Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIII

Is she Not Insignificant?

And now a month went by at Framley without any increase of comfort to our friends there, and also without any absolute development of the ruin which had been daily expected at the parsonage. Sundry letters had reached Mr Robarts from various personages acting in the Tozer interest, all of which he referred to Mr Curling, of Barchester. Some of these letters contained prayers for the money, pointing out how an innocent widow lady had been induced to invest her all in the faith of Mr Robarts’s name, and was now starving in a garret, with her three children, because Mr Robarts would not make good his own undertakings. But the majority of them were filled with threats; — only two days longer would be allowed; and then the sheriff’s officers would be enjoined to do their work; then one day of grace would be added, at the expiration of which the dogs of war would be unloosed. These, as fast as they came, were sent to Mr Curling, who took no notice of them individually, but continued his endeavour to prevent the evil day. The second bill, Mr Robarts would take up — such was Mr Curling’s proposition; and would pay by two instalments of 250L each, the first in two months, and the second in four. If this were acceptable to the Tozer interest — well; if it were not, the sheriff’s officers must do their worst and the Tozer interest must look for what it could get. The Tozer interest would not declare itself satisfied with these terms so the matter went on. During which the roses faded from day to day on the cheeks of Mrs Robarts, as under the circumstances may easily be conceived. In the meantime Lucy still remained at Hogglestock, and had there become absolute mistress of the house. Poor Mrs Crawley had been at death’s door; for some days she was delirious, and afterwards remained so weak as to be almost unconscious; but now the worst was over, and Mr Crawley had been informed, that as far as human judgement might pronounce, his children would not become orphans nor would he become a widower. During these weeks Lucy had not once been home nor had she seen any of the Framley people. ‘Why should she incur the risk of conveying infection for so small an object?’ as she herself argued, by writing letters, which were duly fumigated before they were opened at the parsonage. So she remained at Hogglestock, and the Crawley children, now admitted to all the honours of the nursery, were kept at Framley. They were kept at Framley, although it was expected from day to day that the beds on which they lay would be seized for the payment of Mr Sowerby’s debts. Lucy, as I have said, became mistress of the house at Hogglestock, and made herself absolutely ascendant over Mr Crawley. Jellies, and broth, and fruit, and even butter, came from Lufton Court, which she displayed on the table, absolutely on the cloth before him, and yet he bore it. I cannot say that he partook of these delicacies with any freedom himself, but he did drink his tea when it was given to him although it contained Framley cream; — and, had he known it, Bohea itself from the Framley chest. In truth, these days, he had given himself over to the dominion of this stranger; and he said nothing beyond, ‘Well, well’, with two uplifted hands, when he came upon her as she was sewing the buttons of his own shirts — sewing on the buttons and perhaps occasionally applying her needle elsewhere — not without utility. He said to her at this period very little in the way of thanks.

Some protracted conversations they did have, now and again, during the long evenings; but even in these he did not utter many words as to their present state of life. It was on religion chiefly that he spoke, not lecturing her individually, but laying down his ideas as to what the life of a Christian should be, and especially what should be the life of a minister. ‘But though I can see this, Miss Robarts,’ he said, ‘I am bound to say that no one has fallen off so frequently as myself. I have renounced the devil and all his works; but it is by word of mouth only — by word of mouth only. How shall a man crucify the old Adam that is within him, unless he throw himself prostrate in the dust and acknowledge that all his strength is weaker than water?’ To this, often as it might be repeated, she would listen patiently, comforting him by such words as her theology would supply; but then, when this was over, she would again resume her command and enforce from him a close obedience to her domestic behests.

At the end of the month Lord Lufton came back to Framley Court. His arrival there was quite unexpected; though as he pointed out when his mother expressed some surprise, he had returned exactly at the time named by him before he started.

‘I need not say, Ludovic, how glad I am to have you,’ said she, looking into his face and pressing his arm; ‘the more so, indeed, seeing that I hardly expected it.’

He said nothing to his mother about Lucy the first evening, although there was some conversation respecting the Robarts family.

