Lady Lufton had been greatly rejoiced at that good deed which her son did in giving up his Leicestershire hunting, and coming to reside for the winter at Framley. It was proper, and becoming, and comfortable in the extreme. An English nobleman ought to hunt in the county where he himself owns the fields over which he rides; he ought to receive the respect and honour due to him from his own tenants; he ought to sleep under a roof of his own, and he ought also — so Lady Lufton thought — to fall in love with a young embryo bride of his mother’s choosing. And then it was so pleasant to have him there in the house. Lady Lufton was not a woman who allowed her life to be what people in common parlance call dull. She had too many duties, and thought too much of them, to allow of her suffering from tedium and ennui. But nevertheless the house was more joyous to her when he was there. There was a reason for some little gaiety, which would never have been attracted thither by herself, but by which, nevertheless, she did enjoy when it was brought about by his presence. She was younger and brighter when he was there, thinking more of the future and less of the past. She could look at him, and that alone was happiness to her. And then he was pleasant-mannered with her; joking with her on her little old-world prejudices in a tone that was musical to her ear as coming from him; smiling on her, reminding her of those smiles which she had loved so dearly when as yet he was still her own, lying there in his little bed beside her chair. He was kind and gracious to her, behaving like a good son, at any rate while he was there in her presence. When we add to this, her fears that he might not be so perfect in his conduct when absent, we may well imagine that Lady Lufton was pleased to have him at Framley Court.
She had hardly said a word to him as that five thousand pounds. Many a night, as she lay thinking on her pillow, she said to herself that no money had ever been better expended, since it had brought him back to his own home. He had thanked her for it in his own open way, declaring that he would pay it back to her during the coming year, and comforting her heart by his rejoicing that the property had not been sold. ‘I don’t like the idea of parting with an acre of it,’ he had said.
‘Of course not, Ludovic. Never let the estate decrease in your hands. It is only by such resolutions as that that English noblemen and English gentlemen can preserve their country. I cannot bear to see property changing hands.’
‘Well, I suppose it’s a good thing to have land in the market sometimes, so that the millionaires may know what to do with their money.’
‘God forbid that yours should be there!’ And the widow made a little mental prayer that her son’s acres might be protected from the millionaires and other Philistines.
‘Why, yes; I don’t exactly want to see a Jew tailor investing his earnings at Lufton.’ said the lord.
‘Heaven forbid!’ said the widow. All this, as I have said, was very nice. It was manifest to her ladyship, from his lordship’s way of talking, that no vital injury had as yet been done: he had no cares on his mind, and spoke freely about the property: but nevertheless there were clouds even now, at this period of bliss, which somewhat obscured the brilliancy of Lady Lufton’s sky. Why was Ludovic so slow in that affair of Griselda Grantly? Why so often in these latter winter days did he saunter over to the parsonage? And then that terrible visit to Gatherum Castle! What actually did happen at Gatherum Castle, she never knew. We, however, are more intrusive, less delicate in our enquiries, and we can say. He had a very bad day’s sport with the West Barsetshire. The county is altogether short of foxes, and some one who understands the matter must take that point up before they can do any good. And after that he had had rather a dull dinner with the duke. Sowerby had been there, and in the evening he and Sowerby had played billiards. Sowerby had won a pound or two, and that had been the extent of the damage done. But those saunterings over to the parsonage might be more dangerous. Not that it ever occurred to Lady Lufton as possible that her son should fall in love with Lucy Robarts. Lucy’s personal attraction were not of a nature to give grounds for such a fear as that. But he might turn the girl’s head with his chatter; she might be fool enough to fancy any folly; and, moreover, people would talk. Why should he go to the parsonage now more frequently than he had ever done before Lucy came there?
