Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVI

Mrs Podgens’ Baby

The hunting season had now nearly passed away, and the great ones of the Barsetshire world were thinking of the glories of London. Of these glories Lady Lufton always thought with much inquietude of mind. She would fain have remained throughout the whole year at Framley Court, did not certain grave considerations render such a course on her part improper in her own estimation. All the Lady Luftons of whom she had heard, dowager and ante-dowager, had always had their seasons in London, till old age had incapacitated them for such doings — sometimes for clearly long after the arrival of such period. And then she had an idea, perhaps not altogether erroneous, that she annually imported back with her into the country somewhat of the passing civilization of the times:— may we not say an idea that certainly was not erroneous? For how otherwise is it that the forms of new caps and remodelled shapes for women’s waists find their way down into agricultural parts, and that the rural eye learns to appreciate grace and beauty? There are those who think that remodelled waists and new caps had better be kept to the towns; but such people, if they would follow out their own argument, would wish to see plough-boys painted with ruddle and milkmaids covered with skins. For those and other reasons Lady Lufton always went to London in April, and stayed there till the beginning of June. But for her this was usually a period of penance. In London she was no very great personage. She had never laid herself out for greatness of that sort, and did not shine as lady-patroness or state secretary in the female cabinet of fashion. She was dull and listless, and without congenial pursuits in London, and spent her happiest moments in reading accounts of what was being done at Framley, and in writing orders for further local information of the same kind. But on this occasion there was a matter of vital import to give an interest of its own to her visit to town. She was to entertain Griselda Grantly, and, as far as might be possible, to induce her son to remain in Griselda’s society. The plan of the campaign was to be as follows:— Mrs Grantly and the archdeacon were in the first place to go up to London for a month, taking Griselda with them; and then, when they returned to Plumstead, Griselda was to go to Lady Lufton. This arrangement was not at all points agreeable to Lady Lufton, for she knew that Mrs Grantly did not turn her back on the Hartletop people quite as cordially as she should do, considering the terms of the Lufton-Grantly family treaty. But then Mrs Grantly might have alleged in excuse the slow manner in which Lord Lufton was proceeding in the making and declaring of his love, and the absolute necessity which there is for two strings to one bow, when one string may be in any way doubtful. Could it be possible that Mrs Grantly had heard anything of that unfortunate Platonic friendship with Lucy Robarts?

There came a letter from Mrs Grantly just about the end of March, which added much to Lady Lufton’s uneasiness, and made her more than ever anxious to be herself on the scene of action, and to have Griselda in her own hands. After some communications of mere ordinary importance with reference to the London world in general and the Lufton-Grantly world in particular, Mrs Grantly wrote confidentially about her daughter:—‘It would be useless to deny,’ she said, with a mother’s pride and a mother’s humility, ‘that she is very much admired. She is asked out a great deal more than I can take her, and to houses to which I myself by no means wish to go. I could not refuse her as to Lady Hartletop’s first ball, for there will be nothing else yea like them; and of course when with you, dear Lady Lufton, that house will be out of the question. So indeed would it be with me, were I myself only concerned. The duke was there, of course, and I really wonder Lady Hartletop should not be more discreet in her own drawing-room when all the world is there. It is clear to me that Lord Dumbello admires Griselda much more than I could wish. She, dear girl, has such excellent sense that I do not think it likely that her head should be turned by it; but with how many girls would not the admiration of such a man be irresistible? The marquis, you know, is very feeble, and I am told that since this rage for building has come on, the Lancashire property is over two hundred thousand a year! I do not think that Lord Dumbello has said much to her. Indeed it seems to me that he never does say much to any one. But he always stands to dance with her, and I see that he is uneasy and fidgety when she stands up with any other partner whom he could care about. It was really embarrassing to see him the other night at Miss Dunstable’s, when Griselda was dancing with a certain friend of ours. But she did look very well that evening, and I have seldom seen her more animated!’

