Read CHAPTER XLVII of Orley Farm , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

THE GEM OF THE FOUR FAMILIES

And now we will go back to Noningsby.  On that evening Graham ate his pheasant with a relish although so many cares sat heavy on his mind, and declared, to Mrs. Baker’s great satisfaction, that the cook had managed to preserve the bread sauce uninjured through all the perils of delay which it had encountered.

“Bread sauce is so ticklish; a simmer too much and it’s clean done for,” Mrs. Baker said with a voice of great solicitude.  But she had been accustomed perhaps to patients whose appetites were fastidious.  The pheasant and the bread sauce and the mashed potatoes, all prepared by Mrs. Baker’s own hands to be eaten as spoon meat, disappeared with great celerity; and then, as Graham sat sipping the solitary glass of sherry that was allowed to him, meditating that he would begin his letter the moment the glass was empty, Augustus Staveley again made his appearance.

“Well, old fellow,” said he, “how are you now?” and he was particularly careful so to speak as to show by his voice that his affection for his friend was as strong as ever.  But in doing so he showed also that there was some special thought still present in his mind, ­some feeling which was serious in its nature if not absolutely painful.

“Staveley,” said the other, gravely, “I have acquired knowledge to-day which I trust I may carry with me to my grave.”

“And what is that?” said Augustus, looking round to Mrs. Baker as though he thought it well that she should be out of the room before the expected communication was made.  But Mrs. Baker’s attention was so riveted by her patient’s earnestness, that she made no attempt to go.

“It is a wasting of the best gifts of Providence,” said Graham, “to eat a pheasant after one has really done one’s dinner.”

“Oh, that’s it, is it?” said Augustus.

“So it is, sir,” said Mrs. Baker, thinking that the subject quite justified the manner.

“And of no use whatsoever to eat only a little bit of one as a man does then.  To know what a pheasant is you should have it all to yourself.”

“So you should, sir,” said Mrs. Baker, quite delighted and very much in earnest.

“And you should have nothing else.  Then, if the bird be good to begin with, and has been well hung ­”

“There’s a deal in that,” said Mrs. Baker.

“Then, I say, you’ll know what a pheasant is.  That’s the lesson which I have learned to-day, and I give it you as an adequate return for the pheasant itself.”

“I was almost afeard it would be spoilt by being brought up the second time,” said Mrs. Baker.  “And so I said to my lady; but she wouldn’t have you woke, nohow.”  And then Mrs. Baker, having heard the last of the lecture, took away the empty wine-glass and shut the door behind her.

“And now I’ll write those two letters,” said Graham.  “What I’ve written hitherto I wrote in bed, and I feel almost more awkward now I am up than I did then.”

“But what letters are they?”

“Well, one to my laundress to tell her I shall be there to-morrow, and one to Mary Snow to say that I’ll see her the day after.”

“Then, Felix, don’t trouble yourself to write either.  You positively won’t go to-morrow ­”

“Who says so?”

“The governor.  He has heard from my mother exactly what the doctor said, and declares that he won’t allow it.  He means to see the doctor himself before you stir.  And he wants to see you also.  I am to tell you he’ll come to you directly after breakfast.”

“I shall be delighted to see your father, and am very much gratified by his kindness, but ­”

“But what ­”

“I’m a free agent, I suppose, ­to go when I please?”

“Not exactly.  The law is unwritten; but by traditional law a man laid up in his bedroom is not free to go and come.  No action for false imprisonment would lie if Mrs. Baker kept all your clothes away from you.”

“I should like to try the question.”

“You will have the opportunity, for you may be sure that you’ll not leave this to-morrow.”

“It would depend altogether on the evidence of the doctor.”

“Exactly so.  And as the doctor in this case would clearly be on the side of the defendants, a verdict on behalf of the plaintiff would not be by any means attainable.”  After that the matter was presumed to be settled, and Graham said no more as to leaving Noningsby on the next day.  As things turned out afterwards he remained there for another week.

“I must at any rate write a letter to Mary Snow,” he said.  And to Mary Snow he did write some three or four lines, Augustus sitting by the while.  Augustus Staveley would have been very glad to know the contents, or rather the spirit of those lines; but nothing was said about them, and the letter was at last sealed up and intrusted to his care for the post-bag.  There was very little in it that could have interested Augustus Staveley or any one else.  It contained the ordinary, but no more than the ordinary terms of affection.  He told her that he found it impracticable to move himself quite immediately.  And then as to that cause of displeasure, ­that cause of supposed displeasure as to which both Mary and Mrs. Thomas had written, he declared that he did not believe that anything had been done that he should not find it easy to forgive after so long an absence.

Augustus then remained there for another hour, but not a word was said between the young men on that subject which was nearest, at the moment, to the hearts of both of them.  Each was thinking of Madeline, but neither of them spoke as though any such subject were in their thoughts.

“Heaven and earth!” said Augustus at last, pulling out his watch.  “It only wants three minutes to seven.  I shall have a dozen messages from the judge before I get down, to know whether he shall come and help me change my boots.  I’ll see you again before I go to bed.  Good-bye, old fellow.”  And then Graham was again alone.

