Our Pet Fox Finds a Tailby@anthonytrollope

Our Pet Fox Finds a Tail

by Anthony TrollopeOctober 20th, 2023
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Frank returned home, and his immediate business was of course with his father, and with Mr Gazebee, who was still at Greshamsbury. "But who is the heir?" asked Mr Gazebee, when Frank had explained that the death of Sir Louis rendered unnecessary any immediate legal steps. "Upon my word I don't know," said Frank. "You saw Dr Thorne," said the squire. "He must have known." "I never thought of asking him," said Frank, naïvely. Mr Gazebee looked rather solemn. "I wonder at that," said he; "for everything now depends on the hands the property will go into. Let me see; I think Sir Roger had a married sister. Was not that so, Mr Gresham?" And then it occurred for the first time, both to the squire and to his son, that Mary Thorne was the eldest child of this sister. But it never occurred to either of them that Mary could be the baronet's heir. Dr Thorne came down for a couple of days before the fortnight was over to see his patients, and then returned again to London. But during this short visit he was utterly dumb on the subject of the heir. He called at Greshamsbury to see Lady Arabella, and was even questioned by the squire on the subject. But he obstinately refused to say more than that nothing certain could be known for yet a few days.
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Our Pet Fox Finds a Tail

Frank returned home, and his immediate business was of course with his father, and with Mr Gazebee, who was still at Greshamsbury.

"But who is the heir?" asked Mr Gazebee, when Frank had explained that the death of Sir Louis rendered unnecessary any immediate legal steps.

"Upon my word I don't know," said Frank.

"You saw Dr Thorne," said the squire. "He must have known."

"I never thought of asking him," said Frank, naïvely.

Mr Gazebee looked rather solemn. "I wonder at that," said he; "for everything now depends on the hands the property will go into. Let me see; I think Sir Roger had a married sister. Was not that so, Mr Gresham?" And then it occurred for the first time, both to the squire and to his son, that Mary Thorne was the eldest child of this sister. But it never occurred to either of them that Mary could be the baronet's heir.

Dr Thorne came down for a couple of days before the fortnight was over to see his patients, and then returned again to London. But during this short visit he was utterly dumb on the subject of the heir. He called at Greshamsbury to see Lady Arabella, and was even questioned by the squire on the subject. But he obstinately refused to say more than that nothing certain could be known for yet a few days.

Immediately after his return, Frank saw Mary, and told her all that had happened. "I cannot understand my uncle," said she, almost trembling as she stood close to him in her own drawing-room. "He usually hates mysteries, and yet now he is so mysterious. He told me, Frank—that was after I had written that unfortunate letter—"

"Unfortunate, indeed! I wonder what you really thought of me when you were writing it?"

"If you had heard what your mother said, you would not be surprised. But, after that, uncle said—"

"Said what?"

"He seemed to think—I don't remember what it was he said. But he said, he hoped that things might yet turn out well; and then I was almost sorry that I had written the letter."

"Of course you were sorry, and so you ought to have been. To say that you would never call me Frank again!"

"I didn't exactly say that."

"I have told him I will wait a fortnight, and so I will. After that, I shall take the matter into my own hands."

It may be well supposed that Lady Arabella was not well pleased to learn that Frank and Mary had been again together; and, in the agony of her spirit, she did say some ill-natured things before Augusta, who had now returned from Courcy Castle, as to the gross impropriety of Mary's conduct. But to Frank she said nothing.

Nor was there much said between Frank and Beatrice. If everything could really be settled at the end of that fortnight which was to witness the disclosure of the doctor's mystery, there would still be time to arrange that Mary should be at the wedding. "It shall be settled then," he said to himself; "and if it be settled, my mother will hardly venture to exclude my affianced bride from the house." It was now the beginning of August, and it wanted yet a month to the Oriel wedding.

But though he said nothing to his mother or to Beatrice, he did say much to his father. In the first place, he showed him Mary's letter. "If your heart be not made of stone it will be softened by that," he said. Mr Gresham's heart was not of stone, and he did acknowledge that the letter was a very sweet letter. But we know how the drop of water hollows stone. It was not by the violence of his appeal that Frank succeeded in obtaining from his father a sort of half-consent that he would no longer oppose the match; but by the assiduity with which the appeal was repeated. Frank, as we have said, had more stubbornness of will than his father; and so, before the fortnight was over, the squire had been talked over, and promised to attend at the doctor's bidding.

