Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXIV

Lady Lufton is Taken by Surprise

Lord Lufton, as he returned to town, found some difficulty in resolving what step he would next take. Sometimes, for a minute or two, he was half inclined to think — or rather to say to himself — that Lucy was perhaps not worth the trouble which she threw in his way. He loved her very dearly, and would willingly make her his wife, he thought or said at such moments; but — Such moments, however, were only moments. A man in love seldom loves less because his love becomes difficult. And thus, when those moments were over, he would determine to tell his mother at once, and urge her to signify her consent to Miss Robarts. That she would not be quite pleased he knew; but if he were firm enough to show that he had a will of his own in this matter, she would probably not gainsay him. He would not ask this humbly, as a favour, but request her ladyship to go through the ceremony as though it were one of those motherly duties which she as a good mother could not hesitate to perform on behalf of her son. Such was the final resolve with which he reached his chambers in the Albany. On the next day he did not see his mother. It would be well, he thought, to have his interview with her immediately before he started for Norway, so that there might be no repetition of it; and it was on the day before he did start that he made his communication, having invited himself to breakfast in Brook Street on the occasion.

‘Mother,’ he said, quite abruptly, throwing himself into one of the dining-room chairs. ‘I have a thing to tell you.’ His mother at once knew that the thing was important, and with her own peculiar motherly instinct imagined that the question to be discussed had reference to matrimony. Had her son desired to speak to her about money, his tone and look would have been different; as would also have been the case — in a different way — had he entertained any thought of a pilgrimage to Peking, or a prolonged fishing excursion to the Hudson Bay Territories.

‘A thing, Ludovic! well, I am quite at liberty.’

‘I want to know what you think of Lucy Robarts?’ Lady Lufton became pale and frightened, and the blood ran cold to her heart. She had feared more than rejoiced in conceiving that her son was about to talk of love, but she had feared nothing so bad as this.

‘What do I think of Lucy Robarts?’ she said, repeating her son’s words in a tone of evident dismay.

‘Yes, mother; you have said once or twice lately that you thought I ought to marry, and I am beginning to think so too. You selected one clergyman’s daughter for me, but that lady is going to do much better with herself —’

‘Indeed she is not,’ said Lady Lufton sharply.

‘And therefore I rather think I shall select for myself another clergyman’s sister. You don’t dislike Miss Robarts, I hope?’

‘Oh, Ludovic!’ It was all that Lady Lufton could say at the spur of the moment.

‘Is there any harm in her! Have you any objection to her? Is there anything about her that makes her unfit to be my wife?’

For a moment or two Lady Lufton sat silent, collecting her thoughts. She thought that there was a very great objection to Lucy Robarts, regarding her as the possible future Lady Lufton. She could hardly have stated all her reasons, but they were very cogent. Lucy Robarts had, in her eyes, neither beauty, nor style, nor manner, nor even the education which was desirable. She was almost as far removed from being so as a woman could be in her position. But, nevertheless, there were certain worldly attributes which she regarded as essential to the character of any young lady who might be considered fit to take the place which she herself had so long filled. It was her desire in looking for a wife for her son to combine these with certain moral excellences which she regarded as equally essential. Lucy Robarts might have the moral excellences, or she might not; but as to the other attributes Lady Lufton regarded her as altogether deficient. She could never look like a Lady Lufton, or carry herself in the county as a Lady Lufton should do. She had not that quiet personal demeanour — that dignity of repose — which Lady Lufton loved to look upon in a young married woman of rank. Lucy, she would have said, could be nobody in a room except by dint of her tongue, whereas Griselda Grantly would have held her peace for a whole evening, and yet would have impressed everybody by the majesty of her presence. Then again, Lucy had no money — and, again Lucy was only the sister of her own parish clergyman. People are rarely prophets in their own country, and Lucy was no prophet at Framley; she was none, at least, in the eyes of Lady Lufton. Once before, as may be remembered, she had had fears on this subject — fears, not so much for her son, whom she could hardly bring herself to suspect of such a folly, but for Lucy, who might be foolish enough to fancy that the lord was in love with her. Alas! alas! Her son’s question fell upon the poor woman at the present moment with the weight of a terrible blow. ‘Is there anything about her which makes her unfit to be my wife?’ Those were her son’s last words.

‘Dearest Ludovic, dearest Ludovic!’ and she got up and came over to him, ‘I do think so; I do, indeed.’

‘Think what?’ said he, in a tone that was almost angry.

‘I do think that she is unfit to be your wife. She is not of that class from which I would wish to see you choose.’