If Lady Staveley were really angry with him for loving her daughter, ­if his friend Staveley were in very truth determined that such love must under no circumstances be sanctioned, ­would they treat him as they were treating him?  Would they under such circumstances make his prolonged stay in the house an imperative necessity?  He could not help asking himself this question, and answering it with some gleam of hope.  And then he acknowledged to himself that it was ungenerous in him to do so.  His remaining there, ­the liberty to remain there which had been conceded to him, ­had arisen solely from the belief that a removal in his present state would be injudicious.  He assured himself of this over and over again, so that no false hope might linger in his heart.  And yet hope did linger there whether false or true.  Why might he not aspire to the hand of Madeline Staveley, ­he who had been assured that he need regard no woman as too high for his aspirations?

“Mrs. Baker,” he said that evening, as that excellent woman was taking away his tea-things, “I have not heard Miss Staveley’s voice these two days.”

“Well, no; no more you have,” said she.  “There’s two ways, you know, Mr. Graham, of going to her part of the house.  There’s the door that opens at the end of the passage by her mamma’s room.  She’s been that way, and that’s the reason, I suppose.  There ain’t no other, I’m sure.”

“One likes to hear one’s friends if one can’t see them; that’s all.”

“To be sure one does.  I remember as how when I had the measles ­I was living with my lady’s mother, as maid to the young ladies.  There was four of ’em, and I dressed ’em all ­God bless ’em.  They’ve all got husbands now and grown families ­only there ain’t one among ’em equal to our Miss Madeline, though there’s some of ’em much richer.  When my lady married him, ­the judge, you know, ­he was the poorest of the lot.  They didn’t think so much of him when he came a-courting in those days.”

“He was only a practising barrister then.”

“Oh yes; he knew well how to practise, for Miss Isabella ­as she was then ­very soon made up her mind about him.  Laws, Mr. Graham, she used to tell me everything in them days.  They didn’t want her to have nothing to say to Mr. Staveley at first; but she made up her mind, and though she wasn’t one of them as has many words, like Miss Furnival down there, there was no turning her.”

“Did she marry at last against their wish?”

“Oh dear, no; nothing of that sort.  She wasn’t one of them flighty ones neither.  She just made up her own mind and bided.  And now I don’t know whether she hasn’t done about the best of ’em all.  Them Oliphants is full of money, they do say ­full of money.  That was Miss Louisa, who came next.  But, Lord love you, Mr. Graham, he’s so crammed with gout as he can’t ever put a foot to the ground; and as cross; ­as cross as cross.  We goes there sometimes, you know.  Then the girls is all plain; and young Mr. Oliphant, the son, ­why he never so much as speaks to his own father; and though they’re rolling in money, they say he can’t pay for the coat on his back.  Now our Mr. Augustus, unless it is that he won’t come down to morning prayers and always keeps the dinner waiting, I don’t think there’s ever a black look between him and his papa.  And as for Miss Madeline, ­she’s the gem of the four families.  Everybody gives that up to her.”

If Madeline’s mother married a barrister in opposition to the wishes of her family ­a barrister who then possessed nothing but his wits ­why should not Madeline do so also?  That was of course the line which his thoughts took.  But then, as he said to himself, Madeline’s father had been one of the handsomest men of his day, whereas he was one of the ugliest; and Madeline’s father had been encumbered with no Mary Snow.  A man who had been such a fool as he, who had gone so far out of the regular course, thinking to be wiser than other men, but being in truth much more silly, could not look for that success and happiness in life which men enjoy who have not been so lamentably deficient in discretion!  ’Twas thus that he lectured himself; but still he went on thinking of Madeline Staveley.

There had been some disagreeable confusion in the house that afternoon after Augustus had spoken to his sister.  Madeline had gone up to her own room, and had remained there, chewing the cud of her thoughts.  Both her sister and her brother had warned her about this man.  She could moreover divine that her mother was suffering under some anxiety on the same subject.  Why was all this?  Why should these things be said and thought?  Why should there be uneasiness in the house on her account in this matter of Mr. Graham?  She acknowledged to herself that there was such uneasiness; ­and she almost acknowledged to herself the cause.

But while she was still sitting over her own fire, with her needle untouched beside her, her father had come home, and Lady Staveley had mentioned to him that Mr. Graham thought of going on the next day.

“Nonsense, my dear,” said the judge.  “He must not think of such a thing.  He can hardly be fit to leave his room yet.”

“Pottinger does say that it has gone on very favourably,” pleaded Lady Staveley.

“But that’s no reason he should destroy the advantages of his healthy constitution by insane imprudence.  He’s got nothing to do.  He wants to go merely because he thinks he is in your way.”

Lady Staveley looked wishfully up in her husband’s face, longing to tell him all her suspicions.  But as yet her grounds for them were so slight that even to him she hesitated to mention them.

“His being here is no trouble to me, of course,” she said.

