Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter X

Lucy Robarts

And now, how was he going to tell his wife? That was the consideration heavy on Mark Robarts’s mind when last we left him; and he turned the matter over in his thoughts before he could bring himself to a resolution. At last he did so, and one may say that it was not altogether a bad one, if only he could carry it out. He would ascertain in what bank that bill of his had been discounted. He would ask Sowerby, and if he could not learn from him, he would go to the three banks in Barchester. That it had been taken to one of them he felt tolerably certain. He would explain to the manager his conviction that he would have to make good the amount, his inability to do so at the end of three months, and the whole state of his income; and then the banker would explain to him how the matter might be arranged. He thought that he could pay 50L every three months with interest. As soon as this should have been concerted with the banker, he would let is wife know all about it. Were he to tell her at the present moment, while the matter was all unsettled, the intelligence would frighten her into illness. But on the next morning there came to him tidings by the hands of Robin postman, which for a long while upset all his plans. The letter was from Exeter. His father had been taken ill, and had very quickly been pronounced to be in danger. That evening — the evening on which his sister wrote — the old man was much worse, and it was desirable that Mark should go off to Exeter as quickly as possible. Of course he went to Exeter — again leaving the Framley souls at the mercy of the Welsh Low Churchman. Framley is only four miles from Silverbridge, and at Silverbridge he was on the direct road to the West. He was, therefore, at Exeter before nightfall on that day. But, nevertheless, he arrived there too late to see his father again alive. The old man’s illness had been sudden and rapid, and he expired without again seeing his eldest son. Mark arrived at the house of mourning just as they were learning to realize the full change in their position.

The doctor’s career had been on the whole successful, but nevertheless, he did not leave behind him as much money as the world had given him credit for possessing. Who ever does? Dr Robarts had educated a large family, had always lived with every comfort, and had never possessed a shilling but what he had earned himself. A physician’s fees come in, no doubt, with comfortable rapidity as soon as rich old gentlemen and middle-aged ladies begin to put their faith in him; but fees run out almost with equal rapidity when a wife and seven children are treated to everything that the world considers most desirable. Mark, as we have seen, had been educated at Harrow and Oxford, and it may be said, therefore, that he had received his patrimony early in life. For Gerald Robarts, the second brother, a commission had been bought in a crack regiment. He also had been lucky, having lived and become a captain in the Crimea; and the purchase-money was lodged for his majority. And John Robarts, the youngest was clerk in the Petty Bag Office, and was already assistant private secretary to Lord Petty Bag himself — a place of considerable trust, if not hitherto of large emolument: and on his education money had been spent freely, for in these days a young man cannot get into the Petty Bag Office without knowing at least three modern languages; and he must be well up in trigonometry too, in Bible theology, or in one dead language — at his option. And the doctor had four daughters. The two elder were married, including that Blanche with whom Lord Lufton was to have fallen in love at the vicar’s wedding. A Devonshire squire had done this in the lord’s place; but on marrying her it was necessary that he should have a few thousand pounds, two or three perhaps, and the old doctor had managed that they should be forthcoming. The elder sister had not been sent away from the paternal mansions quite empty handed. There were, therefore, at the time of the doctor’s death, two children left at home, of whom one only, Lucy, the younger will come much across us in the course of our story.

Mark stayed for ten days at Exeter, he and the Devonshire squire having been named as executors in the will. In this document it was explained that the doctor trusted that providence had been made for most of his children. As for his dear son Mark, he said, he was aware that he need be under no uneasiness. On hearing this read Mark smiled sweetly, and looked very gracious; but, nevertheless, his heart did sink somewhat within him, for there had been a hope that a small windfall, coming now so opportunely, might enable him to rid himself at once of that dreadful Sowerby incubus. And then the will went on to declare that Mary, and Gerald, and Blanche, had also, by God’s providence, been placed beyond want. And here, looking into the squire’s face, one might have thought that his heart fell a little also; for he had not so full a command of his feelings as his brother-inlaw, who had been so much more before the world. To John, the assistant private secretary, was left a legacy of a thousand pounds; and to Jane and Lucy certain sums in certain four per cents., which were quite sufficient to add an efficient value to the hands of those young ladies in the eyes of the most prudent young would be Benedicts. Over and beyond this there was nothing but the furniture, which he desired might be sold, and the proceeds divided among them all. It might come to sixty or seventy pounds a piece, and pay the expenses incidental on is death. And then all men and women there and thereabouts said that old Dr Robarts had done well. His life had been good and prosperous, and his will was just. And Mark, among others, so declared — and was so convinced in spite of his own little disappointment. And on the third morning after the reading of the will Squire Crowdy, of Creamclotted Hall, altogether got over his grief, and said that it was all right. And then it was decided that Jane should go home with him — for there was a brother squire who, it was thought, might have an eye to Jane; — and Lucy, the younger, should be taken to Framley Parsonage. In a fortnight from the receipt of that letter, Mark arrived at his own house with his sister Lucy under his wing.

