I trust my readers will all remember how Puck the pony was beaten during that drive to Hogglestock. It may be presumed that Puck himself on that occasion did not suffer much. His skin was not so soft as Mrs Robarts’s heart. The little beast was full of oats and all the good things of this world, and therefore, when the whip touched him, he would dance about and shake his little ears, and run on at a tremendous pace for twenty yards, making his mistress think that he had endured terrible things. But, in truth, during those whippings Puck was not the chief sufferer. Lucy had been forced to declare — forced by the strength of her own feelings, and by the impossibility of assenting to the propriety of a marriage between Lord Lufton and Miss Grantly — she had been forced to declare that she did care about Lord Lufton as much as though he were her brother. She had said all this to herself — nay, much more than this — very often. But now she had said it out loud to her sister-inlaw; and she knew that what she had said was remembered, considered, and had, to a certain extent, become the cause of altered conduct. Fanny alluded very seldom to the Luftons in casual conversation, and never spoke about Lord Lufton unless when her husband made it impossible that she should not speak of him. Lucy had attempted on more than one occasion to remedy this, by talking about the young lord in a laughing, and, perhaps, half-jeering way; she had been sarcastic as to his hunting and shooting, and had boldly attempted to say a word in joke about his love for Griselda. But she felt that she had failed; that she had failed altogether as regarded Fanny; and that as to her brother, she would more probably be the means of opening his eyes, than have any effect in keeping them closed. So she gave up her efforts and spoke no further word about Lord Lufton. Her secret had been told, and she knew that it had been told. At this time the two ladies were left a great deal alone together in the drawing-room at the parsonage; more, perhaps, than had ever yet been the case since Lucy had been there. Lady Lufton was away, and therefore the almost daily visit to Framley Court was not made; and Mark in these days was a great deal at Barchester, having, no doubt, very onerous duties to perform before he could be admitted as one of the chapter. He went into, what he was pleased to call residence, almost at once. That is, he took his month of preaching, aiding also, in some slight and very dignified way, in the general Sunday morning services. He did not exactly live at Barchester, because the house was not ready. That at least was the assumed reason. The chattels of Dr Stanhope, the late prebendary, had not been as yet removed, and there was likely to be some little delay, creditors asserting their right to them. This might have been very inconvenient to a gentleman anxiously expecting the excellent house which the liberality of past ages had provided for his use; but it was not so felt by Mr Robarts. If Dr Stanhope’s family or creditors would keep the house for the next twelve months, he would be well pleased. And by this arrangement he was enabled to get through his first month of absence from the church at Framley without any notice from Lady Lufton, seeing that Lady Lufton was in London all the time. This was also convenient, and taught our young prebendary to look in his new preferment more favourably than he had hitherto done.
Fanny and Lucy were thus left much alone: and as out of the full head the mouth speaks, so is the full heart more prone to speak at such periods of confidence as these. Lucy, when she first thought of her own state, determined to endow herself with a powerful gift of reticence. She would never tell her love, certainly; but neither would she let concealment feed on her damask cheek, nor would she ever be found for a moment sitting like Patience on a monument. She would fight her own fight bravely within her own bosom, and conquer her enemy altogether. She would either preach, or starve, or weary her love into subjection, and no one should be a bit the wiser. She would teach herself to shake hands with Lord Lufton without a quiver, and would be prepared to like his wife amazingly — unless indeed that wife should be Griselda Grantly. Such were her resolutions; but at the end of the first week they were broken into shivers and scattered to the winds. They had been sitting in the house together the whole of one wet day; and as Mark was to dine at Barchester with the dean, they had had dinner early, eating with the children almost in their laps. It is so that ladies do, when their husbands leave them to themselves. It was getting dusk towards evening, and they were sitting in the drawing-room, the children now having retired, when Mrs Robarts for the fifth time since her visit to Hogglestock began to express her wish that she could do some good to the Crawleys — to Grace Crawley in particular, who, standing up there at her father’s elbow, learning Greek irregular verbs, had appeared to Mrs Robarts to be an especial object of pity.
