The Market Place

Author: Harold Frederic

Chapter XXII

BY the autumn of the following year, a certain small proportion of the people inhabiting the district in Hertfordshire which set its clocks by the dial over the stable-tower of Pellesley Court had accustomed themselves to give the place its new name of High Thorpe. These were for the most part the folk of peculiarly facile wits and ready powers of adaptation, like pushing small tradesmen, and the upper servants in county houses. An indolent and hazy compromise upon Pellesley Thorpe had drifted into use by perhaps a larger number. To the puzzled conservatism of the abiding huge majority nearest to the soil—the round-backed, lumpish men who tie strings round their corduroys under the knee, and the strong, cow-faced women who look at passers-by on the road from the doors of dark little cottages, over radiant patches of blossoming garden—it seemed safest to drop family names altogether, and call it merely the Court.

It stood proudly upon what was rather a notable elevation for those flat parts—a massive mansion of simple form, built of a grey stone which seemed at a distance almost white against the deep background of yews and Italian pines behind it. For many miles seaward this pale front was a landmark. From the terrace-walk at its base, one beheld a great expanse of soft green country, sloping gently away for a long distance, then stretching out upon a level which on misty days was interminable. In bright weather, the remote, low-lying horizon had a defining line of brownish-blue—and this stood for what was left of a primitive forest, containing trees much older than the Norman name it bore. It was a forest which at some time, no doubt, had extended without a break till it merged into that of Epping—leagues away to the south. The modern clearance and tillage, however, which separated it now from Epping had served as a curiously effective barrier—more baffling than the Romans and Angles in their turn had found the original wildwood. No stranger seemed ever to find his way into that broad, minutely-cultivated fertile plain which High Thorpe looked down upon. No railway had pushed its cheapening course across it. Silent, embowered old country roads and lanes netted its expanse with hedgerows; red points of tiled roofs, distinguishable here and there in clusters among the darker greens of orchards, identified the scattered hamlets—all named in Domesday Book, all seemingly unchanged since. A grey square church-tower emerging from the rooks’ nests; an ordered mass of foliage sheltering the distant gables and chimneys of some isolated house; the dim perception on occasion that a rustic waggon was in motion on some highway, crawling patiently like an insect—of this placid, inductive nature were all the added proofs of human occupation that the landscape offered.

Mr. Stormont Thorpe, on an afternoon of early October, yawned in the face of this landscape—and then idly wondered a little at the mood which had impelled him to do so. At the outset of his proprietorship he had bound himself, as by a point of honour, to regard this as the finest view from any gentleman’s house in England. During the first few months his fidelity had been taxed a good deal, but these temptations and struggles lay now all happily behind him. He had satisfactorily assimilated the spirit of the vista, and blended it with his own. Its inertia, when one came to comprehend it, was undeniably magnificent, and long ago he had perceived within himself the growth of an answering repose, a responsive lethargy, which in its full development was also going to be very fine. Practically all the land this side of the impalpable line where trees and houses began to fade into the background belonged to him; there were whole villages nestling half-concealed under its shrubberies which were his property. As an investment, these possessions were extremely unremunerative. Indeed, if one added the cost of the improvements which ought to be made, to the expenditure already laid out in renovations, it was questionable if for the next twenty years they would not represent a deficit on the income-sheet. But, now that he had laid hold of the local character, it pleased him that it should be so. He would not for the world have his gentle, woolly-minded, unprofitable cottagers transformed into "hustlers"; it would wound his eye to see the smoke of any commercial chimney, the smudge of any dividend-paying factory, staining the pure tints of the sylvan landscape. He had truly learned to love it.

Yet now, as he strolled on the terrace with his first after-luncheon cigar, he unaccountably yawned at the thing he loved. Upon reflection, he had gone to bed rather earlier the previous evening than usual. He had not been drinking out of the ordinary; his liver seemed right enough. He was not conscious of being either tired or drowsy. He looked again at the view with some fixity, and said to himself convincingly that nothing else in England could compare with it. It was the finest thing there was anywhere. Then he surprised himself in the middle of another yawn—and halted abruptly. It occurred to him that he wanted to travel.

