Lucy, as she drove herself home, had much as to which it was necessary that she should arouse her thoughts. That she would go back and nurse Mrs Crawley through her fever she was resolved. She was free agent enough to take so much on herself, and to feel sure that she could carry it through. But how was she to redeem her promise about the children? Twenty plans ran through her mind, as to farm-houses in which they might be placed, or cottages which might be hired for them; but all these entailed the want of money; and at the present moment, were not all the inhabitants of the parsonage pledged to a dire economy? This use of the pony-carriage would have been illicit under any circumstances less pressing than the present, for it had been decided that the carriage, and even poor Puck himself, should be sold. She had, however, given her promise about the children, and though her own stock of money was very low, that promise should be redeemed.
When she reached the parsonage she was of course full of her schemes, but she found that another subject of interest had come up in her absence, which prevented her from obtaining the undivided attention of her sister-inlaw to her present plans. Lady Lufton had returned that day, and immediately on her return had sent up a note addressed to Miss Lucy Robarts, which note was in Fanny’s hands when Lucy stepped out of the pony-carriage. The servant who brought it had asked for an answer, and a verbal answer had been sent, saying that Miss Robarts was away from home, and would herself send a reply when she returned. It cannot be denied that the colour came to Lucy’s face, and that her hand trembled when she took the note from Fanny in the drawing-room. Everything in the world to her might depend on what that note contained; and yet she did not open it at once, but stood with it in her hand, and when Fanny pressed her on the subject, still endeavoured to bring back the conversation to the subject of Mrs Crawley. But yet her mind was intent on that letter, and she had already augured ill from the handwriting and even from the words of the address. Had Lady Lufton intended to be propitious, she would have directed her letter to Miss Robarts, without the Christian name; so at least argued Lucy — quite unconsciously, as one does argue in such matters. One forms half the conclusions of one’s life without any distinct knowledge that the premises have even passed through one’s mind. They were now alone together, as Mark was out. ‘Won’t you open the letter?’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘Yes, immediately; but, Fanny, I must speak to you about Mrs Crawley first. I must go back there this evening, and stay there; I have promised to do so, and shall certainly keep my promise. I have promised also that the children shall be taken away, and we must arrange about that. It is dreadful, the state she is in. There is no one to see to her but Mr Crawley, and the children are together left by themselves.’
‘Do you mean that you are going back there to stay?’
‘Yes, certainly; I have made a distinct promise that I would do so. And about the children; could not you manage for the children, Fanny — not perhaps in the house; at least not at first, perhaps?’ And yet during all the time that she was thus speaking and pleading for the Crawleys, she was endeavouring to imagine what might be the contents of that letter which she had between her fingers.
‘And is she so very ill?’ asked Mrs Robarts.
‘I cannot say how ill she may be, except this, that she certainly has typhus fever. They had some doctor or doctor’s assistant from Silverbridge; but it seems to me that they are greatly in want of better advice.’
‘But, Lucy, will you not read your letter? It is astonishing to me that you should be so indifferent about it.’ Lucy was anything but indifferent, and now did proceed to tear the envelope. The note was very short, and ran in these words —
“MY DEAR MISS ROBARTS, “I am particularly anxious to see you, and shall feel much obliged to you if you can step over to me here, at Framley Court. I must apologize for taking this liberty with you, but you will probably feel that an interview here would suit us both better than at the parsonage. “Truly yours “M. LUFTON”
‘There; I am in for it now,’ said Lucy, handing the note over to Mrs Robarts. ‘I shall have to be talked to as never poor girl was talked to before: and when one thinks of what I have done, it is hard.’
‘Yes; and of what you have not done.’
‘Exactly; and of what I have not done. But I suppose I must go,’ and she proceeded to re-tie the strings of her bonnet, which she had loosened.
‘Do you mean that you are going over at once?’
