On the day on which Lucy had her interview with Lady Lufton the dean dined at Framley parsonage. He and Robarts had known each other since the latter had been in the diocese, and now, owing to Mark’s preferment in the chapter, had become almost intimate. The dean was greatly pleased with the manner in which poor Mr Crawley’s children had been conveyed away from Hogglestock, and was inclined to open his heart to the whole Framley household. As he still had to ride home he could only allow himself to remain a half an hour after dinner, but in that half-hour he said a great deal about Crawley, complimented Robarts on the manner in which he was playing the part of the Good Samaritan, and then by degrees informed him that it had come to his, the dean’s, ears, before he left Barchester, that a writ was in the hands of certain persons in the city, enabling them to seize — he did not know whether it was the person or the property of the vicar of Framley.
The fact was that these tidings had been conveyed to the dean with the express intent that he might put Robarts on his guard; but the task of speaking on such a subject to a brother clergyman had been so unpleasant to him that he had been unable to introduce it till the last five minutes before his departure. ‘I hope you will not put it down as an impertinent interference,’ said the dean, apologizing.
‘No,’ said Mark; ‘no, I do not think that.’ He was so sad at heart that he hardly knew how to speak of it.
‘I do not understand much about such matters,’ said the dean; ‘but I think, if I were you, I should go to a lawyer. I should imagine that anything so terribly disagreeable as an arrest might be avoided.’
‘It is a hard case,’ said Mark, pleading his own cause. ‘Though these men have this claim against me, I have never received a shilling either in money or money’s worth.’
‘And yet your name is to the bills!’ said the dean.
‘Yes, my name is to the bills, certainly, but it was to oblige a friend.’
And then the dean, having given his advice, rode away. He could not understand how a clergyman, situated as was Mr Robarts, could find himself called upon by friendship to attach his name to accommodation bills which he had not the power of liquidating when due! On that evening they were both wretched enough at the parsonage. Hitherto Mark had hoped that perhaps, after all, no absolutely hostile steps would be taken against him with reference to these bills. Some unforeseen chance might occur in his favour, or the persons holding them might consent to take small instalments of payment from time to time; but now it seemed that the evil day was actually coming upon him at a blow. He had no longer any secrets from his wife. Should he go to a lawyer? and if so, to what lawyer? And when he had found his lawyer, what should he say to him? Mrs Robarts at one time suggested that everything should be told to Lady Lufton. Mark, however, could not bring himself to do that. ‘It would seem,’ he said, ‘as though I wanted her to lend me the money.’
On the following morning Mark did ride into Barchester, dreading, however, lest he should be arrested on his journey, and he did see a lawyer. During his absence two calls were made at the parsonage — one by a very rough-looking individual, who left a suspicious document in the hands of the servant, purporting to be an invitation — not to dinner — from one of the Judges of the land; and the other was made by Lady Lufton in person.
Mrs Robarts had determined to go down to Framley Court on that day. In accordance with her usual custom she would have been there within an hour or two of Lady Lufton’s return from London, but things between them were not now as they usually had been. This affair of Lucy’s must make a difference, let them both resolve to the contrary as they might. And, indeed, Mrs Robarts had found that the closeness of her intimacy with Framley Court had been diminishing from day to day since Lucy had first begun to be on friendly terms with Lord Lufton. Since that she had been less at Framley Court than usual; she had heard from Lady Lufton less frequently by letter during her absence than she had done in former years, and was aware that she was less implicitly trusted with all the affairs of the parish. This had not made her angry, for she was in a manner conscious that it must be so. It made her unhappy, but what could she do? She could not blame Lucy, nor could she blame Lady Lufton. Lord Lufton she did blame, but she did so in the hearing of no one but her husband. Her mind, however, was made up to go over and bear the first brunt of her ladyship’s arrival. If it were not for this terrible matter of Lucy’s love — a matter on which they could not now be silent when they met — there would be twenty subjects of pleasant, or, at any rate, not unpleasant conversation. But even then there would be those terrible bills hanging over her conscience, and almost crushing her by their weight. At the moment in which Lady Lufton walked up to the drawing-room window, Mrs Robarts held in her hand that ominous invitation from the Judge. Would it not be well that she should make a clean breast of it all, disregarding what her husband had said? It might be well: only this — she had never done anything in opposition to her husband’s wishes. So she hid the slip within her desk, and left the matter open to consideration. The interview commenced with an affectionate embrace, as was a matter of course. ‘Dear Fanny,’ and ‘Dear Lady Lufton’ was said between them with all the usual warmth. And then the first inquiry was made about the children, and the second about the school. For a minute or two, Mrs Robarts thought that, perhaps, nothing would be said about Lucy. If it pleased Lady Lufton to be silent, she, at least, would not commence the subject. Then there was a word or two spoken about Mrs Podgens’s baby, after which Lady Lufton asked whether Fanny were alone. ‘Yes,’ said Mrs Robarts. ‘Mark has gone to Barchester.’
