told him of her tour, and the fun she had in her journeys; how she took a physician with her for the benefit of her health, whom she generally was forced to nurse; of the trouble it was to her to look after and wait upon her numerous servants; of the tricks she played to bamboozle people who came to stare at her; and, lastly, she told him of a lover who followed her from country to country, and was now in hot pursuit of her, having arrived in London the evening before she left.

'A lover?' said Frank, somewhat startled by the suddenness of the confidence.

'A lover--yes--Mr Gresham; why should I not have a lover?'

'Oh!--no--of course not. I dare say you have had a good many.'

'Only three or four, upon my word; that is, only three or four that I favour. One is not bound to reckon the others, you know.'

'No, they'd be too numerous. And so you have three whom you favour, Miss Dunstable;' and Frank sighed, as though he intended to say that the number was too many for his peace of mind.


Doctor Thorne - 40/119

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