Since his home-coming to this splendid new home in the previous January, at the conclusion of a honeymoon spent in Algiers and Egypt, he had not been out of England. There had been a considerable sojourn in London, it is true, at what was described to him as the height of the Season, but looking back upon it, he could not think of it as a diversion. It had been a restless, over-worked, mystifying experience, full of dinners to people whom he had never seen before, and laborious encounters with other people whom he did not particularly want to see again. There had been no physical comfort in it for him, and little more mental satisfaction, for Londoners, or rather people in London, seemed all to be making an invidious distinction in their minds between him and his wife. The fact that she continued to be called Lady Cressage was not of itself important to him. But in the incessant going about in London, their names were called out together so often that his ear grew sensitive and sore to the touch of the footmen’s reverberations. The meaning differentiation which the voices of the servants insisted upon, seemed inevitably reflected in the glance and manner of their mistresses. More than anything else, that made him hate London, and barred the doors of his mind to all thoughts of buying a town-house.

His newly-made wife, it is true, had not cared much for London, either, and had agreed to his decision against a town-house almost with animation. The occasion of their return from the hot bustle of the metropolis to these cool home shades—in particular the minute in which, at a bend in the winding carriage-way down below, they had silently regarded together the spectacle uplifted before them, with the big, welcoming house, and the servants on the terrace—had a place of its own in his memory. Edith had pressed his arm, as they sat side by side in the landau, on the instant compulsion of a feeling they had in common. He had never, before or since, had quite the same assurance that she shared an emotion with him.

He was very far, however, from finding fault with his wife. It was in the nature of the life he chose to lead that he should see a great deal of her, and think a great deal about her, and she bore both tests admirably. If there was a fault to be found, it was with himself for his inability to altogether understand her. She played the part she had undertaken to play with abundant skill and discretion and grace, and even with an air of nice good-fellowship which had some of the aspects of affection. He was vaguely annoyed with himself for having insight enough to perceive that it was a part she was playing, and yet lacking the added shrewdness to divine what her own personal attitude to her role was like. He had noticed sometimes the way good women looked at their husbands when the latter were talking over their heads—with the eager, intent, non-comprehending admiration of an affectionate dog. This was a look which he could not imagine himself discovering in his wife’s eves. It was not conceivable to him that he should talk over her head. Her glance not only revealed an ample understanding of all he said, but suggested unused reserves of comprehension which he might not fathom. It was as if, intellectually no less than socially, she possessed a title and he remained an undistinguished plebeian.

He made no grievance, however, even in his own thoughts, of either inequality. She had been charmingly frank and fair about the question of the names, when it first arose. The usage had latterly come to be, she explained, for a widow bearing even a courtesy title derived from her late husband, to retain it on marrying again. It was always the easiest course to fall in with usage, but if he had any feelings on the subject, and preferred to have her insist on being called Mrs. Thorpe, she would meet his wishes with entire willingness. It had seemed to him, as to her, that it was wisest to allow usage to settle the matter. Some months after their marriage there appeared in the papers what purported to be an authoritative announcement that the Queen objected to the practice among ladies who married a second time, of retaining titles acquired by the earlier marriages, and that the lists of precedency at Buckingham Palace would henceforth take this into account. Lady Cressage showed this to her husband, and talked again with candour on the subject. She said she had always rather regretted the decision they originally came to, and even now could wish that it might be altered, but that to effect a change in the face of this newspaper paragraph would seem servile—and in this as in most other things he agreed with her. As she said, they wanted nothing of Buckingham Palace.