And then her ladyship, in reference to the same trouble, hardly knew how to manage her invitations to the parsonage. These hitherto had been very frequent, and she had been in the habit of thinking that they could hardly be too much so; but now she was almost afraid to continue the custom. She could not ask the parson and his wife without Lucy; and when Lucy was there, her son would pass the greater part of the evening in talking to her, or playing chess with her. Now this did disturb Lady Lufton not a little. And then Lucy took it all so quietly. On her first arrival at Framley she had been so shy, so silent, and so much awestruck by the grandeur of Framley Court, that Lady Lufton had sympathized with her and encouraged her. She had endeavoured to moderate the blaze of her own splendour, in order that Lucy’s unaccustomed eyes might not be dazzled. But all this was changed now. Lucy could listen to the young lord’s voice by the hour together — without being dazzled in the least. Under these circumstances two things occurred to her. She would speak either to her son or to Fanny Robarts, and by a little diplomacy have this evil remedied. And then she had to determine on which step she would take. ‘Nothing could be more reasonable than Ludovic.’ So at least she said to herself over and over again. But then Ludovic understood nothing about such matters; and had, moreover, a habit, inherited from his father, of taking the bit between his teeth whenever he suspected interference. Drive him gently without pulling his mouth about, and you might take him anywhere, almost at any pace; but a smart touch, let it be ever so slight, would bring him on his haunches, and then it might be a question whether you could get him another mile that day. So that on the whole Lady Lufton thought that the other plan would be the best. I have no doubt that Lady Lufton was right.
She got Fanny up into her own den one afternoon, and seated her discreetly in an easy arm-chair, making her guest take off her bonnet, and showing by various signs that her visit was regarded as one of great moment. ‘Fanny,’ she said, ‘I want to speak to you about something that is important and necessary to mention, and yet it is a very delicate affair to speak of.’ Fanny opened her eyes and said that she hoped that nothing was wrong. ‘No, my dear, I think nothing is wrong: I hope so, and I think I may say I’m sure of it; but then it’s always well to be on one’s guard.’
‘Yes, it is,’ said Fanny, who knew that something unpleasant was coming — something as to which she might be called upon to differ from her ladyship. Mrs Robarts’s own fears, however, were running entirely in the direction of her husband; — and, indeed, Lady Lufton had a word to two to say on that subject also, only not exactly now. A hunting parson was not at all to her taste; but that matter might be allowed to remain in abeyance for a few days.
‘Now, Fanny, you know that we have all liked your sister-inlaw, Lucy, very much.’ And then Mrs Robarts’s mind was immediately opened, and she knew the rest as well as though it had been all spoken. ‘I need hardly tell you that, for I an sure we have shown it.’
‘You have indeed, as you always do.’
‘And you must not think that I am going to complain,’ continued Lady Lufton.
‘I hope there is nothing to complain of,’ said Fanny, speaking by no means in a defiant tone, but humbly as it were, and deprecating her ladyship’s wrath. Fanny had gained one signal victory over Lady Lufton, and on that account, with a prudence equal to her generosity, felt that she could afford to be submissive. It might, perhaps, not be long before she would be equally anxious to conquer again.
‘Well, no; I don’t think there is,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘Nothing to complain of; but a little chat between you and me may, perhaps, set matters right, which, otherwise, might become troublesome.’
‘Is it about Lucy?’
‘Yes, my dear — about Lucy. She is a very nice, good girl, and a credit to her father —’
‘And a great comfort to us,’ said Fanny.
‘I am sure she is; she must be a very pleasant companion to you, and so useful about the children; but —’ And then Lady Lufton paused for moment; for she, eloquent and discreet as she always was, felt herself rather at a loss for words to express her exact meaning.
‘I don’t know what I should do without her,’ said Fanny, speaking with the object of assisting her ladyship in her embarrassment.
‘But the truth is this: she and Lord Lufton are getting in the way of being too much together — of talking to each other too exclusively. I am sure you must have noticed it, Fanny. It is not that I suspect any evil. I don’t think that I am suspicious by nature.’
‘Oh! no,’ said Fanny.