‘I hope he will not be long before he lets me see him. Perhaps he can call tomorrow. Would you both come and dine tomorrow?’
‘Not tomorrow, I think, Lady Lufton; but Mark, I am sure, will go over and call.’
‘And why not come to dinner? I hope there is to be no change among us, eh, Fanny?’ And Lady Lufton, as she spoke, looked into the other’s face in a manner which almost made Mrs Robarts get up and throw herself on her old friend’s neck. Where was she to find a friend who would give her such constant love as she had received from Lady Lufton? And who was kinder, better, more honest than she?
‘Change! no, I hope not Lady Lufton;’ and as she spoke the tears stood in her eyes.
‘Ah, but I shall think there is if you will not come to me as you sued to do. You always used to come in dine with me the day I came home as a matter of course.’ What could she say, poor woman, to this?
‘We were in confusion yesterday about poor Mrs Crawley, and the dean dined here; he had been over at Hogglestock to see his friend.’
‘I have heard of her illness, and will go over and see what ought to be done. Don’t you go, do you hear, Fanny? You with your young children! I should never forgive you if you did.’ And then Mrs Robarts explained how Lucy had gone there, had sent the four children back to Framley, and was herself now staying at Hogglestock with the object of nursing Mrs Crawley. In telling the story she abstained from praising Lucy with all the strong language which she should have used had not Lucy’s name and character been at the present moment been of peculiar import to Lady Lufton; but nevertheless she could tell it without dwelling much on Lucy’s kindness. It would have been ungenerous to Lady Lufton to make much of Lucy’s virtue at this present moment, but unjust to Lucy to make nothing of it.’
‘And she is actually with Mrs Crawley now?’ asked Lady Lufton.
‘Oh, yes; Mark left her there yesterday afternoon.’
‘And the four children are all here in the house?’
‘Not exactly in the house — that is, not as yet. We have arranged a sort of quarantine hospital over the coachhouse.’
‘What, where Stubbs lives?’
‘Yes; Stubbs and his wife have come into the house, and the children are to remain there till the doctor says that there is no danger of infection. I have not even seen my visitors myself as yet,’ said Mrs Robarts with a slight laugh.
‘Dear me!’ said Lady Lufton. ‘I declare you have been very prompt. And so Miss Robarts is over there! I should have thought Mr Crawley would have made a difficulty about the children.’
‘Well, he did; but they kidnapped them — that is, Lucy and Mark did. The dean gave me such an account of it. Lucy brought them out by twos and packed them in the pony-carriage, and then Mark drove off at a gallop while Mr Crawley stood calling to them in the road. The dean was there at the time and saw it all.’
‘That Miss Lucy of yours seems to be a very determined young lady when she takes a thing into her head,’ said Lady Lufton, now sitting down for first time.
‘Yes, she is,’ said Mrs Robarts, having laid aside all her pleasant animation, for the discussion which she had dreaded was not at hand.