She wanted equally little, it seemed, of the society which the neighbouring district might afford. There was a meagre routine of formal calls kept in languid operation, Thorpe knew, but it was so much in the background that he never came in contact with it. His own notions of the part he ought to take in County affairs had undergone a silent and unnoted, yet almost sweeping, change. What little he saw of the gentry and strong local men with whom he would have to work, quietly undermined and dismantled all his ambitions in that direction. They were not his sort; their standards for the measurement of things were unintelligible to him. He did not doubt that, if he set himself about it, he could impose his dominion upon them, any more than he doubted that, if he mastered the Chinese language, he could lift himself to be a Mandarin, but the one would be as unnatural and unattractive an enterprise as the other. He came to be upon nodding terms with most of the "carriage-people" round about; some few he exchanged meaningless words with upon occasion, and understood that his wife also talked with, when it was unavoidable, but there his relationship to the County ended, and he was well pleased that it should be so. It gave him a deep satisfaction to see that his wife seemed also well pleased.

He used the word "seemed" in his inmost musings, for it was never quite certain what really did please and displease her. It was always puzzling to him to reconcile her undoubted intellectual activity with the practical emptiness of the existence she professed to enjoy. In one direction, she had indeed a genuine outlet for her energies, which he could understand her regarding in the light of an occupation. She was crazier about flowers and plants than anybody he had ever heard of, and it had delighted him to make over to her, labelled jocosely as the bouquet-fund, a sum of money which, it seemed to him, might have paid for the hanging-gardens of Babylon. It yielded in time—emerging slowly but steadily from a prodigious litter of cement and bricks and mortar and putty, under the hands of innumerable masons, carpenters, glaziers, plumbers, and nondescript subordinates, all of whom talked unwearyingly about nothing at all, and suffered no man to perform any part of his allotted task without suspending their own labours to watch him—an imposing long line of new greenhouses, more than twenty in number. The mail-bag was filled meanwhile with nurserymen’s catalogues, and the cart made incessant journeys to and from Punsey station, bringing back vast straw-enwrapped baskets and bundles and boxes beyond counting, the arrival and unpacking of which was with Edith the event of the day. About the reality of her engrossed interest in all the stages of progress by which these greenhouses became crowded museums of the unusual and abnormal in plant-life, it was impossible to have any suspicion. And even after they were filled to overflowing, Thorpe noted with joy that this interest seemed in no wise to flag. She spent hours every day under the glass, exchanging comments and theories with her gardeners, and even pulling things about with her own hands, and other hours she devoted almost as regularly to supervising the wholesale alterations that had been begun in the gardens outside. There were to be new paths, new walls with a southern exposure, new potting sheds, new forcing pits, new everything—and in the evenings she often worked late over the maps and plans she drew for all this. Thorpe’s mind found it difficult to grasp the idea that a lady of such notable qualities could be entirely satisfied by a career among seeds and bulbs and composts, but at least time brought no evidences of a decline in her horticultural zeal. Who knew? Perhaps it might go on indefinitely.

As for himself, he had got on very well without any special inclination or hobby. He had not done any of the great things that a year ago it had seemed to him he would forthwith do—but his mind was serenely undisturbed by regrets. He did not even remember with any distinctness what these things were that he had been going to do. The routine of life—as arranged and borne along by the wise and tactful experts who wore the livery of High Thorpe—was abundantly sufficient in itself. He slept well now in the morning hours, and though he remained still, by comparison, an early riser, the bath and the shaving and slow dressing under the hands of a valet consumed comfortably a good deal of time. Throughout the day he was under the almost constant observation of people who were calling him "master" in their minds, and watching to see how, in the smallest details of deportment, a "master" carried himself, and the consciousness of this alone amounted to a kind of vocation. The house itself made demands upon him nearly as definite as those of the servants. It was a house of huge rooms, high ceilings, and grandiose fireplaces and stairways, which had seemed to him like a royal palace when he first beheld it, and still produced upon him an effect of undigestible largeness and strangeness. It was as a whole not so old as the agents had represented it, by some centuries, but it adapted itself as little to his preconceived notions of domesticity as if it had been built by Druids. The task of seeming to be at home in it had as many sides to it as there were minutes in the day—and oddly enough, Thorpe found in their study and observance a congenial occupation. Whether he was reading in the library—where there was an admirable collection of books of worth—or walking over the home-farms, or driving in his smart stanhope with the coachman behind, or sitting in formal costume and dignity opposite his beautiful wife at the dinner-table, the sense of what was expected of him was there, steadying and restraining, like an atmospheric pressure.