All this, and a great deal more of the same sort in the same latter, tended to make Lady Lufton anxious to be in London. It was quite certain — there was no doubt of that, at any rate — that Griselda would see no more of Lady Hartletop’s meretricious grandeur when she had been transferred to Lady Lufton’s guardianship. And she, Lady Lufton, did wonder that Mrs Grantly should have taken her daughter to such a house. All about Lady Hartletop was known to the world. It was known that it was almost the only house in London at which the Duke of Omnium was constantly to be met. Lady Lufton herself would almost as soon think of taking a young girl to Gatherum Castle; and on these accounts she did feel rather angry with her friend Mrs Grantly. But then perhaps she did not sufficiently calculate that Mrs Grantly’s letter had been written purposely to produce such feelings — with the express view of awakening her ladyship to the necessity of action. Indeed, in such a matter as this, Mrs Grantly was a more able woman than Lady Lufton — more able to see her way and to follow it out. The Lufton-Grantly alliance was in her mind the best, seeing that she did not regard money as everything. But failing that, the Hartletop-Grantly alliance was not bad. Regarding it as a second string to her bow, she thought that it was not at all bad. Lady Lufton’s reply was very affectionate. She declared how happy she was to know that Griselda was enjoying herself; she insinuated that Lord Dumbello was known to the world as a fool, and his mother as — being not a bit better than she ought to be; and then she added that circumstances would bring herself up to town four days sooner than she had expected, and that she hoped her dear Griselda would come to her at once. Lord Lufton, she said, though he would not sleep in Bruton Street — Lady Lufton lived in Bruton Street — had promised to pass there as much of his time as his parliamentary duties would permit.

O Lady Lufton! Lady Lufton! did not it occur to you when you wrote those last words intending that they should have so strong an effect on the mind of your correspondent that you were telling a — tarradiddle? Was it not the case that you had said to your son, in your own dear, kind, motherly way: ‘Ludovic, we shall see something of you in Bruton Street this year, shall we not? Griselda Grantly will be with me, and we must not let her be dull — must we?’ And then had he not answered, ‘Oh, of course, mother,’ and sauntered out of the room, not altogether graciously? Had he, or you, said a word about his parliamentary duties? Not a word! O Lady Lufton! have you not written a tarradiddle to your friend? In these days we are becoming very strict about truth with our children; terribly strict occasionally, when we consider the natural weakness of the moral courage at the ages of ten, twelve, and fourteen. But I do not know that we are at all increasing the measure of strictness with which we, grown-up people, regulate our own truth and falsehood. Heaven forbid that I should be thought to advocate falsehood in children; but an untruth is more pardonable in them than in parents. Lady Lufton’s tarradiddle was of a nature that is usually considered excusable — at least with grown-up people; but, nevertheless, she would have been nearer to perfection could she have confined herself to the truth. Let us suppose that a boy were to write home from school, saying that another boy had promised to come and stay with him, that other having given no such promise — what a very naughty boy would that first boy be in the eyes of his pastors and masters!

That little conversation between Lord Lufton and his mother — in which nothing was said about his lordship’s parliamentary duties — took place on the evening before he started for London. On that occasion he certainly was not in the best humour, nor did he behave to his mother in the kindest manner. He had then left the room when she began to talk about Miss Grantly; and once again in the course of the evening, when his mother, not very judiciously, said a word or two about Griselda’s beauty; he had remarked that she was no conjurer, and would hardly set the Thames on fire. ‘If she were a conjurer,’ said Lady Lufton, rather piqued, ‘I should not now be going to take her out in London. I know many of those sort of girls whom you call conjurers; they can talk for ever, and always talk loudly or in a whisper. I don’t like them, and I am sure that you do not in your heart.’

‘Oh, as to liking them in my heart — that is being very particular.’

‘Griselda Grantly is a lady, and as such I shall be happy to have her with me in town. She is just the girl that Justinia will like to have with her.’

‘Exactly,’ said Lord Lufton. ‘She will do exceedingly well for Justinia.’ Now this was not good-natured on the part of Lord Lufton; and his mother felt it the more strongly, inasmuch as it seemed to signify that he was setting his back up against the Lufton-Grantly alliance. She had been pretty sure that he would do so in the event of his suspecting that a plot was being laid to catch him; and now it almost appeared that he did suspect such a plot. Why else sarcasm as to Griselda doing very well for his sister?

And now we must go back and describe a little scene at Framley, which will account for his Lordship’s ill-humour and suspicions, and explain how it came to pass that he so snubbed his mother. This scene took place about ten days after the evening on which Mrs Robarts and Lucy were walking together in the parsonage garden, and during those ten days Lucy had not once allowed herself to be entrapped into any special conversation with the young peer. She had dined at Framley Court during that interval, and had spent a second evening there; Lord Lufton had also been up at the parsonage on three or four occasions, and had looked for her in her usual walks; but, nevertheless, they had never come together in their old familiar way, since the day on which Lady Lufton had hinted her fears to Mrs Robarts.