‘A very determined young lady,’ continued Lady Lufton. ‘Of course, my dear Fanny, you know all this about Ludovic and your sister-inlaw?’
‘Yes, she has told me about it.’
‘It is very unfortunate — very.’
‘I do not think Lucy has been to blame,’ said Mrs Robarts; and as she spoke the blood was already mounting to her cheeks.
‘Do not be too anxious to defend her, my dear, before any one accuses her. Whenever a person does that it looks as though their cause is weak.’
‘But my cause is not weak as far as Lucy is concerned; I feel quite sure that she has not been to blame.’
‘I know how obstinate you can be, Fanny, when you think it necessary to dub yourself any one’s champion. Don Quixote was not a better knight-errant than you are. But is it not a pity to take up your lance and shield before an enemy is within sight or hearing? But that was ever the way with your Don Quixote.’
‘Perhaps there may be an enemy in ambush.’ That was Mrs Robarts’s thought to herself, but she did not dare to express it, so she remained silent.
‘My only hope is,’ continued Lady Lufton, ‘that when my back is turned you fight as gallantly for me.’
‘Ah, you are never under a cloud like poor Lucy.’
‘Am I not? But, Fanny, you do not see all the clouds. The sun does not always shine for any of us, and the down-pouring rain and the heavy wind scatter also my fairest flowers — as they had done hers poor girl. Dear Fanny, I hope it may be long before any cloud comes across the brightness of your heaven. Of all the creatures I know you are the one most fitted for quiet continued sunshine.’ And then Mrs Robarts did get up and embrace her friend, thus hiding the tears which were running down her face. Continued sunshine indeed! A dark spot had already gathered on her horizon, which was likely to fall in a very waterspout of rain. What was to come of that terrible notice which was lying in the desk under Lady Lufton’s very arm?
‘But I am not come here to croak like an old raven,’ continued Lady Lufton, when she had brought this embrace to an end. ‘It is probable that we all may have our sorrows; but I am quite sure of this — that if we endeavour to do our duties honestly, we shall all find our consolation and all have our joys also. And now, my dear, let you and I have a few words about this unfortunate affair. It would not be natural if we were to hold our tongues to each other, would it?’
‘I suppose not,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘We should always be conceiving worse than the truth — each as to the other’s thoughts. Now, some time ago, when I spoke to you about your sister-inlaw and Ludovic — I dare say you remember —’
‘Oh, yes; I remember.’
‘We both thought then that there would really be no danger. To tell you the plain truth I fancied, and indeed hoped, that his affections were engaged elsewhere; but I was altogether wrong then; wrong in thinking it, and wrong in hoping it.’ Mrs Robarts knew well that Lady Lufton was alluding to Griselda Grantly, but she conceived that it would be discreet to say nothing herself on that subject at present. She remembered, however, Lucy’s flashing eye when the possibility of Lord Lufton making such a marriage was spoken of in the pony-carriage and could not but feel glad that Lady Lufton had been disappointed.
‘I do not at all impute blame to Miss Robarts for what has occurred since,’ continued her ladyship. ‘I wish you distinctly to understand that.’
‘I do not see how any one could blame her. She has behaved so nobly.’
‘It is of no use inquiring whether any one can. It is sufficient that I do not.’
‘But I think that is hardly sufficient,’ said Mrs Robarts, pertinaciously.
‘Is it not?,’ asked her ladyship, raising her eyebrows.
‘No. Only think what Lucy has done and is doing. If she had chosen to say that she would accept your son I really do not know how you could have justly blamed her. I do not by any means say that I would have advised such a thing.’
‘I am glad of that, Fanny.’
‘I have not given any advice; nor is it needed. I know no one more able than Lucy to see clearly, by her own judgement, what course she ought to pursue. I should be afraid to advice one whose mind is so strong, and who, of her own nature, is so self-denying as she is. She is sacrificing herself now, because she will not be the means of bringing trouble and dissension between you and your son. If you ask me, Lady Lufton, I think you owe her a deep debt of gratitude. I do, indeed. And as for blaming her — what has she done that you could possibly blame?’