‘I don’t know how to set about it,’ said Mrs Robarts. Now any allusion to that visit to Hogglestock always drove Lucy’s mind back to the consideration of the subject which had most occupied it at the time. She at such moments remembered how she had beaten Puck, and how in her half-bantering but still too serious manner she had apologized for doing so, and had explained the reason. And therefore she did not interest herself about Grace Crawley as vividly as she should have done. ‘No; one never does,’ she said.
‘I was thinking about it all day as I drove home,’ said Fanny. ‘The difficulty is this: What can we do with her?’
‘Exactly,’ said Lucy, remembering the very point of the road at which she had declared that she did like Lord Lufton very much.
‘If we could have her here for a month or so and then send her to school; — but I know Mr Crawley would not allow us to pay for her schooling.’
‘I don’t think he would,’ said Lucy, with her thoughts far removed from Mr Crawley and his daughter Grace.
‘And then we should not know what to do with her, should we?’
‘No; you would not.’
‘It would never do to have the poor girl about the house here, with no one to teach her anything. Mark would not teach her Greek verbs, you know.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Lucy, you are not attending to a word I say to you, and I don’t think you have for the last hour. I don’t believe you know what I am talking about.’
‘Oh, yes, I do — Grace Crawley; I’ll try and teach her if you like, only I don’t know anything myself.’
‘That’s not what I mean at all, and you know I would not ask you to take such a task on yourself. But I do think you might talk it over with me.’
‘Might I? very well; I will. What is it? Oh, Grace Crawley — you want to know who is to teach her the irregular Greek verbs. Oh, dear, Fanny, my head does ache so; pray don’t be angry with me.’ And then Lucy, throwing herself back on the sofa, put one hand up painfully to her forehead, and altogether gave up the battle. Mrs Robarts was by her side in a moment.
‘Dearest Lucy, what is it makes your head ache so often now? You used not to have those headaches.’
‘It’s because I’m growing stupid: never mind. We will go on about poor Grace. It would not do to have a governess, would it?’
‘I can see that you are not well, Lucy,’ said Mrs Robarts, with a look of deep concern. ‘What is it, dearest? I can see that something is the matter.’
‘Something the matter! No, there’s not; nothing worth talking of. Sometimes I think I’ll go back to Devonshire and live there. I could stay with Blanche for a time, and then get a lodging in Exeter.’
‘Go back to Devonshire!’ and Mrs Robarts looked as though she thought that her sister-inlaw was going mad. ‘Why do you want to go away from us? This is to be your own, own home, always now.’
‘Is it? Then I am in a bad way. Oh dear, oh dear, what a fool I am! What an idiot I’ve been! Fanny, I don’t think I can stay here; and I do wish I’d never come. I do — do — do, though you look at me so horribly,’ and jumping up she threw herself into her sister-inlaw’s arms and began kissing her violently. ‘Don’t pretend to be wounded, for you know that I love you. You know that I could live with all my life, and think you were perfect — as you are; but —’
‘Has Mark said anything?’
‘Not a word — not a ghost of a syllable. It is not Mark; oh, Fanny!’
‘I am afraid I know what you mean,’ said Mrs Robarts in a low tremulous voice, and with deep sorrow painted on her face.
‘Of course you do; of course you know; you have known it all along; since that day in the pony carriage. I knew that you knew it. You do not dare to mention his name; would not that tell me that you know it? And I, I am hypocrite enough for Mark; but my hypocrisy won’t pass muster before you. And, now, had I not better go to Devonshire?’
‘Dearest, dearest Lucy.’
‘Was I not right about that labelling? O heavens! what idiots we girls are! That a dozen soft words should have bowled me over like a ninepin, and left me without an inch of ground to call my own. And I was so proud of my own strength; so sure that I should never be missish, and spoony, and sentimental! I was so determined to like him as Mark does, or you —’
‘I shall not like him at all if he has spoken words to you that he should not have spoken.’