‘But they will each of them get wrong ideas about the other, and about themselves. Lucy will, perhaps, think that Ludovic means more than he does, and Ludovic will —’ But it was not quite so easy to say what Ludovic might do or think; but Lady Lufton went on:
‘I am sure that you understand me, Fanny, with your excellent sense and tact. Lucy is clever, and amusing, and all that; and Ludovic, like all young men, is perhaps ignorant that his attentions may be taken to mean more than he intends —’
‘You don’t think that Lucy is in love with him?’
‘On, dear no — nothing of the kind. If I thought it had come to that, I should recommend that she should be sent away altogether. I am sure she is not so foolish as that.’
‘I don’t think there is anything in it at all, Lady Lufton.’
‘I don’t think there is, my dear, and therefore I would not for worlds make any suggestion about it to Lord Lufton. I would not let him suppose that I suspected Lucy of being so imprudent. But still, it may be well that you should just say a word to her. A little management now and then, in such matters is so useful.’
‘But what shall I say to her?’
‘Just explain to her that any young lady who talks so much to the same young gentleman will certainly be observed — that people will accuse her of setting her cap at Lord Lufton. Not that I suspect her — I give her credit for too much proper breeding: I know her education has been good, and her principles are upright. But people will talk of her. You must understand that, Fanny, as well as I do.’ Fanny could not help meditating whether proper feeling, education, and upright principles did forbid Lucy Robarts to fall in love with Lord Lufton; but her doubts on this subject, if she held any, were not communicated to her ladyship. It had never entered into her mind that a match was possible between Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts, nor had she the slightest wish to encourage it now that the idea was suggested to her. On such a matter she would sympathize with Lady Lufton, though she did not completely agree with her as to the expediency of any interference. Nevertheless, she at once offered to speak to Lucy. ‘I don’t think that Lucy has any idea in her head upon the subject,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘I dare say not — I don’t suppose she has. But young ladies sometimes allow themselves to fall in love, and then to think themselves very ill-used just because they have had no idea in their head.’
‘I will put her on her guard if you wish it, Lady Lufton.’
‘Exactly, my dear; that is just it. Put her on her guard — that is all that is necessary. She is a dear, good, clever girl, and it would be very sad if anything were to interrupt our comfortable way of getting on with her.’ Mrs Robarts knew to a nicety the exact meaning of this threat. If Lucy should persist in securing to herself so much of Lord Lufton’s time and attention, her visits to Framley Court must become less frequent. Lady Lufton would do much, very much indeed, for her friends at the parsonage; but not even for them could she permit her son’s prospects in life to be so endangered. There was nothing more said between them, and Mrs Robarts got up to take her leave, having promised to speak to Lucy.
‘You manage everything so perfectly,’ said Lady Lufton, as she pressed Mrs Robarts’s hand, ‘that I am quite at ease now that I find you will agree with me.’ Mrs Robarts did not exactly agree with her ladyship, but she hardly thought it worth her while to say so. Mrs Robarts immediately started off on her walk to her own home, and when she had got out of the grounds into the road, where it makes a turn towards the parsonage, nearly opposite to Podgens’ shop, she saw Lord Lufton on horseback, and Lucy standing beside him. It was already five o’clock, and it was getting dusk; but as she approached, or rather as she came suddenly within sight of them, she could see that they were in close conversation. Lord Lufton’s face was towards her, and his horse was standing still; he was leaning over towards his companion, and the whip, which he held in his right hand, hung almost over her arm and down her back, as though his hand had touched and perhaps rested on her shoulder. She was standing by his side, looking up into his face, with one gloved hand resting on the horse’s neck. Mrs Robarts, as she saw them, could not but own that there might be cause for Lady Lufton’s fears. But then Lucy’s manner, as Mrs Robarts approached, was calculated to dissipate any such fears and to prove that there was no ground for them. She did not move from her position, or allow her hand to drop, or show that she was in any way either confused or conscious. She stood her ground, and when her sister-inlaw came up was smiling and at her ease. ‘Lord Lufton wants me to learn to ride,’ said she.
‘To learn to ride!’ said Fanny, not knowing what answer to make to such a proposition.