‘I am afraid that Mr Robarts has embarrassed himself,’ said Lady Lufton, looking very seriously. ‘Rumours reach me which are most distressing. I have said nothing further to anybody as yet — not even to Fanny; but I can see in her face, and hear in the tones of her voice, that she is suffering some great sorrow.’

‘I know all about it,’ said Lord Lufton.

‘You know all about it, Ludovic?’

‘Yes; it is through that precious friend of mine, Mr Sowerby, of Chaldicotes. He has accepted bills for Sowerby; indeed he told me.’

‘What business had he at Chaldicotes? What had he to do with such friends as that? I do not know how I am to forgive him.’

‘It was through me that he became acquainted with Sowerby. You must remember that, mother.’

‘I do not see that as any excuse. Is he to consider that your acquaintances must necessarily be his friends also? It is reasonable to suppose that you in your position must live occasionally with a great many people who are altogether unfit companions for him as a parish clergyman. He will not remember this, and he must be taught it. What business had he to go to Gatherum Castle?’

‘He got his stall at Barchester by going there.’

‘He would be much better without his stall, and Fanny has the sense to know this. What does he want with two houses? Prebendal stalls are for older men than he — for men who have earned them, and who at the end of their lives want some ease. I wish with all my heart that he had never taken it.’

‘Six hundred a year has its charms all the same,’ said Lufton, getting up and strolling out of the room.

‘If Mark really be in any difficulty,’ he said, later in the evening, ‘we must put him on his legs.’

‘You mean, pay his debts?’

‘Yes; he has no debts except these acceptances of Sowerby’s.’

‘How much will it be, Ludovic?’

‘A thousand pounds, perhaps, more or less. I’ll find the money, mother; only I shan’t be able to pay you quite as soon as I intended.’ Whereupon his mother got up, and throwing her arms round his neck declared that she would never forgive him if he ever said a word more about her little present to him. I suppose there is no pleasure a mother can have more attractive than giving away her money to an only son.

Lucy’s name was first mentioned at breakfast the next morning. Lord Lufton had made up his mind to attack his mother on the subject early in the morning — before he went up to the parsonage; but as matters turned out, Miss Robarts’s doings were necessarily brought under discussion without reference to Lord Lufton’s special aspirations regarding her. The fact of Mrs Crawley’s illness had been mentioned, and Lady Lufton had stated how it had come to pass that all the Crawley children were at the parsonage.

‘I must say Fanny has behaved excellently,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘It was just what might have been expected from her. And indeed,’ she added, speaking in an embarrassed tone, ‘so has Miss Robarts. Miss Robarts has remained at Hogglestock and nursed Mrs Crawley through the whole.’

‘Remained at Hogglestock — through the fever!’ exclaimed his lordship.

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Lady Lufton.

‘And is she there now?’

‘Oh, yes; I am not aware that she thinks of leaving just yet.’

‘Then I say it is a great shame — a scandalous shame!’

‘But, Ludovic, it was her own doing.’

‘Oh, yes; I understand. But why should she be sacrificed? Were there no nurses in the country to be hired, but that she must go and remain there for a month at the bedside of a pestilent fever? There is no justice in it.’

‘Justice, Ludovic? I don’t know about justice, but there was great Christian charity. Mrs Crawley has probably owed her life to Miss Robarts.’

‘Has she been ill? Is she ill? I insist upon knowing whether she is ill. I shall go over to Hogglestock myself immediately after breakfast.’ To this Lady Lufton made no reply. If Lord Lufton chose to go to Hogglestock she could not prevent him. She thought, however, that it would be much better that he should stay away. He would be quite as open to the infection as Lucy Robarts; and, moreover, Mrs Crawley’s bedside would be as inconvenient a place as might be selected for any interview between two lovers. Lady Lufton felt at the present moment that she was cruelly treated by circumstances with reference to the Miss Robarts. Of course it would have been her part to lessen, if she could do so without injustice, that high idea which her son entertained of the beauty and worth of the young lady; but, unfortunately, she had been compelled to praise her and to load her name with all manner of eulogy. Lady Lufton was essentially a true woman, and not even with the object of carrying out her own views in so important a matter would she be guilty of such deception as she might have practised by simply holding her tongue; but nevertheless she could hardly reconcile herself to the necessity of singing Lucy’s praises.