All this interfered greatly with Mark’s wise resolution as to the Sowerby incubus. In the first place, he could not get to Barchester as soon as he had intended, and then an idea came across him that possibly it might be well that he should borrow the money of his brother John, explaining the circumstances, of course, and paying him due interest. But he had not liked to broach the subject when they were there in Exeter, standing, as it were, over their father’s grave, and so the matter was postponed. There was still ample time for arrangement before the bill would come due, and he would not tell Fanny till he had made up his mind what that arrangement would be. It would kill her, he said to himself over and over again, were he to tell her of it without being able to tell her also that the means of liquidating the debt were to be forthcoming.

And now I must say a word about Lucy Robarts. If one might only go on without those descriptions how pleasant it would be! But Lucy Robarts has to play a forward part in this little drama, and those who care for such matters must be made to understand something of her form and likeness. When last we mentioned her as appearing, though not in any promising position, at her brother’s wedding, she was only sixteen; but now, at the time of her father’s death, somewhat over two years having since elapsed, she was nearly nineteen. Laying aside for the sake of clearness that indefinite term of girl — for girls are girls from the age of three up to forty-three, if not previously married — dropping that generic word, we may say that then, at that wedding of her brother, she was a child; and now, at the death of her father, she was a woman. Nothing, perhaps, adds so much to womanhood, turns the child so quickly into a woman, as such death-bed scenes as these. Hitherto but little has fallen to Lucy to do in the way of woman’s duties. Of money transactions she had known nothing, beyond a jocose attempt to make her annual allowance of twenty-five pounds cover all her personal wants — an attempt which was made jocose by the loving bounty of her father. Her sister, who was three years her elder — for John came in between them — had managed the house; that is, she had made the tea and talked to the housekeeper about the dinners. But Lucy had sat at her father’s elbow, had read to him of evenings when he went to sleep, had brought him his slippers and looked after the comforts of his easy chair. All this she had done as a child; but when she stood at the coffin head, and knelt at the coffin side, then she was a woman.

She was smaller in stature than either of her three sisters, to all of whom had been acceded the praise of being fine woman — a eulogy which the people of Exeter, looking back at the elder sisters, and the general remembrance of them which pervaded the city, were not willing to extend to Lucy. ‘Dear — dear!’ had been said of her; ‘poor Lucy is not like a Robarts at all; is she, now, Mrs Pole?’— for as the daughters had become fine women, so had the sons grown into stalwart men. And then Mrs Pole had answered: ‘Not a bit; is she, now? Only think what Blanche was at her age. But she has fine eyes, for all that; and they do say she is the cleverest of them all.’ And that, too, is so true a description of her that I do know that I can add much to it. She was not like Blanche; for Blanche had bright complexion, and a fine neck, and a noble bust, et vera incessu patuit Dea — a true goddess, that is, as far as the eye went. She had a grand idea, moreover, of an apple-pie, and had not reigned eighteen months at Creamclotted Hall before she knew all the mysteries of pigs and milk, and most of those appertaining to cider and green cheese.