‘Yes; immediately. Why not? it will be better to have it over, and then I can go to the Crawleys. But, Fanny, the pity of it is that I know it all as well as though it had been already spoken; and what good can there be in my having to endure it? Can’t you fancy the tone in which she will explain it to me, the conventional inconveniences which arose when King Cophetua would marry the beggar’s daughter? how she will explain what Griselda went through; — not the archdeacon’s daughter, but the other Griselda?’
‘But it came right with her.’
‘Yes; but then I am not Griselda, and she will explain how it would certainly all go wrong with me. But what’s the good when I know it all beforehand? Have I not desired King Cophetua to take himself and sceptre elsewhere?’ And then she started, having first said another word or two about the Crawley children, and obtained a promise of Puck and the pony-carriage for the afternoon. It was almost agreed that Puck on his return to Framley should bring back the four children with him; but on this subject it was necessary that Mark should be consulted. The present scheme was to prepare for them a room outside the house, once the dairy, at present occupied by the groom and his wife; and to bring them into the house as soon as it was manifest that there was no danger from infection. But all this was to be matter for deliberation. Fanny wanted her to send over a note, in reply to Lady Lufton’s, as harbinger of her coming; but Lucy marched off, hardly answering this proposition.
‘What’s the use of such a deal of ceremony?’ she said. ‘I know she’s at home; and if she is not, I shall only lose ten minutes in going.’ And so she went, and on reaching the door at Framley Court house found that her ladyship was at home. Her heart almost came to her mouth as she was told so, and then, in two minutes’ time, she found herself in the little room upstairs. In that little room we found ourselves once before — but Lucy had never before visited that hallowed precinct. There was something in its air calculated to inspire awe in those who first saw Lady Lufton sitting bolt upright in the cane-bottomed arm-chair, which she always occupied when at work at her books and papers; and this she knew when she determined to receive Lucy in that apartment. But there was another arm-chair, an easy, cosy chair, which stood by the fireside; and for those who had caught Lady Lufton napping in that chair of an afternoon, some of this awe had perhaps been dissipated. ‘Miss Robarts,’ she said, not rising from her chair, but holding out her hand to her visitor, ‘I am much obliged to you for having come over to me here. You, no doubt, are aware of the subject on which I wish to speak to you, and will agree with me that it is better that we should meet here than over at the parsonage.’ In answer to which Lucy merely bowed her head, and took her seat on the chair which had been prepared for her. ‘My son,’ continued her ladyship, ‘has spoken to me on the subject of — I think I understand, Miss Robarts, that there has been no engagement between you and him?’
‘None whatever,’ said Lucy. ‘He made me an offer and I refused him.’ This she said very sharply; — more so undoubtedly than the circumstances required; and with a brusqueness that was injudicious as well as uncourteous. But at the moment, she was thinking of her own position with reference to Lady Lufton — not to Lord Lufton; and of her feelings with reference to the lady — not to the gentleman.
‘Oh,’ said Lady Lufton, a little startled by the manner of the communication. ‘Then I am to understand that there is nothing now going on between you and my son; that the whole affair is over?’
‘That depends entirely upon you.’
‘On me; does it?’
‘I do not know what your son may have told you, Lady Lufton. For myself I do not care to have any secrets from you in this matter; and as he has spoken to you about it, I suppose that such is his wish also. Am I right in presuming that he has spoken to you on the subject?’
‘Yes, he has; and it is for that reason that I have taken the liberty of sending for you.’
‘And may I ask what he has told you? I mean, of course, as regards myself,’ said Lucy. Lady Lufton before she answered this question, began to reflect that the young lady was taking too much of the initiative in this conversation, and was, in fact, playing the game in her own fashion, which was not at all in accordance with those motives which had induced Lady Lufton to send for her. ‘He has told me that he has made you an offer of marriage,’ replied Lady Lufton: ‘a matter which, of course, is very serious to me, as his mother; and I have thought, therefore, that I had better see you, and appeal to your own good sense and judgement and high feelings. Of course you are aware —’
Now was coming the lecture to be illustrated by King Cophetua and Griselda, as Lucy had suggested to Mrs Robarts; but she succeeded in stopping it for awhile. ‘And did Lord Lufton tell you what was my answer?’