Lord Lufton had very much missed her. At first he had not attributed this change to a purposed scheme of action on the part of any one; nor, indeed, had he much thought about it, although he had felt himself to be annoyed. But as the period fixed for his departure grew near, it did occur to him as very odd that he should never hear Lucy’s voice unless when she said a few words to his mother, or to her sister-inlaw. And then he made up his mind that he would speak to her before he went, and that the mystery should be explained to him. And he carried out his purpose, calling at the parsonage on one special afternoon; and it was on the evening of the same day that his mother sang the praises of Griselda Grantly so inopportunely. Robarts, he knew, was then absent from home, and Mrs Robarts was with his mother down at the house, preparing lists of the poor people to be specially attended to in Lady Lufton’s approaching absence. Taking advantage of this, he walked boldly in through the parsonage garden; asked the gardener, with an indifferent voice, whether either of the ladies were at home, and then caught poor Lucy exactly on the doorstep of the house.

‘Were you going in or out, Miss Robarts?’

‘Well, I was going out,’ said Lucy; and she began to consider how best she might get quit of any prolonged encounter.

‘Oh, going out, were you? I don’t know whether I may offer to —’

‘Well, Lord Lufton, not exactly, seeing that I am about to pay a visit to our near neighbour, Mrs Podgens. Perhaps, you have no particular call towards Mrs Podgens’s just at present, or to her new baby?’

‘And have you any particular call that way?’

‘Yes, and especially to Baby Podgens. Baby Podgens is a real little duck — only just two days old.’ And Lucy, as she spoke, progressed a step or two, as though she were determined not to remain there talking on the doorstep. A slight cloud came across his brow as he saw this, and made him resolve that she should not gain her purpose. He was not going to be foiled in that way by such a girl as Lucy Robarts. He had come there to speak to her, and speak to her he would. There had been enough of intimacy between them to justify him in demanding, at any rate, as much as that.

‘Miss Robarts,’ he said, ‘I am starting for London tomorrow, and if I do not say good-bye to you now, I shall not be able to do so at all.’

‘Good-bye, Lord Lufton,’ she said, giving him her hand, and smiling on him with her old genial, good-humoured, racy smile. ‘And mind you bring into Parliament that law which you promised me for defending my young chickens.’

He took her hand, but that was not all he wanted. ‘Surely Mrs Podgens and her baby can wait ten minutes. I shall not see you again for months to come, and yet you seem to begrudge me two words.’

‘Not two hundred if they can be of any service to you,’ said she, walking cheerily back into the drawing-room; ‘only I did not think it worth while to waste your time, as Fanny is not here.’ She was infinitely more collected, more master of herself than he was. Inwardly, she did tremble at the idea of what was coming, but outwardly she showed no agitation — none as yet; if only she could so possess herself as to refrain from doing so, when she heard what he might have to say to her.

He hardly knew what it was for the saying of which he had so resolutely come hither. He had by no means made up his mind that he loved Lucy Robarts; nor had he made up his mind that, loving her, he would, or that, loving her, he would not, make her his wife. He had never used his mind in the matter in any way, either for good or evil. He had learned to like her and to think that she was very pretty. He had found out that it was very pleasant to talk to her; whereas, talking to Griselda Grantly, and, indeed, to some other young ladies of his acquaintance, was often hard work. The half-hours which he had spent with Lucy had always been satisfactory to him. He had found himself to be more bright with her than with other people, and more apt to discuss subjects worth discussing; and thus it had come about that he thoroughly liked Lucy Robarts. As to whether his affection was Platonic or anti-Platonic he had never asked himself; but he had spoken words to her, shortly before that sudden cessation of their intimacy, which might have been taken as anti-Platonic by any girl so disposed to regard them. He had not thrown himself at her feet, and declared himself to be devoured by a consuming passion; but he had touched her hand as lovers touch those of women whom they love; he had had his confidences with her, talking to her of his own mother, of his sister, and of his friends; and he had called her his own dear friend Lucy. All this had been very sweet to her, but very poisonous also. She had declared to herself very frequently that her liking for this young nobleman was purely a feeling of mere friendship as was that of her brother; and she had professed to herself that she would give the lie to the world’s cold sarcasms on such subjects. But she had now acknowledged that the sarcasms of the world on that matter, cold though they may be, are not the less true; and having so acknowledged, she had resolved that all close alliance between herself and Lord Lufton must be at an end. She had come to a conclusion, but he had come to none; and in this frame of mind he was now there with the object of reopening that dangerous friendship which she had had the sense to close.