Lucy had no neck at all worth speaking of — no neck, I mean, that ever produced eloquence; she was brown, too, and had addicted herself in nowise, as she undoubtedly should have done, to larder utility. In regard to the neck and colour, poor girl, she could not help herself; but in that other respect she must be held as having wasted her opportunities. But then what eyes she had! Mrs Pole was right there. They flashed upon you, not always softly; indeed not often softly if you were a stranger to her; but whether softly or savagely, with a brilliancy that dazzled you as you looked at them. And who shall say of what colour they were? Green, probably, for most eyes are green — green or grey, if green be thought uncomely for an eye-colour. But it was not their colour, but their fire, which struck one with such surprise.

Lucy Robarts was thoroughly a brunette. Sometimes the dark tint of her cheek was exquisitely rich and lovely, and the fringes of her eyes were long and soft, and her small teeth, which one so seldom saw, were white as pearls, and her hair, though short, was beautifully soft — by no means black, but yet of so dark a shade of brown. Blanche, too, was noted for fine teeth. They were white and regular and lofty as a new row of houses in a French city. But then when she laughed she was all teeth; as she was all neck when she sat at the piano. But Lucy’s teeth! —-it was only now and again, when in some sudden burst of wonder she would sit for a moment with her lips apart, that the fine finished lines and dainty pearl-white colour of that perfect set of ivory could be seen. Mrs Pole would have said a word of her teeth also, but that to her they had never been made visible. ‘But they do say that she is the cleverest of them all,’ Mrs Pole had added, very properly. The people of Exeter had expressed such an opinion, and had been quite just in doing so. I do not know how it happens, but it always does happen, that everybody in every small town knows which is the brightest-witted in every family. In that respect Mrs Pole had only expressed public opinion, and public opinion was right. Lucy Robarts was blessed with an intelligence keener than that of her brothers and sisters.

‘To tell the truth, Mark, I admire Lucy more than I do Blanche.’ This had been said by Mrs Robarts within a few hours of her having assumed that name. ‘She’s not a beauty, I know, but yet I do.’

‘My dearest Fanny!’ Mark had answered in a tone of surprise.

‘I do then; of course people won’t think so; but I never seem to care about regular beauties. Perhaps I envy them too much.’ What Mark said next need not be repeated, but everybody may be sure that it contained more gross flattery for his young bride. He remembered this, however, and had always called Lucy his wife’s pet. Neither of the sisters had since been at Framley; and though Fanny had spent a week at Exeter on the occasion of Blanche’s marriage, it could hardly be said that she was very intimate with them. Nevertheless, when it became expedient that one of them should go to Framley, the remembrance of what his wife had said immediately induced Mark to make the offer to Lucy; and Jane, who was of a kindred soul with Blanche, was delighted to go to Creamclotted Hall. The acres of Heavybed House, down in that fat Totnes country, adjoined those of Creamclotted Hall, and Heavybed House still wanted a mistress.

Fanny was delighted when the news reached her. It would of course be proper that one of his sisters should live with Mark under their present circumstances, and she was happy to think that that quiet little bright-eyed creature was to come and nestle with her under the same roof. The children should so love her — only not quite so much as they loved mamma; and the snug little room that looks out over the porch, in which the chimney never smokes, should be made ready for her; and she should be allowed her share of driving the pony — which was a great sacrifice of self on the part of Mrs Robarts — and Lady Lufton’s best good-will should be bespoken. In fact, Lucy was not unfortunate in the destination that was laid out for her. Lady Lufton had of course heard of the doctor’s death, and had sent all manner of kind messages to Mark, advising him not to hurry home by any means until everything was settled at Exeter. And then she was told of the new-comer that was expected in the parish. When she heard that it was Lucy, the younger, she was satisfied; for Blanche’s charms, though indisputable, had not been altogether to her taste. If a second Blanche were to arrive there what danger might there not be for young Lord Lufton! ‘Quite right,’ said her ladyship, ‘just what he ought to do. I think I remember the young lady; rather small, is she not, and very retiring?’

‘Rather small and very retiring. What a description!’

‘Never mind, Ludovic; some young ladies must be small, and some at least ought to be retiring. We shall be delighted to make her acquaintance.’

‘I remember your other sister-inlaw very well,’ said Lord Lufton. ‘She was a beautiful woman.’

‘I don’t think you will consider Lucy a beauty,’ said Mrs Robarts.

‘Small, retiring, and —‘so far Lord Lufton had gone, when Mrs Robarts finished by the work ‘plain’. She had liked Lucy’s face, but she had thought that others probably did not think so.