After breakfast Lady Lufton got up from her chair, but hung about the room without making any show of leaving. In accordance with her usual custom she would have asked her son what he was going to do; but she did not dare so to inquire now. Had he not declared, only a few minutes since, whither he would go? ‘I suppose I shall see you at lunch?’ at last she said.

‘At lunch? Well, I don’t know. Look here, mother. What am I to say to Miss Robarts when I see her?’ and he leaned with his back against the chimney-piece as he interrogated his mother.

‘What are you going to say to her, Ludovic?’

‘Yes, what am I to say — as coming from you? Am I to tell her that you will receive her as your daughter-inlaw?’

‘Ludovic, I have explained all that to Miss Robarts herself.’

‘Explained what?’

‘I have told her that I did not think that such a marriage would make either you or her happy.’

‘And why have you told her so? Why have you taken upon yourself to judge for me in such a matter, as though I were a child? Mother, you must unsay what you have said.’ Lord Lufton, as he spoke, looked full into his mother’s face; and he did so, not as though he were begging from her a favour, but issuing to her a command. She stood near him, with one hand on the breakfast-table, gazing at him almost furtively, not quite daring to meet the full view of his eye. There was only one thing on earth which Lady Lufton feared, and that was her son’s displeasure. The sun of her earthly heaven shone upon her through the medium of his existence. If she were driven to quarrel with him, as some ladies of her acquaintance were driven to quarrel with their sons, the world for her would be over. Not but what facts might be so strong as to make it absolutely necessary that she should do this. As some people might resolve that, under certain circumstances, they will commit suicide, so she could see that, under certain circumstances, she must consent even to be separated from him. She would not do wrong — not that which she knew to be wrong — even for his sake. If it were necessary that all her happiness should collapse and be crushed in ruin around her, she must endure it, and wait God’s time to relieve her from so dark a world. The light of the sun was very dear to her, but even that might be purchased at too dear a cost.

‘I told you before, mother, that my choice was made, and I asked you then to give your consent; you have now had time to think about it, and therefore I have come to ask you again. I have reason to know that there will be no impediment to my marriage if you will frankly hold out your hand to Lucy.’

The matter was altogether in Lady Lufton’s hands, but, fond as she was of power, she absolutely wished that it were not so. Had her son married without asking her, and then brought Lucy home as his wife, she would undoubtedly would have forgiven him; and much as she might have disliked the match, she would, ultimately, have embraced the bride. But now she was compelled to exercise her judgement. If he married imprudently, it would be her doing. How was she to give her expressed consent to that which she believed to be wrong? ‘Do you know anything against her; any reason why she should not be my wife?’ continued he.

‘If you mean as regards her moral conduct, certainly not,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘But I could say as much as that in favour of a great many young ladies whom I should regard as very ill-suited for such a marriage.’

‘Yes; some might be vulgar, some might be ill-tempered, some might be ugly; others might be burdened with disagreeable connexions. I can understand that you should object to a daughter-inlaw under any of these circumstances. But none to these things can be said of Miss Robarts. I defy you to say that she is not all respects what a lady should be.’

But her father was a doctor of medicine, she is the sister of the parish clergyman, she is only five feet two in height, and is so uncommonly brown. Had Lady Lufton dared to give her catalogue of her objections, such would have been its extent and nature. But she did not dare do this.

‘I cannot say, Ludovic, that she is possessed of all that you should seek in a wife.’ Such was her answer.

‘Do you mean that she has not got money?’

‘No, not that; I should be very sorry to see you making money your chief object, or indeed any essential object. If it chanced that your wife did have money, no doubt you would find it a convenience. But pray understand me, Ludovic; I would not for a moment advise you to subject your happiness to such a necessity as that. It is not because she is without fortune —’

‘Then why is it? At breakfast you were singing her praises, and saying how excellent she was.’