"I suppose you had better take the Hazlehurst farm," said he to his son, with a sigh. "It joins the park and the home-fields, and I will give you up them also. God knows, I don't care about farming any more—or about anything else either."

"Don't say that, father."

"Well, well! But, Frank, where will you live? The old house is big enough for us all. But how would Mary get on with your mother?"

At the end of his fortnight, true to his time, the doctor returned to the village. He was a bad correspondent; and though he had written some short notes to Mary, he had said no word to her about his business. It was late in the evening when he got home, and it was understood by Frank and the squire that they were to be with him on the following morning. Not a word had been said to Lady Arabella on the subject.

It was late in the evening when he got home, and Mary waited for him with a heart almost sick with expectation. As soon as the fly had stopped at the little gate she heard his voice, and heard at once that it was quick, joyful, and telling much of inward satisfaction. He had a good-natured word for Janet, and called Thomas an old blunder-head in a manner that made Bridget laugh outright.

"He'll have his nose put out of joint some day; won't he?" said the doctor. Bridget blushed and laughed again, and made a sign to Thomas that he had better look to his face.

Mary was in his arms before he was yet within the door. "My darling," said he, tenderly kissing her. "You are my own darling yet awhile."

"Of course I am. Am I not always to be so?"

"Well, well; let me have some tea, at any rate, for I'm in a fever of thirst. They may call that tea at the Junction if they will; but if China were sunk under the sea it would make no difference to them."

Dr Thorne always was in a fever of thirst when he got home from the railway, and always made complaint as to the tea at the Junction. Mary went about her usual work with almost more than her usual alacrity, and so they were soon seated in the drawing-room together.

She soon found that his manner was more than ordinarily kind to her; and there was moreover something about him which seemed to make him sparkle with contentment, but he said no word about Frank, nor did he make any allusion to the business which had taken him up to town.

"Have you got through all your work?" she said to him once.

"Yes, yes; I think all."

"And thoroughly?"

"Yes; thoroughly, I think. But I am very tired, and so are you too, darling, with waiting for me."

"Oh, no, I am not," said she, as she went on continually filling his cup; "but I am so happy to have you home again. You have been away so much lately."

"Ah, yes; well I suppose I shall not go away any more now. It will be somebody else's turn now."

"Uncle, I think you're going to take up writing mystery romances, like Mrs Radcliffe's."

"Yes; and I'll begin to-morrow, certainly with— But, Mary, I will not say another word to-night. Give me a kiss, dearest, and I'll go."

Mary did kiss him, and he did go. But as she was still lingering in the room, putting away a book, or a reel of thread, and then sitting down to think what the morrow would bring forth, the doctor again came into the room in his dressing-gown, and with the slippers on.

"What, not gone yet?" said he.

"No, not yet; I'm going now."

"You and I, Mary, have always affected a good deal of indifference as to money, and all that sort of thing."

"I won't acknowledge that it has been an affectation at all," she answered.

"Perhaps not; but we have often expressed it, have we not?"

"I suppose, uncle, you think that we are like the fox that lost his tail, or rather some unfortunate fox that might be born without one."

"I wonder how we should either of us bear it if we found ourselves suddenly rich. It would be a great temptation—a sore temptation. I fear, Mary, that when poor people talk disdainfully of money, they often are like your fox, born without a tail. If nature suddenly should give that beast a tail, would he not be prouder of it than all the other foxes in the wood?"

"Well, I suppose he would. That's the very meaning of the story. But how moral you've become all of a sudden at twelve o'clock at night! Instead of being Mrs Radcliffe, I shall think you're Mr Æsop."

He took up the article which he had come to seek, and kissing her again on the forehead, went away to his bed-room without further speech. "What can he mean by all this about money?" said Mary to herself. "It cannot be that by Sir Louis's death he will get any of all this property;" and then she began to bethink herself whether, after all, she would wish him to be a rich man. "If he were very rich, he might do something to assist Frank; and then—"

There never was a fox yet without a tail who would not be delighted to find himself suddenly possessed of that appendage. Never; let the untailed fox have been ever so sincere in his advice to his friends! We are all of us, the good and the bad, looking for tails—for one tail, or for more than one; we do so too often by ways that are mean enough: but perhaps there is no tail-seeker more mean, more sneakingly mean than he who looks out to adorn his bare back with a tail by marriage.