‘Upon my word,‘said Lady Lufton, ‘you don’t deserve to have a sister-inlaw. I remember her very well, and can say that she is not plain. I was very much taken with her manner at your wedding, my dear, and thought more of her than I did of the beauty, I can tell you.’

‘I must confess I do not remember her at all,’ said his lordship. And so the conversation ended. And then at the end of the fortnight Mark arrived with his sister. They did not reach Framley till long after dark — somewhere between six and seven — and by this time it was December. There was snow on the ground, and frost in the air, and no moon, and cautious men when they went on the roads had their horses’ shoes socked. Such being the state of the weather, Mark’s gig had been nearly filled with cloaks and shawls when it was sent over to Silverbridge. And a cart was sent for Lucy’s luggage, and all manner of preparations had been made. Three times had Fanny gone herself to see that the fire burned brightly in the little room over the porch, and at the moment that the sound of the wheels was heard she was engaged in opening her son’s mind as to the nature of an aunt. Hitherto papa and mamma and Lady Lufton were all that he had known, excepting, of course, the satellites of the nursery. And then in three minutes Lucy was standing by the fire. Those three minutes had been taken up by embraces between the husband and wife. Let who would be brought as a visitor to the house, after a fortnight’s absence, she would kiss him before she would welcome anyone else. But then she turned to Lucy, and began to assist her with her cloaks.

‘Oh, thank you,’ said Lucy; ‘I’m not cold — not very at least. Don’t trouble yourself: I can do it.’ But here she had made a false boast, for her fingers had been so numbed that she could not do or undo anything. They were all in black, of course; but the sombreness of Lucy’s clothes struck Fanny much more than her own. They seemed to have swallowed her up in their blackness, and to have made her almost an emblem of death. She did not look up, but kept her face turned towards the fire, and seemed almost afraid of her position.

‘She may say what she likes, Fanny,’ said Mark, ‘but she is very cold. And so am I — cold enough. You had better go up with her to her room. We won’t do much in the dressing way to-night; eh, Lucy?’ In the bedroom Lucy thawed a little, and Fanny, as she kissed her, said to herself that she had been wrong as to that work ‘plain’. Lucy, at any rate, was not plain.

‘You’ll be used to us soon,’ said Fanny, ‘and then I hope we shall make you comfortable.’ And she took her sister-inlaw’s hand and pressed it. Lucy looked up at her, and her eyes were then tender enough. ‘I am sure I shall be happy here,’ she said, ‘with you. But — but — dear papa!’ And then they got into each other’s arms, and had a great bout of kissing and crying. ‘Plain,’ said Fanny to herself, as at last she got her guest’s hair smoothed, and the tears washed from her eyes —‘plain! She has the loveliest countenance that I ever looked at in my life!’

‘Your sister is quite beautiful,’ she said to Mark, as they talked her over alone before they went to sleep that night.

‘No, she’s not beautiful; but she’s a very good girl, and clever enough, too, in her sort of way.’

‘I think her perfectly lovely. I never such eyes in my life before.’

‘I’ll leave her in your hands, then; you shall get her a husband.’

‘That mayn’t be so easy. I don’t think she’d marry anybody.’

‘Well, I hope not. But she seems to me to be exactly cut out for an old maid; — to be Aunt Lucy for ever and ever to your bairns.’

‘And so she shall, with all my heart. But I don’t think she will, very long. I have no doubt she will be hard to please; but if I were a man I should fall in love with her at once. Did you ever observe her teeth, Mark?’

‘I don’t think I ever did.’

‘You wouldn’t know whether any one had a tooth in their head, I believe.’

‘No one except you, my dear; and I know all yours by heart.’

‘You are a goose.’

‘And a very sleepy one; so, if you please, I’ll go to roost.’ And thus there was nothing more said about Lucy’s beauty on that occasion.