‘But he has not.’ And then she stopped a moment to consider. ‘No, he has not. He never said a word to me that would make you angry with him if you knew of it. Except, perhaps, that he called me Lucy; and that was my fault, not his.’
‘Because you talked of soft words.’
‘Fanny, you have no idea what an absolute fool I am, what an unutterable ass. The soft words of which I tell you were of the kind which he speaks to you when he asks you how the cow gets on which he sent to you from Ireland, or to Mark about Ponto’s shoulder. He told me that he knew papa, and that he was at school with Mark, and that as he was such good friends with you here at the parsonage, he must be good friends with me too. No; it has not been his fault. The soft words which did the mischief were such as those. But how well his mother understood the world! In order to have been safe, I should not have dared to look at him.’
‘But, dearest Lucy —’
‘I know what you are going to say, and I admit it all. He is no hero. There is nothing on earth wonderful about him. I never heard him say a single word of wisdom, or utter a thought that was akin to poetry. He devotes all his energies to riding after a fox or killing poor birds, and I never heard of his doing a single great action in my life. And yet —’ Fanny was so astounded by the way her sister-inlaw went on, that she hardly knew how to speak. ‘He is an excellent son, I believe,’ at last she said.
‘Except when he goes to Gatherum Castle. I’ll tell you what he has: he has fine straight legs, and a smooth forehead, and a good-humoured eye, and white teeth. Was it possible to see such a catalogue of perfections, and not fall down, stricken to the very bone? But it was not that that did it all, Fanny. I could have stood against that. I think I could at least. It was his title that killed me. I had never spoken to a lord before. Oh, me! what a fool, what a beast I have been!’ And then she burst out into tears. Mrs Robarts, to tell the truth, could hardly understand poor Lucy’s ailment. It was evident enough that her misery was real; but yet she spoke of herself and her sufferings with so much irony, with so near an approach to joking, that it was very hard to tell how far she was in earnest. Lucy, too, was so much given to a species of badinage which Mrs Robarts did not always quite understand, that the latter was afraid sometimes to speak out what came uppermost to her tongue. But now that Lucy was absolutely in tears, and was almost breathless with excitement, she could not remain silent any longer. ‘Dearest Lucy, pray do not speak in that way; it will all come right. Things always do come right when no one has acted wrongly.’
‘Yes, when nobody has done wrongly. That’s what papa used to call begging the question. But I’ll tell you what, Fanny; I will not be beaten. I will either kill myself or get through it. I am so heartily self-ashamed that I owe it to myself to fight the battle out.’
‘To fight what battle, dearest?’
‘This battle. Here, now, at the present moment I could not meet Lord Lufton. I should have to run like a scared fowl if he were to show himself within the gate; and I should not dare to go out of the house, if I knew that he was in the parish.’
‘I don’t see that, for I am sure you have not betrayed yourself.’
‘Well, no; as for myself, I believe I have done the lying and the hypocrisy pretty well. But, dearest Fanny, you don’t know half; and you cannot and must not know.’
‘But I thought you said there had been nothing whatever between you.’
‘Did I? Well, to you I have not said a word that was not true. I said that he had spoken nothing that it was wrong for him to say. It could not be wrong — But never mind. I’ll tell you what I mean to do. I have been thinking of it for the last week — only I shall have to tell Mark.’
‘If I were you, I would tell him all.’
‘What, Mark! If you do, Fanny, I’ll never, never, never speak to you again. Would you — when I have given you all my heart in true sisterly love?’ Mrs Robarts had to explain that she had not proposed to tell anything to Mark herself, and was persuaded, moreover, to give a solemn promise that she would not tell anything to him unless specially authorized to do so.