‘She is of the same class as Griselda Grantly.’

‘No, dearest. I think you are in error there. The Grantlys have moved in a different sphere of life. I think you must feel that they are —’

‘Upon my word, mother, I don’t. One man is Rector of Plumstead, and the other is Vicar of Framley. But it is no good arguing that. I want you to take to Lucy Robarts. I have come to you on purpose to ask it of you as a favour.’

‘Do you mean as your wife, Ludovic?’

‘Yes; as my wife.’

‘Am I to understand that you are — are engaged to her?’

‘Well, I cannot say that I am — not actually engaged to her. But you may take this for granted that, as far as it lies in my power, I intend to become so. My mind is made up, and I certainly shall not alter it.’

‘And the young lady knows all this?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Horrid, sly, detestable, underhand girl,’ Lady Lufton said to herself, not being by any means brave enough to speak out such language before her son. What hope could there be if Lord Lufton had already committed himself by a positive offer? ‘And her brother, and Mrs Robarts; are they aware of it?’

‘Yes; both of them.’

‘And both approve of it?’

‘Well, I cannot say that. I have not seen Mrs Robarts, and do not know what may be her opinion. To speak my mind honestly about Mark, I do not think he does cordially approve. He is afraid of you, and would be desirous of knowing what you think.’

‘I am glad, at any rate, to hear that,’ said Lady Lufton, gravely. ‘Had he done anything to encourage this, it would have been very base.’ And then there was another short period of silence. Lord Lufton had determined not to explain to his mother the whole state of the case. He would not tell her that everything depended on her word — that Lucy was ready to marry him only on condition that she, Lady Lufton, would desire her to do so. He would not let her know that everything depended on her — according to Lucy’s present verdict. He had a strong disinclination to ask his mother’s permission to get married; and he would have to ask it were he to tell her the whole truth. His object was to make her think well of Lucy, and to induce her to be kind, and generous, and affectionate down at Framley. Then things would all turn out comfortably when he again visited that place, as he intended to do on his return from Norway. So much he thought it possible he might effect, relying on his mother’s probable calculation that it would be useless for her to oppose a measure which she had no power of stopping by her authority. But were he to tell her that she was to be the final judge, that everything was to depend on her will, then, so thought Lord Lufton, that permission would in all probability be refused.

‘Well, mother, what answer do you intend to give me?’ he said. ‘My mind is positively made up. I should not have come to you had not that been the case. You will now be going down home, and I would wish you to treat Lucy as you yourself would wish to treat any girl to whom you knew that I was engaged.’

‘But you say that you are not engaged.’

‘No, I am not; but I have made my offer to her, and I have not been rejected. She has confessed that she — loves me — -not to myself, but to her brother. Under these circumstances, may I count upon your obliging me?’ There was something in his manner which almost frightened his mother, and made her think that there was more behind this than was told to her. Generally speaking, his manner was open, gentle, and unguarded; but now he spoke as though he had prepared his words, and was resolved on being harsh as well as obstinate.

‘I am so much taken by surprise, Ludovic, that I can hardly give you an answer. If you ask whether I approve of such a marriage, I must say that I do not; I think that you would be throwing yourself away marrying Miss Robarts.’

‘That is because you do not know her.’

‘May it not be possible that I know her better than you do, dear Ludovic? You have been flirting with her —’

‘I hate that word; it always sounds to me to be vulgar.’

‘I will say making love to her, if you like it better; and gentlemen under these circumstances will sometimes become infatuated.’

‘You would not have a man marry a girl without making love to her. The fact is, mother, that your tastes and mine are not exactly the same; you like silent beauty, whereas I like talking beauty, and then —’

‘Do you call Miss Robarts beautiful?’