The doctor was up very early the next morning, long before Mary was ready with her teacups. He was up, and in his own study behind the shop, arranging dingy papers, pulling about tin boxes which he had brought down with him from London, and piling on his writing-table one set of documents in one place, and one in another. "I think I understand it all," said he; "but yet I know I shall be bothered. Well, I never will be anybody's trustee again. Let me see!" and then he sat down, and with bewildered look recapitulated to himself sundry heavy items. "What those shares are really worth I cannot understand, and nobody seems able to tell one. They must make it out among them as best they can. Let me see; that's Boxall Hill, and this is Greshamsbury. I'll put a newspaper over Greshamsbury, or the squire will know it!" and then, having made his arrangements, he went to his breakfast.

I know I am wrong, my much and truly honoured critic, about these title-deeds and documents. But when we've got that barrister in hand, then if I go wrong after that, let the blame be on my own shoulders—or on his.

The doctor ate his breakfast quickly; and did not talk much to his niece. But what he did say was of a nature to make her feel strangely happy. She could not analyse her own feelings, or give a reason for her own confidence; but she certainly did feel, and even trust, that something was going to happen after breakfast which would make her more happy than she had been for many months.

"Janet," said he, looking at his watch, "if Mr Gresham and Mr Frank call, show them into my study. What are you going to do with yourself, my dear?"

"I don't know, uncle; you are so mysterious, and I am in such a twitter, that I don't know what to do. Why is Mr Gresham coming here—that is, the squire?"

"Because I have business with him about the Scatcherd property. You know that he owed Sir Louis money. But don't go out, Mary. I want you to be in the way if I should have to call for you. You can stay in the drawing-room, can't you?"

"Oh, yes, uncle; or here."

"No, dearest; go into the drawing-room." Mary obediently did as she was bid; and there she sat, for the next three hours, wondering, wondering, wondering. During the greater part of that time, however, she well knew that Mr Gresham, senior, and Mr Gresham, junior, were both with her uncle, below.

At eleven o'clock the doctor's visitors came. He had expected them somewhat earlier, and was beginning to become fidgety. He had so much on his hands that he could not sit still for a moment till he had, at any rate, commenced it. The expected footsteps were at last heard on the gravel-path, and a moment or two afterwards Janet ushered the father and son into the room.

The squire did not look very well. He was worn and sorrowful, and rather pale. The death of his young creditor might be supposed to have given him some relief from his more pressing cares, but the necessity of yielding to Frank's wishes had almost more than balanced this. When a man has daily to reflect that he is poorer than he was the day before, he soon becomes worn and sorrowful.

But Frank was well; both in health and spirits. He also felt as Mary did, that the day was to bring forth something which should end his present troubles; and he could not but be happy to think that he could now tell Dr Thorne that his father's consent to his marriage had been given.

The doctor shook hands with them both, and then they sat down. They were all rather constrained in their manner; and at first it seemed that nothing but little speeches of compliment were to be made. At last, the squire remarked that Frank had been talking to him about Miss Thorne.

"About Mary?" said the doctor.

"Yes; about Mary," said the squire, correcting himself. It was quite unnecessary that he should use so cold a name as the other, now that he had agreed to the match.

"Well!" said Dr Thorne.

"I suppose it must be so, doctor. He has set his heart upon it, and God knows, I have nothing to say against her—against her personally. No one could say a word against her. She is a sweet, good girl, excellently brought up; and, as for myself, I have always loved her." Frank drew near to his father, and pressed his hand against the squire's arm, by way of giving him, in some sort, a filial embrace for his kindness.

"Thank you, squire, thank you," said the doctor. "It is very good of you to say that. She is a good girl, and if Frank chooses to take her, he will, in my estimation, have made a good choice."

"Chooses!" said Frank, with all the enthusiasm of a lover.

The squire felt himself perhaps a little ruffled at the way in which the doctor received his gracious intimation; but he did now show it as he went on. "They cannot, you know, doctor, look to be rich people—"

"Ah! well, well," interrupted the doctor.

"I have told Frank so, and I think that you should tell Mary. Frank means to take some land into his hand, and he must farm it as a farmer. I will endeavour to give him three, or perhaps four hundred a year. But you know better—"

"Stop, squire; stop a minute. We will talk about that presently. This death of poor Sir Louis will make a difference."

"Not permanently," said the squire mournfully.

"And now, Frank," said the doctor, not attending to the squire's last words, "what do you say?"

