The bailiffs on that day had their meals regular — and their beer, which state of things, together with an absence of all duty in the way of making inventories and the like, I take to be the earthly paradise of bailiffs; and on the next morning they walked off with civil speeches and many apologies as to their intrusion. ‘They was very sorry,’ they said, ‘to have troubled a gen’leman as were a gen’leman, but in their way of business what could they do?’ To which one of them added a remark that, ‘business is business.’ This statement I am not prepared to contradict, but I would recommend all men in choosing a profession to avoid any that may require an apology at every turn; either an apology or else a somewhat violent assertion of right. Each younger male reader may, perhaps, reply that he has no thought of becoming a sheriff’s officer; but then are there not other cognate lines of life to which, perhaps, the attention of some such may be attracted? On the evening of the day on which they went Mark received a note from Lady Lufton begging him to call early on the following morning, and immediately after breakfast he went across to Framley Court. It may be imagined that he was not in a very happy frame of mind, but he felt the truth of his wife’s remark that the first plunge into cold water was always the worst. Lady Lufton was not a woman who would continually throw his disgrace into his teeth, however terribly cold might be the first words with which she spoke of it. He strove hard as he entered her room to carry his usual look and bearing, and to put out his hand to greet her with his customary freedom, but he knew that he failed. And it may be said that no good man who has broken down in this goodness can carry the disgrace of his fall without some look of shame. When a man is able to do that, he ceases to be in any way good.
‘This has been a distressing affair,’ said Lady Lufton, after her first salutation.
‘Yes, indeed,’ said he. ‘It has been very sad for poor Fanny.’
‘Well; we must all have our little periods of grief; and it may perhaps be fortunate if none of us have worse than this. She will not complain herself, I am sure.’
‘No, I am sure she will not. And now all I’ve got to say, Mr Robarts is this: I hope you and Lufton have had enough to do with black sheep to last you your lives; for I must protest that your late friend Mr Sowerby is a black sheep.’ In no possible way could Lady Lufton have alluded to the matter with greater kindness than thus joining Mark’s name with that of her son. It took away all the bitterness of the rebuke, and made the subject one on which even he might have spoken without difficulty. But now, seeing that she was so gentle to him, he could not but lean the more hardly on himself.
‘I have been very foolish,’ said he, ‘very foolish, and very wrong, and very wicked.’
‘Very foolish, I believe, Mr Robarts — to speak frankly and once for all; but, as I also believe, nothing worse. I thought it best for both of us that we should have just one word about it, and now I recommend that the matter be never mentioned between us again.’
‘God bless you, Lady Lufton,’ he said, ‘I think no man ever had such a friend as you are.’ She had been very quiet during the interview, and almost subdued, not speaking with the animation that was usual to her; for this affair with Mr Robarts was not the only one she had to complete that day, nor, perhaps, the one most difficult of completion. But she cheered up a little under the praise now bestowed on her, for it was the sort of praise she loved best. She did hope, and perhaps flatter herself, that she was a good friend.
‘You must be good enough, then, to gratify my friendship by coming to dinner this evening; and Fanny, too, of course. I cannot take any excuses, for the matter is completely arranged; I have a particular reason for wishing it.’ These last violent injunctions had been added because Lady Lufton had seen a refusal rising in the parson’s face. Poor Lady Lufton! Her enemies — for even she had enemies — used to declare of her, that an invitation to dinner was the only method of showing itself of which her good-humour was cognizant. But let me ask of her enemies whether it is not as good a method as any other known to be extant? Under such orders as these obedience was of course a necessity, and he promised that he, with his wife, would come across to dinner. And then, when he went away, Lady Lufton ordered her carriage.
During these doings at Framley, Lucy Robarts still remained at Hogglestock, nursing Mrs Crawley. Nothing occurred to take her back to Framley, for the same note from Fanny which gave her the first tidings of the arrival of the Philistines told her also of their departure — and also of the source whence relief had reached them. ‘Don’t come, therefore, for that reason,’ said the note, ‘but, nevertheless, do come as quickly as you can, for the whole house is sad without you.’
On the morning after the receipt of this note Lucy was sitting, as was now usual with her, beside an old arm-chair to which her patient had been lately promoted. The fever had gone, and Mrs Crawley was slowly regaining her strength — very slowly, and with frequent caution from the Silverbridge doctor that any attempt at being well too fast might again precipitate her into an abyss of illness and domestic inefficiency.
‘I really think I can get about tomorrow,’ said she; ‘and then, dear Lucy, I need not keep you longer from your home.’
‘You are in a great hurry to get rid of me, I think. I suppose Mr Crawley has been complaining about the cream in his tea.’