‘If I were forced to put my objection into one word, I should say —’ and then she paused, hardly daring to encounter the frown which was already gathering itself on her son’s brow.

‘You would say what?’ said Lord Lufton, almost roughly.

‘Don’t be angry with me, Ludovic; all that I think, and all that I say on this subject, I think and say with only one object — that of your happiness. What other motive can I have for anything in this world?’ And then she came close to him and kissed him.

‘But tell me, mother, what is this objection; what is this terrible word that is to sum up the list of all poor Lucy’s sins, and prove that she is unfit for married life?’

‘Ludovic, I did not say that. You know that I did not.’

‘What is that word, mother?’

And then at last Lady Lufton spoke it out. ‘She is — insignificant. I believe her to be a very good girl, but she is not qualified to fill the high position to which you would exalt her.’

‘Insignificant!’

‘Yes, Ludovic, I think so.’

‘Then, mother, you do not know her. You must permit me to say that you are talking of a girl whom you do not know. Of all the epithets of opprobrium which the English language could give you, that would nearly be the last she would deserve.’

‘I have not intended any opprobrium.’

‘Insignificant!’

‘Perhaps you do not quite understand me, Ludovic.’

‘I know what insignificant means, mother.’

‘I think that she would not worthily fill the position which your wife should take in the world.’

‘I understand what you say.’

‘She would not do you honour at the head of your table.’

‘Ah, I understand. You want me to marry some bouncing Amazon, some pink and white giantess of fashion who would frighten the little people into their proprieties.’

‘Oh, Ludovic! You are intending to laugh at me now.’

‘I was never less inclined to laugh in my life — never, I can assure you. And now I am more certain than ever that your objection to Miss Robarts arises from your not knowing her. You will find, I think, when you do know her, that she is as well able to hold her own as any lady of your acquaintance — aye, and to maintain her husband’s position too. I can assure you that I shall have no fear of her on that score.’

‘I think, dearest, that perhaps you hardly —’

‘I think this, mother, that in such a matter as this I must choose for myself. I have chosen; and now I ask you, as my mother, to go to her and bid her welcome. Dear mother, I will own this, that I should not be happy if I thought that you did not love my wife.’ These last words he said in a tone of affection that went to his mother’s heart, and then he left the room.

