Chapters 31-35 (Lydgate’s Betrothal and Featherstone’s Death)
At the Vincys, Rosamond comments on Lydgate’s growing practice, and he mentions that he prefers to treat the poor because their cases are more challenging. Word goes out about their flirtation, and Aunt Bulstrode interferes, telling Lydgate that if he is not serious, he should get out of the way of other suitors. Lydgate is annoyed and avoids the Vincys. Rosamond, believing she is in love, is mortified at Lydgate’s absence. When he does call on some minor business, in an unguarded moment of naturalness, Rosamond shows tears at his neglect, and he, being impulsive and warm-hearted, embraces her to comfort her. In half an hour he leaves an engaged man “whose soul was not his own, but the woman’s to whom he had bound himself.”
Meanwhile, Featherstone is close to death and the relatives gather around him like vultures. The old man despises them and refuses to see them. He only tolerates Fred, Mrs. Vincy, and Mary Garth, who nurses him.
Mary is a strong, self-sufficient girl of sense who is amused by the ironies of life. “People were so ridiculous with their illusions.” She thinks the Vincys could be surprised by Featherstone’s will. In the middle of the night as Featherstone is dying, he asks Mary to get him his box with the wills. There are two wills, and he wants to destroy one at the last moment. She refuses to get involved, knowing she would be blamed for the outcome. She begs to call someone else or a lawyer. Featherstone knows it is too late for that and tries to bribe her with 200 pounds, a sum that would liberate her family from its trouble. But she is adamant. She notes that for all his money, Featherstone at this moment is helpless and alone. He dies without changing the will.
The Casaubons, Brookes, and Cadwalladers watch the Featherstone funeral from the Lowick mansion, commenting on it. Dorothea remarks that we never really know our neighbors, and that it is very sad to leave the world without leaving love behind. Suddenly, Will Ladislaw is spotted at the funeral procession, and both Dorothea and Casaubon are in shock but will not discuss it. Mr. Brooke says he invited him, but it sounds as though he did it at Dorothea’s request.
At the reading of Featherstone’s will, an unknown “frog-faced man” turns out to be the surprise inheritor. His name is Mr. Riggs. In the newer will, the one Featherstone tried to burn, the cash is left to charity and the estate to Mr. Riggs. In the old will, the money was left to Fred. Mary Garth feels bad for Fred but knows she did the right thing in not interfering.
Mary is one of the unusual characters in Eliot’s world. She is her own person and does not cave in to circumstances. She has her values and lives by them. Even though she could have benefited people she loves with Featherstone’s money, it would have cost her peace of mind and her own good opinion. In contrast to Fred and other characters, she has already learned that if she cannot walk through life with a clear conscience and an unspotted reputation, it would not be worth the compromise. She is alert, in a way that Lydgate is not, to consequences. Lydgate gets more and more enmeshed in public opinion and the expedience of the moment.