‘I’ll go into a home, I think,’ continued Lucy. ‘You know what these homes are?’ Mrs Robarts assured her that she knew very well, and then Lucy went on: ‘A year ago I should have said that I was the last girl in England to think of such a life, but I do believe now that it would be the best thing for me. And then I’ll starve myself, and flog myself, and, in that way I’ll get back my own mind and my own soul.’
‘Your own soul, Lucy,’ said Mrs Robarts, in a tone of horror.
‘Well, my own heart, if you like it better; but I hate to hear myself talking about hearts. I don’t care for my heart. I’d let it go — with this popinjay lord or any one else, so that I could read, and talk, and walk, and sleep, and eat, without always feeling that I was wrong here — here — here —’ and she pressed her hand vehemently against her side. ‘What is it that I feel, Fanny? Why am I so weak in body that I cannot take exercise? Why cannot I keep my mind on a book for one moment? Why can I not write two sentences together? Why should every mouthful that I eat stick in my throat? Oh, Fanny, is it his legs, think you, or is it his title?’ Through all her sorrow — and she was very sorrowful — Mrs Robarts could not help smiling. And, indeed, there was every now and then something even in Lucy’s look that was almost comic. She acted the irony so well with which she strove to throw ridicule on herself! ‘Do laugh at me,’ she said. ‘Nothing on earth will do me so much good as that; nothing, unless it be starvation and a whip. If you would only tell me that I must be a sneak and an idiot to care for a man because he is good-looking and a lord!’
‘But that has not been the reason. There is a great deal more in Lord Lufton than that; and since I must speak, dear Lucy, I cannot but say that I should not wonder at your being in love with him, only — only that —’
‘Only what? Come, out with it. Do not mince matters, or think that I shall be angry with you because you scold me.’
‘Only that I should have thought that you would have been too guarded to have — have cared for any gentleman till — till he had shown that he cared for you.’
‘Guarded! Yes, that’s it; that’s just the word. But it’s he that should have been guarded. He should have had a fire-guard hung before him, or a love-guard, if you will. Guarded! Was I not guarded, till you all would drag me out? Did I want to go there? And when I was there, did I not make a fool of myself, sitting in a corner, and thinking how much better placed I should have been down in the servants’ hall. Lady Lufton — she dragged me out, and then cautioned me, and then, then — Why is Lady Lufton to have it all her own way? Why am I to be sacrificed for her? I did not want to know Lady Lufton, or any one belonging to her.’
‘I cannot think that you have any cause to blame Lady Lufton, nor, perhaps, to blame anybody very much.’
‘Well, no, it has been all my own fault; though, for the life of me, Fanny, going back and back, I cannot see where I took the first false step. I do not know where I went wrong. One wrong thing I did, and it is the only thing that I do not regret.’
‘What was that, Lucy?’
‘I told him a lie.’
Mrs Robarts was altogether in the dark, and feeling that she was so, she knew that she could not give counsel as a friend or sister. Lucy had begun by declaring — so Mrs Robarts thought — that nothing had passed between her and Lord Lufton but words of most trivial import, and yet she now accused herself of falsehood, and declared that that falsehood was the only thing which she did not regret!
‘I hope not,’ said Mrs Robarts. ‘If you did, you were very unlike yourself.’
‘But I did, and were he here again, speaking to me in the same way, I should repeat it. I know I should. If I did not, I should have all the world on me. You would frown on me, and be cold. My darling Fanny, how would you look if I really displeasured you?’
‘I don’t think you will do that, Lucy.’
‘But if I told him the truth, I should, should I not? Speak now. But no, Fanny, you need not speak. It was not the fear of you; no, nor even of her: though Heaven knows that her terrible glumness would be quite unendurable.’
‘I cannot understand you, Lucy. What truth or what untruth can you have told him, if, as you say, there has been nothing between you but ordinary conversation?’