Thus far they had had few visitors, and had accepted no invitations to join house-parties elsewhere. They agreed without speaking about it that it was more their form to entertain than to be entertained, and certain people were coming to them later in the month. These were quite wholly of Edith’s set and selection, for Thorpe had no friends or acquaintances outside her circle for whose presence he had any desire—and among these prospective guests were a Duke and a Duchess. Once, such a fact would have excited Thorpe’s imagination. He regarded it now as something appropriate under the circumstances, and gave it little further thought. His placid, satisfied life was not dependent upon the stir of guests coming and going, even though they were the great of the earth. He walked on his spacious terrace after luncheon—a tall, portly, well-groomed figure of a man, of relaxed, easy aspect, with his big cigar, and his panama hat, and his loose clothes of choice fabrics and exquisite tailoring—and said to himself that it was the finest view in England—and then, to his own surprise, caught himself in the act of yawning.

From under the silk curtains and awning of a window-doorway at the end of the terrace, his wife issued and came toward him. Her head was bare, and she had the grace and fresh beauty of a young girl in her simple light gown of some summery figured stuff.

"What do you say to going off somewhere—tomorrow if you like—travelling abroad?" he called out, as she approached him. The idea, only a moment old in his mind, had grown to great proportions. "How can we?" she asked, upon the briefest thought. "THEY are coming at the end of the week. This is Monday, and they arrive on the 12th—that’s this Saturday."

"So soon as that!" he exclaimed. "I thought it was later. H-m! I don’t know—I think perhaps I’ll go up to London this evening. I’m by way of feeling restless all at once. Will you come up with me?"

She shook her head. "I can’t think of anything in London that would be tolerable."

He gave a vague little laugh. "I shall probably hate it myself when I get there," he speculated. "There isn’t anybody I want to see—there isn’t anything I want to do. I don’ t know—perhaps it might liven me up."

Her face took on a look of enquiring gravity. "Are you getting tired of it, then?" She put the question gently, almost cautiously.

He reflected a little. "Why—no," he answered, as if reasoning to himself. "Of course I’m not. This is what I’ve always wanted. It’s my idea of life to a ’t.’ Only—I suppose everything needs a break in it now and then—if only for the comfort of getting back into the old rut again."

"The rut—yes," she commented, musingly. "Apparently there’s always a rut."

Thorpe gave her the mystified yet uncomplaining glance she knew so well in his eyes. For once, the impulse to throw hidden things up into his range of view prevailed with her.

"Do you know," she said, with a confused half-smile at the novelty of her mood for elucidation, "I fancied a rut was the one thing there could be no question about with you. I had the notion that you were incapable of ruts—and conventional grooves. I thought you—as Carlyle puts it—I thought you were a man who had swallowed all the formulas."

Thorpe looked down at his stomach doubtfully. "I see what you mean," he said at last, but in a tone without any note of conviction.

"I doubt it," she told him, with light readiness—"for I don’t see myself what I mean. I forget indeed what it was I said. And so you think you’ll go up to town tonight?"

A sudden comprehension of what was slipping away from his grasp aroused him. "No—no," he urged her, "don’t forget what it was you said! I wish you’d talk more with me about that. It was what I wanted to hear. You never tell me what you’re really thinking about." She received the reproach with a mildly incredulous smile in her eyes. "Yes—I know—who was it used to scold me about that? Oh"—she seemed suddenly reminded of something—"I was forgetting to mention it. I have a letter from Celia Madden. She is back in England; she is coming to us Saturday, too."

He put out his lips a trifle. "That’s all right," he objected, "but what has it got to do with what we were talking about?"

"Talking about?" she queried, with a momentarily blank countenance. "Oh, she used to bully me about my deceit, and treachery, and similar crimes. But I shall be immensely glad to see her. I always fight with her, but I think I like her better than any other woman alive."