‘Yes,’ said he. ‘This horse would carry her beautifully: he is as quiet as a lamb, and I made Gregory go out with him yesterday with a sheet hanging over him like a lady’s habit, and the man got up into a lady’s saddle.’
‘I think Gregory would make a better hand of it than Lucy.’
‘The horse cantered with him as though he had carried a lady all his life, and his mouth is like velvet; indeed, that is his fault — he is too soft-mouthed.’
‘I suppose that’s the same sort of thing as a man being soft-hearted,’ said Lucy.
‘Exactly; you ought to ride them both with a very light hand. They are difficult cattle to manage, but very pleasant when you know how to do it.’
‘But you see I don’t know how to do it,’ said Lucy.
‘As regards the horse, you will learn in two days, and I do hope you will try. Don’t you think it will be an excellent thing for her, Mrs Robarts?’
‘Lucy has got no habit,’ said Mrs Robarts, making use of the excuse common on all such occasions.
‘There is one of Justinia’s in the house, I know. She always leaves one here, in order that she may be able to ride when she comes.’
‘She would not think of taking such a liberty with Lady Meredith’s things,’ said Fanny, almost frightened at the proposal.
‘Of course it is out of the question, Fanny,’ said Lucy, now speaking rather seriously. ‘In the first place, I would not take Lord Lufton’s horse; in the second place, I would not take Lady Meredith’s habit; in the third place, I should be a great deal too much frightened; and, lastly, it is quite out of the question for a great many other very good reasons.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Lord Lufton.
‘A great deal of nonsense,’ said Lucy, laughing, ‘but all of it of Lord Lufton’s talking. But we are getting cold — are we not, Fanny? —-so we will wish you good-night.’ And then the two ladies shook hands with him, and walked on towards the parsonage. That which astonished Mrs Robarts the most in all this was the perfectly collected manner in which Lucy spoke and conducted herself. This, connected, as she could not but connect, with the air of chagrin with which Lord Lufton received Lucy’s decision, made it manifest to Mrs Robarts that Lord Lufton was annoyed because Lucy would not consent to learn to ride; whereas she, Lucy herself, had given her refusal in a firm and decided tone, as though resolved that nothing more should be said about it. They walked on in silence for a minute or two, till they reached the parsonage gates, and then Lucy said, laughing, ‘Can’t you fancy me sitting on that great big horse? I wonder what Lady Lufton would say if she saw me there, and his lordship giving me my first lesson?’
‘I don’t think she would like it,’ said Fanny.
‘I’m sure she would not. But I will not try her temper in that respect. Sometimes I fancy she does to even like seeing Lord Lufton talking to me.’
‘She does not like it, Lucy, when she sees him flirting with you.’ This Mrs Robarts said rather gravely, whereas Lucy had been speaking in a half-bantering tone. As soon as even the word flirting was out of Fanny’s mouth, she was conscious that she had been guilty of an injustice in using it. She had wished to say something which would convey to her sister-inlaw an idea of what Lady Lufton would dislike; but in doing so, she had unintentionally brought against her an accusation.
‘Flirting, Fanny!’ said Lucy, standing still in the path, and looking up into her companion’s face with all her eyes. ‘Do you mean to say that I have been flirting with Lord Lufton?’
‘I did not say that.’
‘Or that I have allowed him to flirt with me?’
‘I did not mean to shock you, Lucy.’
‘What did you mean, Fanny?’
‘Why, just this: that Lady Lufton would not be pleased if he paid you marked attentions, and if you received them; just like that affair of riding; it was better to decline it.’
‘Of course I declined it; of course I never dreamt of accepting such an offer. Go riding about the country on his horses! What have I done, Fanny, that you should suppose such a thing?’
‘You have done nothing, dearest.’
‘Then why did you speak as you did just now?’
‘Because I wished to put you on your guard. You know, Lucy, that I do not intend to find fault with you; but you may be sure, as a rule, that intimate friendships between young gentlemen and young ladies are dangerous things.’ They then walked up to the hall-door in silence. When they reached it, Lucy stood in the doorway instead of entering it, and said, ‘Fanny, let us take another turn together if you are not tired.’