“Of course not.  You tell him so, and he’ll stay,” said the judge.  “I want to see him to-morrow myself; ­about this business of poor Lady Mason’s.”

Immediately after that he met his son.  And Augustus also told him that Graham was going.

“Oh no; he’s not going at all,” said the judge.  “I’ve settled that with your mother.”

“He’s very anxious to be off,” said Augustus gravely.

“And why?  Is there any reason?”

“Well; I don’t know.”  For a moment he thought he would tell his father the whole story; but he reflected that his doing so would be hardly fair towards his friend.  “I don’t know that there is any absolute reason; but I’m quite sure that he is very anxious to go.”

The judge at once perceived that there was something in the wind, and during that hour in which the pheasant was being discussed up in Graham’s room, he succeeded in learning the whole from his wife.  Dear, good, loving wife!  A secret of any kind from him was an impossibility to her, although that secret went no further than her thoughts.

“The darling girl is so anxious about him, that ­that I’m afraid,” said she.

“He’s by no means a bad sort of man, my love,” said the judge.

“But he’s got nothing ­literally nothing,” said the mother.

“Neither had I, when I went a wooing,” said the judge.  “But, nevertheless, I managed to have it all my own way.”

“You don’t mean really to make a comparison?” said Lady Staveley.  “In the first place you were at the top of your profession.”

“Was I?  If so I must have achieved that distinction at a very early age.”  And then he kissed his wife very affectionately.  Nobody was there to see, and under such circumstances a man may kiss his wife even though he be a judge, and between fifty and sixty years old.  After that he again spoke to his son, and in spite of the resolves which Augustus had made as to what friendship required of him, succeeded in learning the whole truth.

Late in the evening, when all the party had drunk their cups of tea, when Lady Staveley was beginning her nap, and Augustus was making himself agreeable to Miss Furnival ­to the great annoyance of his mother, who half rousing herself every now and then, looked sorrowfully at what was going on with her winking eyes, ­the judge contrived to withdraw with Madeline into the small drawing-room, telling her as he put his arm around her waist, that he had a few words to say to her.

“Well, papa,” said she, as at his bidding she sat herself down beside him on the sofa.  She was frightened, because such summonses were very unusual; but nevertheless her father’s manner towards her was always so full of love that even in her fear she felt a comfort in being with him.

“My darling,” he said, “I want to ask you one or two questions ­about our guest here who has hurt himself, ­Mr. Graham.”

“Yes, papa.”  And now she knew that she was trembling with nervous dread.

“You need not think that I am in the least angry with you, or that I suspect you of having done or said, or even thought anything that is wrong.  I feel quite confident that I have no cause to do so.”

“Oh, thank you, papa.”

“But I want to know whether Mr. Graham has ever spoken to you ­as a lover.”

“Never, papa.”

“Because under the circumstances of his present stay here, his doing so would, I think, have been ungenerous.”

“He never has, papa, in any way ­not a single word.”

“And you have no reason to regard him in that light.”

“No, papa.”  But in the speaking of these last two words there was a slight hesitation, ­the least possible shade of doubt conveyed, which made itself immediately intelligible to the practised ear of the judge.

“Tell me all, my darling; ­everything that there is in your heart, so that we may help each other if that may be possible.”

“He has never said anything to me, papa.”

“Because your mamma thinks that you are more anxious about him than you would be about an ordinary visitor.”

“Does she?”

“Has any one else spoken to you about Mr. Graham?”

“Augustus did, papa; and Isabella, some time ago.”

“Then I suppose they thought the same.”

“Yes; I suppose they did.”

“And now, dear, is there anything else you would like to say to me about it?”

“No, papa, I don’t think there is.”

“But remember this always; ­that my only wishes respecting you, and your mother’s wishes also, are to see you happy and good.”

“I am very happy, papa.”

“And very good also to the best of my belief.”  And then he kissed her, and they went back again into the large drawing-room.

Many of my readers, and especially those who are old and wise, ­if I chance to have any such, ­will be inclined to think that the judge behaved foolishly in thus cross-questioning his daughter on a matter, which, if it were expedient that it should die away, would die away the more easily the less it were talked about.  But the judge was an odd man in many of the theories of his life.  One of them, with reference to his children, was very odd, and altogether opposed to the usual practice of the world.  It was this, ­that they should be allowed, as far as was practicable, to do what they liked.  Now the general opinion of the world is certainly quite the reverse ­namely this, that children, as long as they are under the control of their parents, should be hindered and prevented in those things to which they are most inclined.  Of course the world in general, in carrying out this practice, excuses it by an assertion, ­made to themselves or others, ­that children customarily like those things which they ought not to like.  But the judge had an idea quite opposed to this.  Children, he said, if properly trained would like those things which were good for them.  Now it may be that he thought his daughter had been properly trained.

“He is a very clever young man, my dear; you may be sure of that,” were the last words which the judge said to his wife that night.

“But then he has got nothing,” she replied; “and he is so uncommonly plain.”

The judge would not say a word more, but he could not help thinking that this last point was one which might certainly be left to the young lady.