‘Don Quixote on horseback!’ said Lady Lufton. ‘Fanny, I shall always call you Don Quixote, and some day or other I will get somebody to write your adventures. But the truth is this, my dear; there has been imprudence. You may call it mine, if you will — though I really hardly see how I am to take the blame. I could not do other than ask Miss Robarts to my house, and I could not very well turn my son out of it. In point of fact, it has been the old story.’
‘Exactly; the story is as old as the world, and which will continue as long as people are born into it. It is a story of God’s own telling.’
‘But, my dear child, you do not mean that every young gentleman and every young lady should fall in love with each other directly they meet! Such a doctrine would be very inconvenient.’
‘No, I do not mean that. Lord Lufton and Miss Grantly did not fall in love with each other, though you meant them to do so. But was it not quite as natural that Lord Lufton and Lucy should do so instead?’
‘It is generally thought, Fanny, that young ladies should not give loose to their affections until they have been certified of their friends’ approval.’
‘And that young gentlemen of fortune may amuse themselves as they please! I know that is what the world teaches, but I cannot agree to the justice of it. The terrible suffering which Lucy has to endure makes me cry out against it. She did not seek your son. The moment she began to suspect that there might be danger she avoided him scrupulously. She would not go down to Framley Court though her not doing so was remarked by yourself. She would hardly go about the place lest she should meet him. She was contented to put herself altogether in the background till he should have pleased to leave the place. But he — he came to her here, and insisted on seeing her. What was she to do? She did try to escape, but he stopped her at the door. Was it her fault that he made her an offer?’
‘My dear, no one has said so.’
‘Yes, but you do say so when you tell me that young ladies should not give play to their affections without permission. He persisted in saying to her, here, all that it pleased him, though she implored him to be silent. I cannot tell the words she used, but she did implore him.’
‘I do not doubt that she behaved well.’
‘But he — he persisted, and begged her to accept his hand. She refused him then, Lady Lufton — not as some girls do, with a mock reserve, not intending to be taken at their words — but steadily, and, God forgive her, untruly. Knowing what your feelings would be, and acknowledging what the world would say, she declared to him that he was indifferent to her. What more could she do in your behalf?’ And then Mrs Robarts paused.
‘I shall wait till you have done, Fanny.’
‘You spoke of girls giving loose to their affections. She did not do so. She went about her work exactly as she had done before. She did not even speak to me of what had passed — not then, at least. She determined that it should all be as though it had never been. She had learned to love your son; but that was her misfortune, and she would get over it as she might. Tidings came to us here that he was engaged, or about to be engaged himself, to Miss Grantly.’
‘Those tidings were untrue.’
‘Yes, we know that now; but she did not know it then. Of course she could not but suffer; but she suffered within her self.’ Mrs Robarts, as she said this, remembered the pony-carriage and how Puck had been beaten. ‘She made no complaint that he had ill-treated her — not even to herself. She had thought it right to reject his offer; and, there, as far as she was concerned, was to be the end of it.’
‘That would be a matter of course, I should suppose.’
‘But it was not a matter of course, Lady Lufton. He returned from London to Framley on purpose to repeat his offer. He sent for her brother — You talk of a young lady waiting for her friends’ approval. In this matter who would be Lucy’s friends?’
‘You and Mr Robarts, of course.’
‘Exactly; her only friends. Well, Lord Lufton sent for Mark and repeated his offer to him. Mind you, Mark had never heard a word of this before, and you may guess whether or no he was surprised. Lord Lufton repeated his offer in the most formal manner, and claimed permission to see Lucy. She refused to see him. She has never seen him since that day, when in opposition to all her efforts, he made his way into this room. Mark — as I think very properly — would have allowed Lord Lufton to come up here. Looking at both their ages and position he could have had no right to forbid it. But Lucy positively refused to see your son, and sent him a message instead, of the purport of which you are now aware — that she would never accept him unless she did so at your request.’