Poor Lady Lufton, when she was alone, waited till she heard her son’s steps retreating through the hall, and then betook herself upstairs to her customary morning work. She sat down at last as though about to occupy herself; but her mind was too full to allow of her taking up her pen. She had often said to herself, in days which to her were not as yet long gone by, that she would choose a bride for her son, and that then she would love the chosen one with all her heart. She would dethrone herself in favour of this new queen, sinking with joy into her dowager state, in order that her son’s wife might shine with the greater splendour. The fondest day-dreams of her life had all had reference to the time when her son should bring home a new Lady Lufton, selected by herself from the female excellence of England, and in which she might be the first to worship her new idol. But could she dethrone herself for Lucy Robarts? Could she give up her chair of state in order to place thereon the little girl from the parsonage? Could she take to her heart, and treat with absolute loving confidence, with the confidence of an almost idolatrous mother, that little chit who, a few months since, had sat awkwardly in one corner of her drawing-room, afraid to speak to any one? And yet it seemed that it must come to this — to this — or else those day-dreams of hers would in nowise come to pass. She sat herself down, trying to think whether it were possible that Lucy might fill the throne; for she had begun to recognize it as probable that her son’s will would be too strong for her; but her thoughts would fly away to Griselda Grantly. In her first and only matured attempt to realize her day-dreams, she had chosen Griselda for her queen. She had failed there, seeing that Fates had destined Miss Grantly for another throne; for another and higher one, as far as the world goes. She would have made Griselda the wife of a baron, but fate was about to make that young lady the wife of a marquis. Was there cause for grief in this? Did she really regret that Miss Grantly, with all her virtues, should be made over to the house of Hartletop? Lady Lufton was a woman who did not bear disappointment lightly; but nevertheless she did almost feel herself to have been relieved from a burden when she thought of the termination of the Lufton-Grantly marriage treaty. What if she had been successful, and, after all, the prize had been other than she had expected? She was sometimes prone to think that that prize was not exactly all that she had once hoped. Griselda looked the very thing that Lady Lufton wanted for a queen; but how would a queen reign who trusted only to her looks? In that respect it was perhaps well for her that destiny had interposed. Griselda, she was driven to admit, was better suited to Lord Dumbello than to her son. But still — such a queen as Lucy! Could it ever come to pass that the lieges of the kingdom would bow the knee in proper respect before so puny a sovereign? And then there was that feeling which, in still higher quarters, prevents the marriage of princes with the most noble of their people. Is it not a recognized rule of these realms that none of the blood royal shall raise to royal honours those of the subjects who are by birth unroyal? Lucy was a subject of the house of Lufton in that she was the sister of the parson and a resident denizen of the parsonage. Presuming that Lucy herself might do for a queen — granting that she might have some faculty to reign, the crown having been duly placed on her brow — how, then, about that clerical brother near the throne? Would it not come to this, that there would no longer be a queen at Framley? And yet she knew that she must yield. She did not say so to herself. She did not as yet acknowledge that she must put out her hand to Lucy, calling her by name as her daughter. She did not absolutely say as much to her own heart — not as yet. But she did begin to bethink herself of Lucy’s high qualities, and to declare to herself that the girl, if not fit to be a queen, was at any rate fit to be a woman. That there was a spirit within that body, insignificant though the body might be, Lady Lufton was prepared to admit. That she had acquired the power — the chief of all powers in this world — of sacrificing herself for the sake of others; that, too, was evident enough. That she was a good girl, in the usual acceptation of the word good, Lady Lufton never doubted. She was ready-witted, too, prompt in action, gifted with a certain fire. It was that gift of fire which had won for her, so unfortunately, Lord Lufton’s love. It was quite possible for her also to love Lucy Robarts; Lady Lufton admitted that to herself; but then who could bow the knee before her, and serve her as a queen? Was it not a pity that she should be so insignificant?

But, nevertheless, we may say that as Lady Lufton sate that morning in her own room for two hours without employment, the star of Lucy Robarts was gradually rising in the firmament. After all, love was the food chiefly necessary for the nourishment of Lady Lufton — the only food necessary. She was not aware of this herself, nor probably would those who knew her best have so spoken of her. They would have declared that family pride was her daily pabulum, and she herself would have said so too, calling it, however, by some less offensive name. Her son’s honour, and the honour of her house! —-of those she would have spoken as the things dearest to her in this world. And this was partly true, for had her son been dishonoured, she would have sunk with sorrow to the grave. But the one thing necessary to her daily life was the power of loving those who were dear to her. Lord Lufton, when he left the dining-room, intended at once to go up to the parsonage, but he first strolled round the garden in order that he might make up his mind what he would say there. He was angry with his mother, having not had the wit to see that she was about to give way and yield to him, and he was determined to make it understood that in this matter he would have his own way. He had learned that which it was necessary that he should know as to Lucy’s heart, and such being the case he would not conceive it possible that he should be debarred by his mother’s opposition. ‘There is no son in England loves his mother better than I do,’ he said to himself; ‘but there are some things which a man cannot stand. She would have married me to that block of stone if I would have let her; and now, because she is disappointed there — Insignificant! I never in my life heard anything so absurd, so untrue, so uncharitable, so — She’d like me to bring a dragon home, I suppose. It would serve her right if I did — some creature that would make the house intolerable to her.’ ‘She must do it though,’ he said again, ‘or she and I will quarrel,’ and then he turned off towards the gate, preparing to go to the parsonage.

‘My lord have you heard what has happened?’ said the gardener, coming to him at the gate. The man was out of breath, and almost overwhelmed by the greatness of his own tidings.

‘No; I have heard nothing. What is it?’

‘The bailiffs have taken possession of everything at the parsonage.’

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