"I like her too," Thorpe was impelled to say, with a kind of solemnity. "She reminds me of some of the happiest hours in my life."

His wife, after a brief glance into his face, laughed pleasantly, if with a trace of flippancy. "You say nice things," she observed, slightly inclining her head. "But now that Celia is coming, it would be as well to have another man. It’s such dreadfully short notice, though."

"I daresay your father could come, all right," Thorpe suggested. "I’d rather have him than almost anyone else. Would you mind asking him—or shall I?"

An abrupt silence marked this introduction of a subject upon which the couple had differed openly. Thorpe, through processes unaccountable to himself, had passed from a vivid dislike of General Kervick to a habit of mind in which he thoroughly enjoyed having him about. The General had been twice to High Thorpe, and on each occasion had so prolonged his stay that, in retrospect, the period of his absence seemed inconsiderable. The master now, thinking upon it in this minute of silence, was conscious of having missed him greatly. He would not have been bored to the extremity of threatening to go to London, if Kervick had been here. The General was a gentleman, and yet had the flexible adaptability of a retainer; he had been trained in discipline, and hence knew how to defer without becoming fulsome or familiar; he was a man of the world and knew an unlimited number of racy stories, and even if he repeated some of them unduly, they were better than no stories at all. And then, there was his matchless, unfailing patience in playing chess or backgammon or draughts or bezique, whatever he perceived that the master desired.

"If you really wish it," Edith said at last, coldly.

"But that’s what I don’t understand," Thorpe urged upon her with some vigour. "If I like him, I don’t see why his own daughter----"

"Oh, need we discuss it?" she broke in, impatiently. "If I’m an unnatural child, why then I am one, and may it not be allowed to pass at that?" A stormy kind of smile played upon her beautifully-cut lips as she added: "Surely one’s filial emotions are things to be taken for granted—relieved from the necessity of explanation."

Thorpe grinned faintly at the hint of pleasantry, but he did not relinquish his point. "Well—unless you really veto the thing—I think I’d like to tell him to come," he said, with composed obstinacy. Upon an afterthought he added: "There’s no reason why he shouldn’t meet the Duke, is there?"

"No specific reason," she returned, with calm coolness of tone and manner. "And certainly I do not see myself in the part of Madame Veto."

"All right then—I’ll send him a wire," said Thorpe. His victory made him uneasy, yet he saw no way of abandoning it with decorum.

As the two, standing in a silence full of tacit constraint, looked aimlessly away from the terrace, they saw at the same instant a vehicle with a single horse coming rather briskly up the driveway, some hundreds of yards below. It was recognizable at once as the local trap from Punsey station, and as usual it was driven by a boy from the village. Seated beside this lad was a burly, red-bearded man in respectable clothes, who, to judge from the tin-box and travelling-bags fastened on behind, seemed coming to High Thorpe to stay.

"Who on earth is that?" asked Thorpe, wonderingly. The man was obviously of the lower class, yet there seemed something about him which invited recognition.

"Presumably it’s the new head-gardener," she replied with brevity.

Her accent recalled to Thorpe the fact that there had been something disagreeable in their conversation, and the thought of it was unpleasant to him. "Why, I didn’t know you had a new man coming," he said, turning to her with an overture of smiling interest.

"Yes," she answered, and then, as if weighing the proffered propitiation and rejecting it, turned slowly and went into the house.

The trap apparently ended its course at some back entrance: he did not see it again. He strolled indoors, after a little, and told his man to pack a bag for London, and order the stanhope to take him to the train.


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Chicago: Harold Frederic, "Chapter XXII," The Market Place, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The Market Place (New York: George E. Wood, 1912), Original Sources, accessed May 30, 2023,

MLA: Frederic, Harold. "Chapter XXII." The Market Place, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The Market Place, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1912, Original Sources. 30 May. 2023.

Harvard: Frederic, H, 'Chapter XXII' in The Market Place, ed. . cited in 1912, The Market Place, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 May 2023, from