‘Not in words. But you yourself now say that you refused him; and I must express my admiration for your good —’
‘Wait half a moment, Lady Lufton. Your son did make me an offer. He made it to me in person, up at the parsonage, and I then refused him; — foolishly, as I now believe, for I dearly love him. But I did so from a mixture of feelings which I need not, perhaps, explain; that most prominent, no doubt, was a fear of your displeasure. And then he came again, not to me, but to my brother, and urged his suit to him. Nothing can have been kinder to me, more noble, more loving, more generous, than his conduct. At first I thought, when he was speaking to myself, that he was led on thoughtlessly to say all that he did say. I did not trust his love, though I saw that he did trust it himself. But I could not but trust it when he came again — to my brother, and made his proposal to him. I don’t know whether you will understand me, Lady Lufton; but a girl placed as I am feels ten times more assurance in such a tender of affection as that, than in one made to herself, at the spur of the moment, perhaps. And then you remember that I— I myself — I loved him from the first. I was foolish enough to think that I could know him and not love him.’
‘I saw what was going on,’ said Lady Lufton, with a certain assumption of wisdom about her; ‘and took steps which I hoped would have put a stop to it in time.’
‘Everybody saw it. It was a matter of course,’ said Lucy, destroying her ladyship’s wisdom at a blow. ‘Well; I did learn to love him, not meaning to do so; and I do love him with all my heart. It is no use my striving to think that I do not; and I could stand with him at the altar tomorrow and give him my hand, feeling that I was doing my duty by him, as a woman should do. And now he has told you of his love, and I believe in that as I do in my own —’ And then for a moment she paused.
‘But, my dear Miss Robarts —’ began Lady Lufton. Lucy, however, had not worked herself up into a condition of power, and would not allow her ladyship to interrupt her in her speech. ‘I beg your pardon, Lady Lufton; I shall have done directly, and then I will hear you. And so my brother came to me, not urging this suit, expressing no wish for such a marriage, but allowing me to judge for myself, and proposing that I should see your son again on the following morning. Had I done so, I could not but have accepted him. Think of it, Lady Lufton. How could I have done either than accept him, seeing that in my heart I had accepted his love already?’
‘Well?’ said Lady Lufton, not wishing now to put in any speech of her own.
‘I did not see him — I refused to do so — because I was a coward. I could not endure to come into this house as your son’s wife, and be coldly looked on by your son’s mother. Much as I loved him, much as I do love him, dearly as I prize the generous offer which he came down here to repeat to me, I could not live with him to be made the object of your scorn. I sent him word, therefore, that I would have him when you would ask me, and not before.’ And, then, having thus pleaded her cause — and pleaded, as she believed, the cause of her lover also — she ceased from speaking, and prepared herself to listen to the story of King Cophetua. But Lady Lufton felt considerable difficulty in commencing her speech. In the first place she was by no means a hard-hearted or a selfish woman; and were it not that her own son was concerned, and all the glory which was reflected upon her from her son, her sympathies would have been given to Lucy Robarts. As it was, she did sympathize with her, and admire her, and to a certain extent like her. She began also to understand what it was that had brought about her son’s love, and to feel that but for certain unfortunate concomitant circumstances the girl before her might have made a fitting Lady Lufton. Lucy had grown bigger in her eyes while sitting there and talking, and had lost much of that missish want of importance — that lack of social weight — which Lady Lufton in her own opinion had always imputed to her. A girl that could thus speak up and explain her own position now, would be able to speak up and explain her own, and perhaps some other positions at any future time. But not for all or any of these reasons did Lady Lufton think of giving way. The power of making or marring this marriage was placed in her hands, as was very fitting, and that power it behoved her to use, as best she might use it, to her son’s advantage. Much as she might admire Lucy, she could not sacrifice her son to that admiration. The unfortunate concomitant circumstances still