"What do I say? I say what I said to you in London the other day. I believe Mary loves me; indeed, I won't be affected—I know she does. I have loved her—I was going to say always; and, indeed, I almost might say so. My father knows that this is no light fancy of mine. As to what he says about our being poor, why—"

The doctor was very arbitrary, and would hear neither of them on this subject.

"Mr Gresham," said he, interrupting Frank, "of course I am well aware how very little suited Mary is by birth to marry your only son."

"It is too late to think about it now," said the squire.

"It is not too late for me to justify myself," replied the doctor. "We have long known each other, Mr Gresham, and you said here the other day, that this is a subject as to which we have been both of one mind. Birth and blood are very valuable gifts."

"I certainly think so," said the squire; "but one can't have everything."

"No; one can't have everything."

"If I am satisfied in that matter—" began Frank.

"Stop a moment, my dear boy," said the doctor. "As your father says, one can't have everything. My dear friend—" and he gave his hand to the squire—"do not be angry if I alluded for a moment to the estate. It has grieved me to see it melting away—the old family acres that have so long been the heritage of the Greshams."

"We need not talk about that now, Dr Thorne," said Frank, in an almost angry tone.

"But I must, Frank, for one moment, to justify myself. I could not have excused myself in letting Mary think that she could become your wife if I had not hoped that good might come of it."

"Well; good will come of it," said Frank, who did not quite understand at what the doctor was driving.

"I hope so. I have had much doubt about this, and have been sorely perplexed; but now I do hope so. Frank—Mr Gresham—" and then Dr Thorne rose from his chair; but was, for a moment, unable to go on with his tale.

"We will hope that it is all for the best," said the squire.

"I am sure it is," said Frank.

"Yes; I hope it is. I do think it is; I am sure it is, Frank. Mary will not come to you empty-handed. I wish for your sake—yes, and for hers too—that her birth were equal to her fortune, as her worth is superior to both. Mr Gresham, this marriage will, at any rate, put an end to your pecuniary embarrassments—unless, indeed, Frank should prove a hard creditor. My niece is Sir Roger Scatcherd's heir."

The doctor, as soon as he made the announcement, began to employ himself sedulously about the papers on the table; which, in the confusion caused by his own emotion, he transferred hither and thither in such a manner as to upset all his previous arrangements. "And now," he said, "I might as well explain, as well as I can, of what that fortune consists. Here, this is—no—"

"But, Dr Thorne," said the squire, now perfectly pale, and almost gasping for breath, "what is it you mean?"

"There's not a shadow of doubt," said the doctor. "I've had Sir Abraham Haphazard, and Sir Rickety Giggs, and old Neversaye Die, and Mr Snilam; and they are all of the same opinion. There is not the smallest doubt about it. Of course, she must administer, and all that; and I'm afraid there'll be a very heavy sum to pay for the tax; for she cannot inherit as a niece, you know. Mr Snilam pointed that out particularly. But, after all that, there'll be—I've got it down on a piece of paper, somewhere—three grains of blue pill. I'm really so bothered, squire, with all these papers, and all those lawyers, that I don't know whether I'm sitting or standing. There's ready money enough to pay all the tax and all the debts. I know that, at any rate."

"You don't mean to say that Mary Thorne is now possessed of all Sir Roger Scatcherd's wealth?" at last ejaculated the squire.

"But that's exactly what I do mean to say," said the doctor, looking up from his papers with a tear in his eye, and a smile on his mouth; "and what is more, squire, you owe her at the present moment exactly—I've got that down too, somewhere, only I am so bothered with all these papers. Come, squire, when do you mean to pay her? She's in a great hurry, as young ladies are when they want to get married."

The doctor was inclined to joke if possible, so as to carry off, as it were, some of the great weight of obligation which it might seem that he was throwing on the father and son; but the squire was by no means in a state to understand a joke: hardly as yet in a state to comprehend what was so very serious in this matter.

"Do you mean that Mary is the owner of Boxall Hill?" said he.

"Indeed, I do," said the doctor; and he was just going to add, "and of Greshamsbury also," but he stopped himself.

"What, the whole property there?"

"That's only a small portion," said the doctor. "I almost wish it were all, for then I should not be so bothered. Look here; these are the Boxall Hill title-deeds; that's the simplest part of the whole affair; and Frank may go and settle himself there to-morrow if he pleases."

"Stop a moment, Dr Thorne," said Frank. These were the only words which he had yet uttered since the tidings had been conveyed to him.

