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alluring than the reality now existing at Greshambury. Of the two women Dr Thorne much preferred his humbler friend, and to her he made his visits not in the guise of a doctor, but as a neighbour. 'Well, my lady,' he said, as he sat down by her on a broad garden seat--all the world called Lady Scatcherd 'my lady,'--'and how do these long summer days agree with you? Your roses are twice better out than any I see up in the big house.'
'You may well call them long, doctor. They're long enough surely.'
'But not too long. Come, now, I won't have you complaining. You don't mean to tell me that you have anything to make you wretched? You had better not, for I won't believe you.'
'Eh; well; wretched! I don't know as I'm wretched. It'd be wicked to say that, and I with such comforts about me.'
'I think it would, almost.' The doctor did not say this harshly, but in a soft, friendly, tone, and pressing her hand gently as he spoke.
'And I didn't mean to be wicked. I'm very thankful for everything--leastways, I always try to be. But, doctor, it is so lonely like.'
'Lonely! Not more lonely than I am.'
'Oh, yes; you're different. You can go everywheres. But what can a lone woman do? I'll tell you what, doctor; I'd give it all up to have Roger back with his apron on and his pick in his hand. How well I mind his look when he'd come home o' nights!'
'And yet it was a hard life you had then, eh, old woman? It would be better for you to be thankful for what you've got.'
'I am thankful. Didn't I tell you so before?' said she, somewhat crossly. 'But it's a sad life, this living alone. I declares I envy Hannah, 'cause she's got Jemima to sit in the kitchen with her. I want her to sit with me sometimes, but she won't.'
'Ah! but you shouldn't ask her. It's letting yourself down.'
'What do I care about down or up? It makes no difference, as he's gone. If he had lived one might have cared about being up, as you call it. Eh, deary; I'll be going after him before long, and it will be no matter then.'
'We shall all be going after him, sooner or later; that's sure enough.'
'Eh, dear, that's true surely. It's only a span long, as Parson Oriel tells us, when he gets romantic in his sermons. But it's a hard thing, doctor, when two is married, as they can't have their span, as he calls it, out together. Well, I must only put up with it, I suppose, as others does. Now, you're not going, doctor? You'll stop and have a dish of tea with me. You never see such cream as Hannah has from the Alderney cow. Do'ey now, doctor.' But the doctor had his letter to write, and would not allow himself to be tempted even by the promise of Hannah's cream. So he went his way, angering Lady Scatcherd by his departure as he had before angered the squire, and thinking as he went which was most unreasonable in her wretchedness, his friend Lady Arabella or his friend Lady Scatcherd. The former was always complaining of an existing husband who never refused her any moderate request; and the other passed her days in murmuring at the loss of a dead husband, who in his life had ever been to her imperious and harsh, and had sometimes been cruel and unjust.
The doctor had his letter to write, but even yet he had not quite made up his mind what he would put in it; indeed, he had not hitherto resolved to whom it should be written. Looking at the matter as he had endeavoured to look at it, his niece, Mrs Gresham, would be his correspondent; but if he brought himself to take this jump in the dark, in that case he would address himself direct to Miss Dunstable. He walked home, not by the straightest road, but taking a considerable curve, round by narrow lanes, and through thick flower-laden hedges,--very thoughtful. He was told that she wished to marry him; and was he to think only of himself? And as to that pride of his about money, was it in truth a hearty, manly feeling; or was it a false pride, of which it behoved him to be ashamed as it did of many cognate feelings? If he acted rightly in this matter, why should he be afraid of the thoughts of any one? A life of solitude was bitter enough as poor Lady Scatcherd had complained. But then, looking at Lady Scatcherd, and looking also at his other near neighbour, his friend the squire, there was little thereabouts to lead him on to matrimony. So he walked home slowly through the lanes, very meditative, with his hands behind his back. Nor when he got home was he much more inclined to any resolute line of action. He might have drunk his tea with Lady Scatcherd, as well as have sat there in his own drawing-room, drinking it alone; for he got no pen and paper, and he dawdled over his teacup with the utmost dilatoriness, putting off, as it were, the evil day. To only one thing was he fixed--to this, namely, that that letter should be written before he went to bed.