Lucy then got up from the sofa, and walked twice the length of the room before she spoke. Mrs Robarts had all the ordinary curiosity — I was going to say, of a woman, but I mean to say, of humanity; and she had, moreover, all the love of a sister. She was both curious and anxious, and remained sitting where she was, silent, and her eyes fixed on her companion. ‘Did I say so?’ Lucy said at last. ‘No, Fanny, you have mistaken me — I did not say that. Ah, yes, about the cow and the dog. All that was true. I was telling you of what his soft words had been while I was becoming such a fool. Since that he has said more.’
‘What more has he said, Lucy?’
‘I yearn to tell you, if only I can trust you;’ and Lucy knelt down at the feet of Mrs Robarts, looking up into her face and smiling through the remaining drops of her tears. ‘I would fain tell you, but I do not know you yet — whether you are quite true. I could be true — true against all the world, if my friend told me. I will tell you, Fanny, if you say that you can be true. But if you doubt yourself, if you must whisper all to Mark — then let us be silent.’
There was something almost awful in this to Mrs Robarts. Hitherto, since their marriage, hardly a thought had passed through her mind which she had not shared with her husband. But now all this had come upon her so suddenly, that she was unable to think whether it would be well that she should become the depository of such a secret — not to be mentioned to Lucy’s brother, not to be mentioned to her own husband. But who ever yet was offered a secret and declined it? Who at least ever declined a love secret? What sister could do so? Mrs Robarts, therefore, gave the promise, smoothing Lucy’s hair as she did so, and kissing her forehead and looking into her eyes, which, like a rainbow, were the brighter for her tears. ‘And what has he said to you, Lucy?’
‘What? Only this, that he asked me to be his wife.’
‘Lord Lufton proposed to you?’
‘Yes; he proposed to me. It is not credible, is it? You cannot bring yourself to believe such a thing happened, can you?’ And Lucy rose again to her feet, as the idea of the scorn with which she felt others would treat her — with which she had treated herself — made the blood rise to her cheek. ‘And yet it is not a dream — I think that it is not a dream. I think that he really did.’
‘Well, I may say that I am sure.’
‘A gentleman would not make you a formal proposal and leave you in doubt as to what he meant.’
‘Oh dear, no. There was no doubt at all of that kind — none in the least. Mr Smith, in asking Miss Jones to do him the honour of becoming Mrs Smith, never spoke more plainly. I was alluding to the possibility of having dreamt it all.’
‘Well, it was not a dream. Here, standing here, on this very spot — on that flower of the carpet — he begged me a dozen times to be his wife. I wonder whether you and Mark would let me cut it out and keep it.’
‘And what answer did you make to him?’
‘I lied to him, and told him that I did not love him.’
‘You refused him?’ ‘Yes; I refused a live lord. There is some satisfaction in having that to think of, is there not? Fanny, was I wicked to tell that falsehood?’
‘And why did you refuse him?’
‘Why? Can you ask? Think of what it would have been to go down to Framley Court, and to tell her ladyship, in the course of conversation, that I was engaged to her son. Think of Lady Lufton. But yet it was not that, Fanny. Had I thought that it was good for him, that he would not have repented, I would have braved anything — for his sake. Even for your frown, for you would have frowned. You would have thought it sacrilege for me to marry Lord Lufton! You know you would.’
Mrs Robarts hardly knew how to say what she thought, or indeed what she ought to think. It was a matter on which much meditation would be required before she could give advice, and there was Lucy expecting counsel from her at that very moment. If Lord Lufton really loved Lucy Robarts, and was loved by Lucy Robarts, why should not they two become man and wife? And yet she did feel that it would be — perhaps not sacrilege, as Lucy had said, but something almost as troublesome. What would Lady Lufton say, or think and feel? What would she say, and think, and feel as to that parsonage from which so deadly a blow would fall upon her? Would she not accuse the vicar and the vicar’s wife of the blackest ingratitude? Would life be endurable at Framley under such circumstances as those?
‘What you tell me so surprises me, that I hardly as yet know how to speak about it,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘It was amazing, was it not? He must have been insane at the time; there can be no other excuse for him. I wonder whether there is anything of that sort in the family?’