‘And so you are going tomorrow?’ she said, as soon as they were both within the drawing-room.

‘Yes: I’m off by the early train tomorrow morning, and Heaven knows when we may meet again.’

‘Next winter, shall we not?’

‘Yes, for a day or two, I suppose. I do not know whether I shall pass another winter here. Indeed, one can never say where one will be.’

‘No, one can’t; such as you, at least, cannot. I am not of a migratory tribe myself.’

‘I wish you were.’

‘I’m not a bit obliged to you. Your nomad life does not agree with young ladies.’

‘I think they are taking to it pretty freely then. We have unprotected young women all about the world.’

‘And great bores you find them, I suppose?’

‘No; I like it. The more we can get out of old-fashioned grooves the better I am pleased. I should be a Radical tomorrow — a regular man of the people — only I should break my mother’s heart.’

‘Whatever you do, Lord Lufton, do not do that.’

‘That is why I like you so much,’ he continued, ‘because you get out of the grooves.’

‘Do I?’

‘Yes; and go along by yourself, guiding your own footsteps; not carried hither and thither, just as your grandmother’s old tramway may chance to take you.’

‘Do you know I have a strong idea that my grandmother’s old tramway will be the safest and the best after all? I have not left it very far, and I certainly mean to go back to it.’

‘That’s impossible! An army of old women, with coils of rope made out of time-honoured prejudices, could not draw you back.’

‘No, Lord Lufton, that is true. But one —’ and then she stopped herself. She could not tell him that one loving mother, anxious for her only son, had sufficed to do it. She could not explain to him that this departure from the established tramway had already broken her own rest, and turned her peaceful happy life into a grievous battle.

‘I know you are trying to go back,’ he said. ‘Do you think that I have eyes and cannot see? Come, Lucy, you and I have been friends, and we must not part in this way. My mother is a paragon among women. I say it in earnest; — a paragon among women: and her love for me is the perfection of motherly love.’

‘It is, it is; and I am so glad that you acknowledge it.’

‘I should be worse than a brute did I not do so; but, nevertheless, I cannot allow her to lead me in all things. Were I to do so, I should cease to be a man.’

‘Where can you find any one who will counsel you so truly?’

‘But, nevertheless, I must rule myself. I do not know whether my suspicions may be perfectly just, but I fancy that she has created this estrangement between you and me. Has it not been so?’

‘Certainly not by speaking to me,’ said Lucy, blushing ruby-red through every vein of her deep-tinted face. But though she could not command her blood, her voice was still under her control — her voice and her manner.

‘But has she not done so? You, I know, will tell me nothing but the truth.’

‘I will tell you nothing on this matter, Lord Lufton, whether true or false. It is a subject on which it does not concern me to speak.’

‘Ah! I understand,’ he said; and rising from his chair, he stood against the chimney-piece with his back to the fire. ‘She cannot leave me alone to choose for myself, my friends, and my own —;’ but he did not fill up the void.

‘But why tell me this, Lord Lufton?’

‘No! I am not to choose my own friends, though they be amongst the best and purest of God’s creatures. Lucy, I cannot think that you have ceased to have a regard for me. That you had a regard for me, I am sure.’ She felt that it was most unmanly of him to seek her out, and hunt her down, and then throw upon her the whole weight of the explanation that his coming thither made necessary. But, nevertheless, the truth must be told, and with God’s help she would find strength for the telling of it.

‘Yes, Lord Lufton, I had a regard for you — and have. By that word you mean something more than the customary feeling of acquaintance which may ordinarily prevail between a gentleman and a lady of different families, who have known each other so short a time as we have done.’

‘Yes, something much more,’ said he with energy.

‘Well, I will not define the much — something closer than that?’

‘Yes, and warmer, and dearer, and more worthy of two human creatures who value each other’s minds and hearts.’

‘Some such closer regard I have felt for you — very foolishly. Stop! You have made me speak, and do not interrupt me now. Does not your conscience tell you that in doing so I have unwisely deserted those wise old grandmother’s tramways of which you spoke just now? It has been pleasant to me to do so. I have liked the feeling of independence with which I thought that I might indulge in an open friendship with such as you are. And your rank, so different from my own, has doubtless made this more attractive.’

‘Nonsense!’