remained, and were of sufficient force, as she thought, to make such a marriage inexpedient. Lucy was the sister of a gentleman, who by his peculiar position as parish clergyman of Framley was unfitted to be the brother-inlaw of the owner of Framley. Nobody liked clergymen better than Lady Lufton or was more willing to live with them on terms of affectionate intimacy, but she could not get over the feeling that the clergyman of her own parish — or of her son’s — was a part of her own establishment, of her own appanage — or of his — and that it could not be well that Lord Lufton should marry among his own dependants. Lady Lufton would not have used the word, but she did think it. And then, too, Lucy’s education had been so deficient. She had had no one about her in early life accustomed to the ways of — of what shall I say without making Lady Lufton appear more worldly than she was? Lucy’s wants in this respect, not to be defined in words, had been exemplified by the very way in which she had just now stated her case. She had shown talent, good temper, and sound judgement; but there had been no quiet, no repose about her. The species of power in young ladies which Lady Lufton most admired was the vis inertiae belonging to beautiful and dignified reticence; of this poor Lucy had none. Then, too, she had not fortune, which though a minor evil, was an evil; and she had no birth, in the high sense of the word, which was the greater evil. And then, though her eyes had sparkled when she confessed her love, Lady Lufton was not prepared to admit that she was possessed of positive beauty. Such were the unfortunate concomitant circumstances which still induced Lady Lufton to resolve that the match must be marred.
But the performance on her part in this play was much more difficult than she had imagined, and she found herself obliged to sit silent for a minute or two, during which, however, Miss Robarts made no attempt at further speech. ‘I am greatly struck,’ Lady Lufton said at last, ‘by the excellent sense you have displayed in the whole of this affair; and you must allow me to say, Miss Robarts, that I now regard you with very different feelings from those which I entertained when I left London.’ Upon this Lucy bowed her head, slightly but very stiffly; acknowledging rather the former censure implied than the present eulogium expressed.
‘But my feelings,’ continued Lady Lufton, ‘my strongest feelings in this matter, must be those of a mother. What might be my conduct if such a marriage did take place, I need not now consider. But I must confess that I should think such a marriage very — very ill-judged. A better-hearted young man than Lord Lufton does not exist, nor one with better principles, or a deeper regard for his word; but he is exactly the man to be mistaken on any hurried outlook as to his future life. Were you and he to become man and wife, such a marriage would tend to the happiness neither of him or of you.’ It was clear that the whole lecture was coming; and as Lucy had openly declared her own weakness, and thrown all the power of decision into the hands of Lady Lufton, she did not see why she should endure this.
‘We need not argue about that, Lady Lufton,’ she said. ‘I have told you the only circumstances under which I would marry your son; and you, at any rate, are safe.’
‘No; I was not wishing to argue,’ answered Lady Lufton, almost humbly; ‘but I was desirous of excusing myself to you, so that you should not think me cruel in withholding my consent. I wished to make you believe that I was doing the best for my son.’
‘I am sure that you think you are, and therefore no excuse is necessary.’
‘No, exactly; of course it is a matter of opinion, and I do think so. I cannot believe that this marriage would make either of you happy, and therefore I should be very wrong to express my consent.’
‘Then, Lady Lufton,’ said Lucy, rising from her chair, ‘I suppose we have both now said what is necessary, and I will therefore wish you good-bye.’
‘Good-bye, Miss Robarts. I wish I could make you understand how very highly I regard your conduct in this matter. It has been above all praise, and so I shall not hesitate to say when speaking of it to your relatives.’ This was disagreeable enough to Lucy, who cared but little for any praise which Lady Lufton might express to her relatives in this matter. ‘And pray,’ continued Lady Lufton, ‘give my best love to Mrs Robarts, and tell her that I shall hope to see her over here very soon, and Mr Robarts also. I would name a day for you all to dine; but perhaps it will be better that I should have a little talk with Fanny first.’