‘Yes, I do; very beautiful; she has the beauty that I admire. Good-bye now, mother; I shall not see you again before I start. It will be no use writing, as I shall be away for so short a time, and I don’t quite know where we shall be. I shall come down to Framley immediately I return, and shall learn from you how the land lies. I have told you my wishes, and you will consider how far you think it right to fall in with them.’ He then kissed her, and without waiting for a reply, he took his leave. Poor Lady Lufton, when she was left to herself, felt that her head was going round and round. Was this to be the end of all her ambition — of all her love for her son? and was this the result of all her kindness to the Robarts’s? She almost hated Mark Robarts as she reflected that she had been the means of bringing him and his sister to Framley. She thought over all his sins, his absences from the parish, his visit to Gatherum Castle, his dealings with reference to that farm which was to have been sold, his hunting, and then his acceptance of that stall, given, as she had been told, through the Omnium interest. How could she love him at such a moment as this? And then she thought of his wife. Could it be possible that Fanny Robarts, her own friend Fanny, would be so untrue to her as to lend any assistance to such a marriage as this; as not to use all her power in preventing it? She had spoken to Fanny on this very subject — not fearing for her son, but with a general idea of the impropriety of intimacies between such girls as Lucy, and such men as Lord Lufton, and then Fanny had agreed with her. Could it be possible that even she must be regarded as an enemy? And then by degrees Lady Lufton began to reflect what steps she had better take. In the first place, should she give in at once, and consent to the marriage? The only thing quite certain to her was this, that life would be not worth having if she were forced into a permanent quarrel with her son. Such an event would probably kill her. When she read of quarrels in other noble families — and the accounts of such quarrels will sometimes, unfortunately, force themselves upon the attention of my unwilling readers — she would hug herself, with a spirit that was almost pharisaical, reflecting that her destiny was not like that of others. Such quarrels and hatreds between fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons, were in her eyes disreputable to all the persons concerned. She had lived happily with her husband, comfortably with her neighbours, respectably with the world, and, above all things, affectionately with her children. She spoke everywhere of Lord Lufton as though he were nearly perfect — and in so speaking, she had not belied her convictions. Under these circumstances, would not any marriage be better than a quarrel? But, then, again, how much of the pride of her daily life would be destroyed by such a match as that! And might it not be within her power to prevent it without any quarrel? That her son would be sick of such a chit as Lucy before he had been married to her six months — of that Lady Lufton entertained no doubt, and therefore her conscience would not be disquieted in disturbing the consummation of an arrangement so pernicious. It was evident that the matter was not considered as settled even by her son; and also evident that he regarded the matter as being in some way dependent on his mother’s consent. On the whole, might it not be better for her — better for them all — that she should think wholly of her duty, and not of the disagreeable results to which that duty might possibly lead? It could not be her duty to accede to such an alliance; and therefore she would do her best to prevent it. Such, at least, should be her attempt in the first instance.

Having so decided, she next resolved on her course of action. Immediately on her arrival at Framley, she would send for Lucy Robarts, and use all her eloquence — and perhaps also a little of that stern dignity for which she was so remarkable — in explaining to that young lady how very wicked it was on her part to think of forcing herself on such a family as that of the Luftons. She would explain to Lucy that no happiness could come of it, that people placed by misfortune above their sphere are always miserable; and, in short, make use of all those excellent moral lessons which are so customary on such occasions. The morality might perhaps be thrown away; but Lady Lufton depended much on her dignified sternness. And then, having so resolved, she prepared for her journey home. Very little had been said at Framley parsonage about Lord Lufton’s offer after the departure of that gentleman; very little, at least, in Lucy’s presence. That the parson and his wife should talk about it between themselves was a matter of course; but very few words were spoken on the matter either by or to Lucy. She was left to her own thoughts, and possibly to her own hopes. And then other matters came up at Framley which turned the current of interest into other tracks. In the first place there was the visit made by Mr Sowerby to the Dragon of Wantly, and the consequent revelation made by Mark Robarts to his wife. And while that latter subject was yet new, before Fanny and Lucy had as yet made up their minds as to all the little economies which might be practised in the household without serious detriment to their master’s comfort, news reached them that Mrs Crawley of Hogglestock had been stricken with fever. Nothing of the kind could well be more dreadful than this. To those who knew the family it seemed impossible that their most ordinary wants could be supplied if that courageous head were even for a day laid low; and then the poverty of poor Mr Crawley was such that the sad necessities of a sick bed could hardly be supplied without assistance. ‘I will go over at once,’ said Fanny.

‘My dear!’ said her husband, ‘it is typhus, and you must think of the children. I will go.’

‘What on earth could you do, Mark?’ said his wife. ‘Men on such occasions are almost worse than useless; and then they are so much more liable to infection.’

‘I have no children, nor am I a man,’ said Lucy, smiling; ‘for both of which exemptions I am thankful. I will go, and when I come back I will keep clear of the bairns.’