Mr Crawley had on one occasion stated his assured conviction that surreptitious daily supplies were being brought to the house, because he had detected the presence of cream instead of milk in his own cup. As, however, the cream had been going for sundry days before this, Miss Robarts had not thought much of his ingenuity in making the discovery.
‘Ah, you do not know how he speaks of you when your back is turned.’
‘And how does he speak of me? I know you would not have the courage to tell me the whole.’
‘No, I have not; for you would think it absurd coming from one who looks like him. He says that if he were to write a poem about womanhood, he would make you the heroine.’
‘With a cream-jug in my hand, or else sewing buttons on to a shirt-collar. But he never forgave me about the mutton-broth. He told me, in so many words, that I was a — story-teller. And for the matter of that, my dear, so I was.’
‘He told me you were an angel.’
‘A ministering angel. And so you have been. I can almost feel it in my heart to be glad that I have been ill, seeing that I have had you for my friend.’
‘But you might have had that good fortune without the fever.’
‘No, I should not. In my married life I have made no friends till my illness brought you to me; nor should I ever really known you but for that. How should I get to know any one?’
‘You will now, Mrs Crawley; will you not? Promise that you will. You will come to us at Framley when you are well? You have promised already, you know.’
‘You made me do so when I was too weak to refuse.’
‘And I shall make you keep your promise, too. He shall come also, if he likes; but you shall come whether he likes or no, and I won’t hear a word about your old dresses. Old dresses will wear as well at Framley as at Hogglestock.’ From all which it will appear that Mrs Crawley and Lucy Robarts had become very intimate during the period of the nursing; as two women always will, or, at least, should do, when shut up for weeks together in the same sick room.
The conversation was still going on between them when the sound of wheels was heard upon the road. It was no highway that passed before the house, and carriages of any sort were not frequent there.
‘It is Fanny, I am sure,’ said Lucy, rising from her chair.
‘There are two horses,’ said Mrs Crawley, distinguishing the noise with the accurate sense of hearing which is always attached to sickness; ‘and it is not the noise of the pony-carriage.’
‘It is a regular carriage,’ said Lucy, speaking from the window, ‘and stopping here. It is somebody from Framley Court, for I know the servant.’ And as she spoke a blush came to her forehead. Might it not be Lord Lufton, she thought to herself — forgetting, at the moment, that Lord Lufton did not go about the country in a close chariot with a fat footman. Intimate as she had become with Mrs Crawley she had said nothing to her new friend on the subject of her love affair. The carriage stopped, and down came the footman, but nobody spoke to him from the inside.
‘He has probably brought something from Framley,’ said Lucy, having cream and such-like matters in her mind; for cream and such-like matters had come from Framley Court more than once during her sojourn there. ‘And the carriage, probably, happened to be coming this way.’ But the mystery soon elucidated itself partially, or, perhaps, became more mysterious in another way. The red-armed little girl who had been taken away by her frightened mother in the first burst of fever had now returned to her place, and at the present moment entered the room, with awe-struck face, declaring that Miss Robarts was to go at once to the big lady in the carriage.
‘I suppose it’s Lady Lufton,’ said Mrs Crawley. Lucy’s heart was so absolutely in her mouth that any kind of speech was at the moment impossible to her. Why should Lady Lufton have come hither to Hogglestock, and why should she want to see her, Lucy Robarts, in the carriage? Had not everything between them been settled? And yet —! Lucy, in the moment for thought that was allowed to her, could not determine what might be the probable upshot of such an interview. Her chief feeling was a desire to postpone it for the present instant. But the red-armed little girl would not allow that.
‘You are to come at once,’ said she.
And then Lucy, without having spoken a word, got up and left the room. She walked downstairs, along the little passage, and out through the small garden, with firm steps, but hardly knowing whither she went or why. Her presence of mind and self-possession had all deserted her. She knew that she was unable to speak as she should do; she felt that she would have to regret her present behaviour, but yet she could not help herself. Why should Lady Lufton have come to her here? She went on, and the big footman stood with the carriage door open. She stepped up almost unconsciously, and, without knowing how she got there, she found herself seated by Lady Lufton. To tell the truth her ladyship also was a little at a loss to know how she was to carry through her present plan of operations. The duty of beginning, however, was clearly with her, and therefore, having taken Lucy by the hand, she spoke. ‘Miss Robarts,’ she said, ‘my son has come home. I don’t know whether you are aware of it.’ She spoke with a low gentle voice, not quite like herself, but Lucy was much too confused to notice this.
‘I was not aware of it,’ said Lucy. She had, however, been so informed in Fanny’s letter, but all that had gone out of her head.
‘Yes; he has come back. He has been in Norway, you know — fishing.’
‘Yes,’ said Lucy.
‘I am sure you will remember all that took place when you came to me, not long ago, in my little room upstairs at Framley Court.’ In answer to which, Lucy, quivering in every nerve, and wrongly thinking that she was visibly shaking in every limb, timidly answered that she did remember. Why was it that she had then been so bold, and now was so poor a coward?