‘It was a very proper message.’
‘I say nothing about that. Had she accepted him I would not have blamed her; and so I told her, Lady Lufton.’
‘I cannot understand your saying that, Fanny.’
‘Well; I did say so. I don’t want to argue now about myself — whether I was right or wrong, but I did say so. Whatever sanction I could give she would have had. But she again chose to sacrifice herself, although I believe she regards him with as true a love as ever a girl felt for a man. Upon my word, I don’t know that she is right. Those considerations for the world may perhaps be carried too far.’
‘I think that she was perfectly right.’
‘Very well, Lady Lufton; I can understand that. But after such sacrifice on her part — a sacrifice made entirely to you — how can you talk of “not blaming her”? Is that the language in which you speak of those whose conduct from the first to last has been superlatively excellent? If she is open to blame at all, it is — it is —’ But here Mrs Robarts stopped herself. In defending her sister she had worked herself almost into a passion; but such a state of feeling was not customary to her, and now that she had spoken her mind she sank suddenly into silence.
‘It seems to me, Fanny, that you almost regret Miss Robarts’s decision,’ said Lady Lufton.
‘My wish in this matter is for her happiness, and I regret anything that may mar it.’
‘You think nothing then of our welfare, and yet I do not know to whom I might have looked for hearty friendship and for sympathy in difficulties, if not for you?’ Poor Mrs Robarts was almost upset by this. A few months ago, before Lucy’s arrival, she would have declared that the interest of Lady Lufton’s family would have been paramount to her, after and next to her own husband. And even now, it seemed to argue so black an ingratitude on her part — this accusation that she was so indifferent to them! From her childhood upwards she had revered and loved Lady Lufton, and for years had taught herself to regard her as the epitome of all that was good and gracious in woman. Lady Lufton’s theories of life had been accepted by her as the right theories, and those whom Lady Lufton had liked she had liked. But now it seemed that all these ideas which it had taken a life to build up were to be thrown to the ground, because she was bound to defend her sister-inlaw whom she had only known for the last eight months. It was not that she regretted a word that she had spoken on Lucy’s behalf. Chance had thrown her and Lucy together, and, as Lucy was her sister, she should receive from her a sister’s treatment. But she did not the less feel how terrible would be the effect of any disseverance from Lady Lufton. ‘Oh, Lady Lufton,’ she said, ‘do not say that.’
‘But, Fanny dear, I must speak as I find. You were talking about clouds just now, and do you think that all this is not a cloud in my sky? Ludovic tells me that he is attached to Miss Robarts, and you tell me that she is attached to him; and I am called upon to decide between them. Her very act obliges me to do so.’
‘Dear Lady Lufton,’ said Mrs Robarts, springing from her seat. It seemed to her at the moment as though the whole difficulty were to be solved by an act of grace on the part of her friend.
‘And yet I cannot approve of such a marriage,’ said Lady Lufton. Mrs Robarts returned to her seat saying nothing further.
‘Is not that a cloud on one’s horizon?’ continued her ladyship. ‘Do you think that I can be basking in the sunshine while I have such a weight upon my heart as that? Ludovic will soon be home, but instead of looking to his return with pleasure I dread it. I would prefer that he would remain in Norway. I would wish that he should stay away for months. And, Fanny, it is a great addition to my misfortune to feel that you do not sympathize with me.’ Having said this, in a slow, sorrowful, and severe tone, Lady Lufton got up and took her departure. Of course Mrs Robarts did not let her go without assuring her that she did sympathize with her — did love her as she ever had loved her. But wounds cannot be cured as easily as they may be inflicted, and Lady Lufton went her way with much real sorrow at her heart. She was proud and masterful, fond of her own way, and much too careful of the worldly dignities to which her lot had called her; but she was a woman who could cause no sorrow to those she loved without deep sorrow to herself.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55