For the first two days Mrs Robarts did not make much of her sister-inlaw. Lucy, indeed, was not demonstrative; and she was, moreover, one of those few persons — for they are very few — who are contented to go on with their existence without making themselves the centre of any special outward circle. To the ordinary run of minds it is impossible not to do this. A man’s own dinner is to himself so important that he cannot bring himself to believe that it is a matter utterly indifferent to every one else. A lady’s collection of baby-clothes, in early years, and of house linen and curtain-fringes in later life, is so very interesting to her own eyes, that she cannot believe but what other people will rejoice to behold it. I would not, however, be held to regarding this tendency as evil. It leads to conversation of some sort among people, and perhaps to a kind of sympathy. Mrs Jones will look at Mrs White’s linen chest, hoping that Mrs White may be induced to look at hers. One can only pour out of a jug that which is in it. For the most of us, if we do not talk of ourselves, or at any rate of the individual circles of which we are the centre, we can talk of nothing. I cannot hold with those who wish to put down the insignificant chatter of the world. As for myself, I am always happy to look at Mrs Jones’s linen, and never omit an opportunity of giving her the details of my own dinners. But Lucy Robarts had not this gift. She had come there as a stranger into her sister-inlaw’s house, and at first seemed as though she would be contented in simply having her corner in the drawing-room and her place at the parlour table. She did not seem to need the comforts of condolences and open-hearted talking. I do not mean to say that she was moody, that she did not answer when she was spoken to, or that she took no notice of the children; but she did not at once throw herself and all her hopes and sorrows into Fanny’s heart, as Fanny would have had her do.

Mrs Robarts herself was what we call demonstrative. When she was angry with Lady Lufton she showed it. And as since that time her love and admiration for Lady Lufton had increased, she showed that also. When she was in any way displeased with her husband, she could not hide it, even though she tried to do so, and fancied herself successful; — no more than she could hide her warm, constant, overflowing woman’s love. She could not walk through a room laughing on her husband’s arm without seeming to proclaim to every one there that she thought him the best man in it. She was demonstrative, and therefore she was the more disappointed in that Lucy did not rush at once with all her cares into her open heart. ‘She is so quiet,’ Fanny said to her husband.

‘That’s her nature,’ said Mark. ‘She always was quiet as a child. While we were smashing everything, she would never crack a teacup.’

‘I wish she would break something now,‘said Fanny, ‘and then perhaps we should get to talk about it.’ But she did not on this account give over loving her sister-inlaw. She probably valued her the more, unconsciously, for not having those aptitudes with which she herself was endowed. And then after two days, Lady Lufton called; of course it may be supposed that Fanny had said a good deal to her new inmate about Lady Lufton. A neighbour of that kind in the country exercises so large an influence upon the whole tenor of one’s life, that to abstain from such talk is out of the question. Mrs Robarts had been brought up almost under the dowager’s wing, and of course she regarded her as being worthy of much talking. Do not let persons on this account suppose that Mrs Robarts was a tuft-hunter, or a toad-eater. If they do not see the difference, they have yet got to study the earliest principles of human nature.

Lady Lufton called, and Lucy was struck dumb. Fanny was particularly anxious that her ladyship’s first impression should be favourable, and to effect this, she especially endeavoured to throw the two together during that visit. But in this she was unwise. Lady Lufton, however, had woman-craft enough not to be led into any egregious error by Lucy’s silence. ‘And what day will you come and dine with us?’ said Lady Lufton, turning expressly to her old friend Fanny.

‘Oh, do you name the day. We never have many engagements, you know.’

‘Will Thursday, do Miss Robarts? You will meet nobody you know, only my son; so you need not regard it as going out. Fanny here will tell you that stepping over to Framley Court is no more going out, than when you go from one room to another in the parsonage. Is it, Fanny?’ Fanny laughed, and said that stepping over to Framley Court certainly was done so often that perhaps they did not think so much about it as they ought to do.

‘We consider ourselves as a sort of happy family here, Miss Robarts, and are delighted to have the opportunity of including you in the menage.’ Lucy gave her ladyship one of her sweetest smiles, but what she said at that moment was inaudible. It was plain, however, that she could not bring herself even to go as far as Framley Court for her dinner at present. ‘It was very kind of lady Lufton,‘she said to Fanny; ‘but it was so very soon, and — and if they would only go without her, she would be so happy.’ But as the object was to go with her — expressly to take her there — the dinner was adjourned for a short time — sine die.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43