‘No, I’m not tired.’
‘It will be better that I should understand you at once,’— and then they again moved away from the house. ‘Tell me truly now, do you think that Lord Lufton and I have been flirting?’
‘I do think he is a little inclined to flirt with you.’
‘And Lady Lufton has been asking you to lecture me about it?’ Poor Mrs Robarts hardly knew what to say. She thought well of all the persons concerned; and was very anxious to behave well by all of them; — was particularly anxious to create no ill feeling, and wished that everybody would be comfortable, and on good terms with everybody else. But yet the truth was forced out of her when this question was asked so suddenly. ‘Not to lecture you, Lucy,’ she said at last.
‘Well, to preach to me, or to talk to me, or to give me a lesson; to say something that shall drive me to put my back up against Lord Lufton?’
‘To caution you, dearest. Had you heard what she said, you would hardly have felt angry with Lady Lufton.’
‘Well, to caution me. It is such a pleasant thing for a girl to be cautioned against falling in love with a gentleman, especially when the gentleman is very rich, and a lord, and all that sort of thing.’
‘Nobody for a moment attributes anything wrong to you, Lucy.’
‘Anything wrong — no. I don’t know whether it would be anything wrong, even if I were to fall in love with him. I wonder whether they cautioned Griselda Grantly when she was here? I suppose when young lords go about, all the girls are cautioned as a matter of course. Why do they not label him “dangerous”?’ And then they were again silent for a moment, as Mrs Robarts did not feel that she had anything further to say on the matter.
‘“Poison” should be the word with any one so fatal as Lord Lufton; and he ought to be made up of some particular colour; for fear he should be swallowed by mistake.’
‘You will be safe, you see,’ said Fanny laughing, ‘as you have been specially cautioned as to this individual bottle.’
‘Ah! but what’s the use of that after I have had so many doses? It is no good telling me about it now; when the mischief is done — after I have been taking it for I don’t know how long. Dear! Dear! Dear! And I regarded it as a more commonplace powder, good for the complexion. I wonder whether it’s too late, or whether there’s any antidote?’ Mrs Robarts did not always quite understand her sister-inlaw, and now she was a little at a loss. ‘I don’t think there’ much harm done yet on either side,’ said she, cheerily.
‘Ah! you don’t know, Fanny. But I do think that if I die — as I shall — I feel I shall; — and if so, I do think it ought to go very hard with Lady Lufton. Why didn’t she label him “dangerous” in time?’ And then they went into the house and up to their own rooms. It was difficult for any one to understand Lucy’s state of mind at present, and it can hardly be said that she understood it herself. She felt that she had received a severe blow in having been thus made the subject of remark with reference to Lord Lufton. She knew that her pleasant evenings at Framley Court were now over, and that she could not again talk to him in an unrestrained tone and without embarrassment. She had felt the air of the whole place to be very cold before her intimacy with him, and now it must be cold again. Two homes had been open to her; Framley Court and the parsonage; and no, as far as comfort was concerned, she must confine herself to the latter. She could not again be comfortable in Lady Lufton’s drawing-room. But then she could not help asking herself whether Lady Lufton was not right. She had had courage enough, and presence of mind, to joke about the matter when her sister-inlaw spoke to her, and yet she was quite aware that it was no joking matter. Lord Lufton had not absolutely made love to her, but had latterly spoken to her in a manner which she knew was not compatible with that ordinary comfortable masculine friendship with the idea of which she had once satisfied herself. Was not Fanny right when she said that intimate friendships of that nature were dangerous things?
Yes, Lucy, very dangerous. Lucy, before she went to bed that night, had owned to herself that they were so; and lying there with sleepless eyes and a moist pillow, she was driven to confess that the label would in truth be now too late, that the caution had come to her after the poison had been swallowed. Was there any antidote? That was all that was left for her to consider. But, nevertheless, on the following morning she could appear quite at her ease. And when Mark had left the house after breakfast, she could still joke with Fanny as to Lady Lufton’s poisoned cupboard.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55