Having finished his tea, which did not take place till near eleven, he went downstairs to an untidy little room which lay behind his depot of medicines, and in which he was wont to do his writing; and herein he did at last set himself down to his work. Even at that moment he was in doubt. But he would write his letter to Miss Dunstable and see how it looked. He was almost determined not to send it; so, at least, he said to himself: but he could do no harm by writing it. So he did write it, as follows:--'Greshambury, June 185-. My dear Miss Dunstable--' When he had got so far, he leaned back in his chair and looked at the paper. How on earth was he to find words to say that which he now wished to have said? He had never written such a letter in his life, or anything approaching to it, and now found himself overwhelmed with a difficulty of which he had not previously thought. He spent another half-hour in looking at the paper, and was at last nearly deterred by this new difficulty. He would use the simplest, plainest language, he said to himself over and over again; but it is not always easy to use simple, plain language,--by no means so easy as to mount on stilts, and to march along with sesquipedalian words, with pathos, spasms, and notes of interjection. But the letter did at last get itself written, and there was not a note of interjection in it.
'MY DEAR MISS DUNSTABLE,
'I think it right to confess that I should not now be writing this letter to you, had I not been led to believe by other judgement than my own that the proposition which I am going to make would be regarded by you with favour. Without such other judgement I should, I own, have feared that the great disparity between you and me in regard to money would have given to such a proposition an appearance of being false and mercenary. All I ask of you now, with confidence, is to acquit me of such fault as that.
'When you have read so far you will understand what I mean. We have known each other now somewhat intimately, though indeed not very long, and I have sometimes fancied that you were almost as well pleased to be with me as I have been to be with you. If I have been wrong in this, tell me so simply, and I will endeavour to let our friendship run on as though this letter had not been written. But if I have been right, and if it be possible that you can think of a union between us will make us both happier than we are single, I will plight you my word and troth with good faith, and will do what an old man may do to make the burden of the world lie light on your shoulders. Looking at my age I can hardly keep myself from thinking that I am an old fool; but I try to reconcile myself to that by remembering that you yourself are no longer a girl. You see that I pay you no compliments, and that you need expect none from me.
'I do not know that I could add anything to the truth of this, if I were to write three times as much. All that is necessary is, that you should know what I mean. If you do not believe me to be true and honest already, nothing that I can write will make you believe it.
'God bless you. I know you will not keep me long in suspense for an answer.
'Affectionately your friend 'THOMAS THORNE'
When he had finished he meditated again for another half-hour whether it would not be right that he should add something about her money. Would it not be well for him to tell her--it might be said in a postscript--that with regard to all her wealth she would be free to do what she chose? At any rate he owed no debts for her to pay, and would still have his own income, sufficient for his own purposes. But about one o'clock he came to the conclusion that it would be better to leave the matter alone. If she cared for him, and could trust him, and was worthy also that he should trust her, no omission of such statement would deter her from coming to him: and if there were no such trust, it would not be created by any such assurance on his part. So he read the letter over twice, sealed it, and took it up, together with his bed candle, into his bedroom. Now that the letter was written it seemed to be a thing fixed by fate that it must go. He had written it that he might see how it looked when written; but now that it was written, there remained no doubt that it must be sent. So he went to bed, with the letter on the toilette-table beside him; and early in the morning--so early as to make it seem that the importance of the letter had disturbed his rest--he sent it off by a special messenger to Boxall Hill. 'I'se wait for an answer?' said the boy.
'No,' said the doctor: 'leave the letter and come away.'
The breakfast hour was not very early at Boxall Hill in these summer months. Frank Gresham, no doubt, went round his farm before he came in for prayers, and his wife was probably looking to the butter in the dairy. At any rate, they did not meet till near ten, and therefore, though the ride from Greshambury to Boxall Hill was nearly two hours' work, Miss Dunstable had her letter in her own room before she came down. She read it in silence as she was dressing, while the maid was with her in the room; but she made no sign which could induce her Abigail to think that the epistle was
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