‘What; madness?’ said Mrs Robarts, quite in earnest.
‘Well, don’t you think he must have been mad when such an idea as that came into his head? But you don’t believe it; I can see that. And yet it is as true as heaven. Standing exactly here, on this spot, he said that he would persevere till I accepted his love. I wonder what made me specially observe that both his feet were within the lines of that division.’
‘And you would not accept his love?’
‘No; I would have nothing to say to it. Look you, I stood here, and putting my hand upon my heart — for he bade me do that — I said that I could not love him.’
‘And what then?’
‘He went away — with a look as though he were heart-broken. He crept away slowly, saying that he was the most wretched soul alive. For a minute I believed him, and could almost have called him back; but no, Fanny, do not think that I am over proud, or conceited about my conquest. He had not reached the gate before he was thanking God for his escape.’
‘That I do not believe.’
‘But I do; and I thought of Lady Lufton too. How could I bear that she should scorn me, and accuse me of stealing her son’s heart? I know that it is better as it is; but tell me — is a falsehood always wrong, or can it be possible that the end should justify the means? Ought I to have told him the truth, and to have let him know that I could almost kiss the ground on which he stood?’
This was a question for the doctors which Mrs Robarts would take upon herself to answer. She would not make that falsehood a matter of accusation, but neither would she pronounce for it any absolution. In that matter Lucy must regulate her own conscience.
‘And what shall I do next?’ said Lucy, still speaking in a tone that was half tragic and half jeering.
‘Do?’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘Yes, something must be done. If I were a Mediterranean I should go to Switzerland, of course; or, as the case is a bad one, perhaps as far as Hungary. What is it that girls do? They don’t die nowadays, I believe.’
‘Lucy, I do not believe that you care for him one jot. If you were in love you would not speak of it like that.’
‘There, there. That’s my only hope. If I could laugh at myself till it had become incredible to you, I also, by degrees, should cease to believe that I had cared for him. But, Fanny, it is very hard. If I were to starve, and rise before daybreak, and pinch myself, or do some nasty work — clean the pots and pans and the candlesticks; that I think would do the most good. I have got a piece of sack-cloth, and I mean to wear that, when I have made it up.’
‘You are joking now, Lucy, I know.’
‘No, by my word; not in the spirit of what I am saying. How shall I act upon my heart, if I do not go through the blood and flesh?’
‘Do you not pray that God will give you strength to bear these troubles?’
‘But how is one to word one’s prayer, or how even to word one’s wishes? I do not know what is the wrong that I have done. I say it boldly; in this matter I cannot see my own fault. I have simply found that I have been a fool.’
It was now quite dark in the room, or would have been so to any one entering afresh. They had remained there talking till their eyes had become accustomed to the gloom, and would still have remained, had they not suddenly been disturbed by the sound of a horse’s feet.
‘There is Mark,’ said Fanny, jumping up and running to the bell, that lights might be ready when he should enter.
‘I thought he remained in Barchester to-night.’
‘And so did I; but he said it might be doubtful. What shall we do if he has not dined?’ That, I believe, is always the first thought in the mind of a good wife when her husband returns home. Has he had his dinner? What can I give him for dinner? Will he like his dinner? Oh dear, oh dear! there is nothing in the house but cold mutton. But on this occasion the lord of the mansion had dined, and came home radiant with good humour, and owing, perhaps, a little of his radiance to the dean’s claret. ‘I have told them,’ said he, ‘that they may keep possession of the house for the next two months, and they have agreed to that arrangement.’
‘That is very pleasant,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘And I don’t think we shall have so much trouble about the dilapidation after all.’
‘I am very glad of that,’ said Mrs Robarts. But nevertheless she was thinking more of Lucy than of the house in Barchester Close.
‘You won’t betray me,’ said Lucy, as she gave her sister-inlaw a parting kiss at night.
‘No; not unless you give me permission.’
‘Ah; I shall never do that.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14