Lucy muttered something, which was intended to signify that any such dinner party had better not be made up with the intention of including her, and then took her leave. She had decidedly had the best of the interview, and there was a consciousness of this in her heart as she allowed Lady Lufton to shake hands with her. She had stopped her antagonist short on each occasion on which an attempt had been made to produce the homily which had been prepared, and during the interview had spoken probably three words for every one which her ladyship had been able to utter. But, nevertheless, there was a bitter feeling of disappointment about her heart as she walked back home; and a feeling, also, that she herself had caused her own unhappiness. Why should she have been so romantic and chivalrous and self-sacrificing, seeing that her romance and chivalry had all been to his detriment as well as hers — seeing that she sacrificed him as well as herself? Why should she have been so anxious to play into Lady Lufton’s hands? It was not because she thought it right, as a general social rule, that a lady should refuse a gentleman’s hand, unless the gentleman’s mother were a consenting party to the marriage. She would have held any such doctrine as absurd. The lady, she would have said, would have had to look to her own family and no further. It was not virtue but cowardice which had influenced her, and she had none of that solace which may come to us in misfortune from a consciousness that our own conduct has been blameless. Lady Lufton had inspired her with awe, and any such feeling on her part was mean, ignoble, and unbecoming the spirit with which she wished to think that she was endowed. That was the accusation which she had brought against herself, and it forbade her to feel any triumph as to the result of the interview. When she reached the parsonage, Mark was there, and they were of course expecting her. ‘Well,’ said she, in her short hurried manner, ‘is Puck ready again? I have no time to lose, and I must go and pack up a few things. Have you settled about the children, Fanny?’
‘Yes; I will tell you directly; but you have seen Lady Lufton?’
‘Seen her! Oh, yes, of course I have seen her. Did she not send for me? and in that case it was not on the cards that I would disobey her.’
‘And what did she say?’
‘How green you are, Mark; and not only green, but impolite also, to make me repeat the story of my own disgrace. Of course she told me that she did not intend that I should marry my lord, her son; and of course I said that under those circumstances I should not think of doing such a thing.’
‘Lucy, I cannot understand you,’ said Fanny, very gravely. ‘I am sometimes inclined to doubt whether you have any deep feeling in the matter or not. If you have, how can you bring yourself to joke about it?’
‘Well, it is singular; and sometimes I doubt myself whether I have. I ought to be pale, ought I not? and very thin, and to go mad by degrees? I have not the least intention of doing anything of the kind, and, therefore, the matter is not worth any further notice.’
‘But was she civil to you, Lucy?’ asked Mark: ‘civil in her manner, you know?’
‘Oh, uncommonly so. You will hardly believe it, but she actually asked me to dine. She always does, you know, when she wants to show her good humour. If you’d broken your leg, and she wished to commiserate you, she’d ask you to dinner.’
‘I suppose she meant to be kind,’ said Fanny, who was not disposed to give up her old friend, though she was quite ready to fight Lucy’s battle, if there were any occasion for a battle to be fought.
‘Lucy is so perverse,’ said Mark, ‘that it is impossible to learn from her what really has taken place.’
‘Upon my word, then, you know it all as well as I can tell you. She asked me if Lord Lufton had made me an offer. I said, yes. She asked next, if I meant to accept it. Not without her approval, I said. And then she asked us to dinner. That is exactly what took place, and I cannot see that I have been perverse at all.’ After that she threw herself into a chair, and Mark and Fanny stood looking at each other.
‘Mark,’ she said, after a while, ‘don’t be unkind to me. I make as little of it as I can, for all our sakes. It is better so, Fanny, than that I should go about moaning, like a sick cow;’ and then they looked at her, and saw that tears were already brimming over from her eyes.
‘Dearest, dearest Lucy,’ said Fanny, immediately going down on her knees before her, ‘I won’t be unkind to you again.’ And then they had a great cry together.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01