"And these, squire, are the Greshamsbury papers:" and the doctor, with considerable ceremony, withdrew the covering newspapers. "Look at them; there they all are once again. When I suggested to Mr Snilam that I supposed they might now all go back to the Greshamsbury muniment room, I thought he would have fainted. As I cannot return them to you, you will have to wait till Frank shall give them up."

"But, Dr Thorne," said Frank.

"Well, my boy."

"Does Mary know all about this?"

"Not a word of it. I mean that you shall tell her."

"Perhaps, under such very altered circumstances—"


"The change is so great and so sudden, so immense in its effects, that Mary may perhaps wish—"

"Wish! wish what? Wish not to be told of it at all?"

"I shall not think of holding her to her engagement—that is, if—I mean to say, she should have time at any rate for consideration."

"Oh, I understand," said the doctor. "She shall have time for consideration. How much shall we give her, squire? three minutes? Go up to her Frank: she is in the drawing-room."

Frank went to the door, and then hesitated, and returned. "I could not do it," said he. "I don't think that I understand it all yet. I am so bewildered that I could not tell her;" and he sat down at the table, and began to sob with emotion.

"And she knows nothing of it?" said the squire.

"Not a word. I thought that I would keep the pleasure of telling her for Frank."

"She should not be left in suspense," said the squire.

"Come, Frank, go up to her," again urged the doctor. "You've been ready enough with your visits when you knew that you ought to stay away."

"I cannot do it," said Frank, after a pause of some moments; "nor is it right that I should. It would be taking advantage of her."

"Go to her yourself, doctor; it is you that should do it," said the squire.

After some further slight delay, the doctor got up, and did go upstairs. He, even, was half afraid of the task. "It must be done," he said to himself, as his heavy steps mounted the stairs. "But how to tell it?"

When he entered, Mary was standing half-way up the room, as though she had risen to meet him. Her face was troubled, and her eyes were almost wild. The emotion, the hopes, the fears of that morning had almost been too much for her. She had heard the murmuring of the voices in the room below, and had known that one of them was that of her lover. Whether that discussion was to be for her good or ill she did not know; but she felt that further suspense would almost kill her. "I could wait for years," she said to herself, "if I did but know. If I lost him, I suppose I should bear it, if I did but know."—Well; she was going to know.

Her uncle met her in the middle of the room. His face was serious, though not sad; too serious to confirm her hopes at that moment of doubt. "What is it, uncle?" she said, taking one of his hands between both of her own. "What is it? Tell me." And as she looked up into his face with her wild eyes, she almost frightened him.

"Mary," he said gravely, "you have heard much, I know, of Sir Roger Scatcherd's great fortune."

"Yes, yes, yes!"

"Now that poor Sir Louis is dead—"

"Well, uncle, well?"

"It has been left—"

"To Frank! to Mr Gresham, to the squire!" exclaimed Mary, who felt, with an agony of doubt, that this sudden accession of immense wealth might separate her still further from her lover.

"No, Mary, not to the Greshams; but to yourself."

"To me!" she cried, and putting both her hands to her forehead, she seemed to be holding her temples together. "To me!"

"Yes, Mary; it is all your own now. To do as you like best with it all—all. May God, in His mercy, enable you to bear the burden, and lighten for you the temptation!"

She had so far moved as to find the nearest chair, and there she was now seated, staring at her uncle with fixed eyes. "Uncle," she said, "what does it mean?" Then he came, and sitting beside her, he explained, as best he could, the story of her birth, and her kinship with the Scatcherds. "And where is he, uncle?" she said. "Why does he not come to me?"

"I wanted him to come, but he refused. They are both there now, the father and son; shall I fetch them?"

"Fetch them! whom? The squire? No, uncle; but may we go to them?"

"Surely, Mary."

"But, uncle—"

"Yes, dearest."

"Is it true? are you sure? For his sake, you know; not for my own. The squire, you know—Oh, uncle! I cannot go."

"They shall come to you."

"No—no. I have gone to him such hundreds of times; I will never allow that he shall be sent to me. But, uncle, is it true?"

The doctor, as he went downstairs, muttered something about Sir Abraham Haphazard, and Sir Rickety Giggs; but these great names were much thrown away upon poor Mary. The doctor entered the room first, and the heiress followed him with downcast eyes and timid steps. She was at first afraid to advance, but when she did look up, and saw Frank standing alone by the window, her lover restored her courage, and rushing up to him, she threw herself into his arms. "Oh, Frank; my own Frank! my own Frank! we shall never be separated now."

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