‘Ah! but it has. I know it now. But what will the world say of me as to such an alliance?’

‘The world!’

‘Yes, the world. I am not such a philosopher as to disregard it, though you may afford to do so. The world will say that, I, the parson’s sister, set my cap at the young lord, and that the young lord has made a fool of me.’

‘The world shall say no such thing!’ said Lord Lufton, very imperiously.

‘Ah! but it will. You can no more stop it, than King Canute could the waters. Your mother has interfered wisely to spare me from this; and the only favour that I can ask you is, that you will spare me also.’ And then she got up, as though she intended at once to walk forth to her visit to Mrs Podgens’s baby.

‘Stop, Lucy!’ he said, putting himself between her and the door.

‘It must not be Lucy any longer, Lord Lufton; I was madly foolish when I first allowed it.’

‘By heavens! But it shall be Lucy — Lucy before all the world. My Lucy, my own Lucy — my heart’s best friend, and chosen love. Lucy, there is my hand. How long you may have had my heart it matters not to say now.’ The game was at her feet now, and no doubt she felt her triumph. Her ready wit and speaking lip, not her beauty, had brought him to her side; and now he was forced to acknowledge that her power over him had been supreme. Sooner than leave her he would risk all. She did feel her triumph; but there was nothing in her face to tell him that she did so. As to what she would now do she did not for a moment doubt. He had been precipitated into the declaration he had made not by his love, but by his embarrassment. She had thrown in his teeth the injury which he had done her, and he had then been moved by his generosity to repair that injury by the noblest sacrifice which he could make. But Lucy Robarts was not the girl to accept a sacrifice. He had stepped forward, as though he were going to clasp her round the waist, but she receded, and got beyond the reach of his hand. ‘Lord Lufton!’ she said, ‘when you are more cool you will know that this is wrong. The best for both of us now is to part.’

‘Not the best thing, but the very worst, till we perfectly understand each other.’

‘Then perfectly understand me, that I cannot be your wife.’

‘Lucy! do you mean that you cannot learn to love me?’

‘I mean that I shall not try. Do not persevere in this, or you will have to hate yourself for your own folly.’

‘But I will persevere till you accept my love, or say with your hand on your heart that you cannot and will not love me.’

‘Then I must beg you to let me go,’ and having so said, she paused while he walked once or twice hurriedly up and down the room. ‘And Lord Lufton,’ she continued, ‘if you will leave me now, the words you have spoken shall be as though they had never been uttered.’

‘I care not who knows they have been uttered. The sooner that they are known to all the world the better I shall be pleased, unless indeed —’

‘Think of your mother, Lord Lufton.’

‘What can I do better than give her as a daughter the best and sweetest girl I have ever met? When my mother really knows you, she will love you as I do. Lucy, say one word to me of comfort.’

‘I will say no word that shall injure your future comfort. It is impossible that I should be your wife.’

‘Do you mean that you cannot love me?’

‘You have no right to press me any further,’ she said; and sat down upon the sofa, with an angry frown upon her forehead.

‘By heavens,’ he said, ‘I will take no such answer from you till you put your hand upon your heart, and say that you cannot love me.’

‘Oh, why should you press me so, Lord Lufton?’

‘Why, because my happiness depends upon it; because it behoves me to know the very truth. It has come to this, that I love you with my whole heart, and I must know how your heart stands towards me.’ She had now again risen from the sofa, and was looking steadily in his face.

‘Lord Lufton,’ she said, ‘I cannot love you,’ and as she spoke she did put her hand, as he had desired, upon her heart.

‘Then God help me! for I am wretched. Good-bye, Lucy,’ and he stretched his hand to her.

‘Good-bye, my lord. Do not be angry with me.’

‘No, no, no!’ and without further speech he left the room, and the house and hurried home. It was hardly surprising that he should that evening tell his mother that Griselda Grantly would be a companion sufficiently good for his sister. He wanted no such companion.

And when he was well gone — absolutely out of sight from the window — Lucy walked steadily up to her room, locked the door, and then threw herself on the bed. Why — oh! why had she told such a falsehood? Could anything justify her in a lie? was it not a lie — knowing as she did that she loved him with all her loving heart? But, then, his mother! and the sneers of the world, which would have declared that she had set her trap, and caught the foolish young lord! Her pride would not have submitted to that. Strong as her love was, yet her pride was, perhaps stronger — stronger at any rate during that interview. But how was she to forgive herself the falsehood she had told?

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