So it was settled, and Lucy started in the pony-carriage, carrying with her such things from the parsonage storehouse as were thought to be suitable to the wants of the sick lady at Hogglestock. When she arrived there, she made her way into the house, finding the door open, and not being able to obtain the assistance of the servant girl in ushering her in. In the parlour she found Grace Crawley, the eldest child, sitting demurely in her mother’s chair nursing an infant. She, Grace herself, was still a young child, but not the less, on this occasion of well-understood sorrow, did she go through her task with zeal but almost with solemnity. Her brother, a boy of six years old, was with her, and he had the care of another baby. There they sat in a cluster, quiet, grave, and silent, attending on themselves, because it had been willed by fate that no one else should attend them. ‘How is your mamma, dear Grace?’ said Lucy, walking up to her and holding out her hand.

‘Poor mamma is very ill indeed,’ said Grace.

‘And papa is very unhappy,’ said Bobby, the boy.

‘I can’t get up because of baby,’ said Grace; ‘but Bobby can go and call papa out.’

‘I will knock at the door,’ said Lucy; and so saying she walked up to the bedroom door, and tapped against it lightly. She repeated this for the third time before she was summoned in by a low hoarse voice, and then on entering she saw Mr Crawley standing by the bedside with a book in his hand. He looked at her uncomfortably, in a manner which seemed to show that he was annoyed by this intrusion, and Lucy was aware that she had disturbed him while at prayers by the bedside of his wife. He came across the room, however, and shook hands with her, and answered her inquiries in his ordinary grave and solemn voice. ‘Mrs Crawley is very ill,’ he said —‘very ill. God has stricken us heavily, but His will be done. But you had better not go to her, Miss Robarts. It is typhus.’

The caution, however, was too late; for Lucy was already at the bedside, and had taken the hand of the sick woman, which had been extended on the coverlid to greet her. ‘Dear Miss Robarts,’ said a weak voice; ‘this is very good of you; but it makes me unhappy to see you here.’ Lucy lost no time in taking sundry matters into her own hands, and ascertaining what was most wanted in that wretched household. For it was wretched enough. Their only servant, a girl of sixteen, had been taken away by her mother as soon as it became known that Mrs Crawley was ill with fever. The poor mother, to give her her due, had promised to come down morning and evening herself, to do such work as might be done in an hour or so; but she could not, she said, leave her child to catch the fever. And now, at the period of Lucy’s visit, no step had been taken to procure a nurse, Mr Crawley having resolved to take upon himself the duties of that position. In his absolute ignorance of all sanitary measures, he had thrown himself on his knees to pray; and if prayers — true prayers — might succour his poor wife, of such succour she might be confident. Lucy, however, thought that other aid was wanting to her. ‘If you can do anything for us,’ said Mrs Crawley, ‘let it be for the poor children.’

‘I will have them all moved from this till you are better,’ said Lucy boldly.

‘Moved!’ said Mr Crawley, who even now — even in his present strait — felt a repugnance to the idea that any one should relieve him of any portion of his burden.

‘Yes,’ said Lucy; ‘I am sure it will be better that you should lose them for a week or two, till Mrs Crawley may be able to leave the room.’

‘But where are they to go?’ said he, very gloomily. As to this Lucy was not as yet able to say anything. Indeed when she left Framley parsonage there had been no time for discussion. She would go back and talk it over with Fanny, and find out in what way the children might be best put out of danger. Why should they not all be harboured at the parsonage, as soon as assurance could be felt that they were not tainted with the poison of the fever? An English lady of the right sort will do all things but one for a sick neighbour; but for no neighbour will she wittingly admit contagious sickness within the precincts of her own nursery. Lucy unloaded her jellies and her febrifuges, Mr Crawley frowning at her bitterly the while. It had come to this with him, that food had been brought into his house, as an act of charity, in his very presence, and in his heart of hearts he disliked Lucy Robarts in that she had brought it. He could not cause the jars and the pots to be replaced in the pony-carriage, as he would have done had the position of his wife been different. In her state it would have been barbarous to refuse them, and barbarous also to have created the fracas of a refusal; but each parcel that was introduced was an additional weight laid on the sore withers of his pride, till the total burden became almost unbearable. All this his wife saw and recognized even in her illness, and did make some light ineffectual efforts to give him ease; but Lucy in her new power was ruthless, and the chicken to make the chicken-broth was taken out of the basket under his very nose. But Lucy did not remain long. She had made up her mind what it behoved her to do herself, and she was soon ready to return to Framley. ‘I shall be back again, Mr Crawley,’ she said, ‘probably this evening, and I shall stay with her till she is better.’ ‘Nurses don’t want rooms,’ she went on to say, when Mr Crawley muttered something about there being no bed-chamber. ‘I shall make up some sort of litter near her; you’ll see that I shall be very snug.’ And then she got into the pony-chaise, and drove herself home.

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