‘Well, my dear, all that I said to you then I said to you thinking that it was for the best. You, at any rate, will not be angry with me for loving my son better than I love any one else.’
‘Oh, no,’ said Lucy.
‘He is the best of sons, and the best of men, and I am sure that he will be the best of husbands.’
Lucy had an idea, by instinct, however, rather than by sight, that Lady Lufton’s eyes were full of tears as she spoke. As for herself she was altogether blinded, and did not dare lift her face or to turn her head. As for the utterances of any sound, that was quite out of the question. ‘And now, I have come here, Lucy, to ask you to be his wife.’
She was quite sure that she heard the words. They came plainly to her ears, leaving on her brain their proper sense, but yet she could not move or make any sign that she had understood them. It seemed as though it would be ungenerous in her to take advantage of such conduct and to accept an offer made with so much self-sacrifice. She had not time at the first moment to think even of his happiness, let alone her own, but she thought only of the magnitude of the concession which had been made to her. When she had constituted Lady Lufton as the arbiter of her destiny she had regarded the question of her love as decided against herself.
She had found herself unable to endure the position of being Lady Lufton’s daughter-inlaw while Lady Lufton would be scorning her, and therefore she had given up the game. She had given up the game, sacrificing herself, and, as far as it might be a sacrifice, sacrificing him also. She had been resolute to stand to her word in this respect, but she had never allowed herself to think it possible that Lady Lufton should comply with the conditions which she, Lucy, had laid upon her. And yet such was the case, as she so plainly heard. ‘And now I have come here, Lucy, to ask you to be his wife.’ How long they sat together silent, I cannot say; counted by minutes the time would not probably have amounted to many, but to each of them the duration seemed considerable. Lady Lufton, while she was speaking, had contrived to get hold of Lucy’s hand, and she sat, still holding it, trying to look into Lucy’s face — which, however, she could hardly see, so much of it was turned away. Neither, indeed, were Lady Lufton’s eyes perfectly dry. No answer came to her question, and therefore, after a while, it was necessary that she should speak again.
‘Must I go back to him, Lucy, and tell him that there is some other objection — something besides a stern old mother; some hindrance, perhaps, not so easily overcome?’
‘No,’ said Lucy, and it was all which at the moment she could say.
‘What shall I tell him then? Shall I say yes — simply yes?’
‘Simply yes,’ said Lucy.
‘And as to the stern old mother who thought her only son too precious to be parted with at the first word — is nothing to be said to her?’
‘Oh, Lady Lufton!’
‘No forgiveness to be spoken, no sign of affection to be given? Is she always to be regarded as stern and cross, vexatious and disagreeable?’ Lucy slowly turned round her head and looked up into her companion’s face. Though she had as yet no voice to speak of affection she could fill her eyes with love, and in that way make to her future mother all the promises that were needed. ‘Lucy, dearest Lucy, you must be very dear to me now.’ And then they were in each other’s arms, kissing each other. Lady Lufton now desired her coachman to drive up and down for some little space along the road while she completed her necessary conversation with Lucy. She wanted at first to carry her back to Framley that evening, promising to send her again to Mrs Crawley on the following morning —‘till some permanent arrangement could be made,’ by which Lady Lufton intended the substitution of a regular nurse for her future daughter-inlaw, seeing that Lucy Robarts was now invested in her eyes with attributes which made it unbecoming that she should sit in attendance at Mrs Crawley’s bedside. But Lucy would not go back to Framley on that evening; no, nor on the next morning. She would be so glad if Fanny would come to her there, and then she would arrange about going home. ‘But, Lucy, dear, what am I to say to Ludovic? Perhaps you would feel it awkward if he were to come to see you here.’
‘Oh, yes, Lady Lufton; pray tell him not to do that.’
‘And is that all that I am to tell him?’
‘Tell him — tell him — he won’t want you to tell him anything; — only I should like to be quiet for a day, Lady Lufton.’
‘Well, dearest, you shall be quiet; the day after tomorrow then. — Mind, we must not spare you any longer, because it will be right that you should be at home now. He would think it very hard if you were to be so near, and he was not to be allowed to see you. And there will be some one else who will want to see you. I shall want to have you very near to me, for I shall be wretched, Lucy, if I cannot teach you to love me.’ In answer to which Lucy did find voice enough to make sundry promises. And then she was put out of the carriage at the little wicket gate, and Lady Lufton was driven back to Framley. I wonder whether the servant when he held the door for Miss Robarts was conscious that he was waiting on his future mistress. I fancy that he was, for these sort of people always know everything, and the peculiar courtesy of his demeanour as he let down the carriage was very observable.
Lucy felt almost beside herself as she returned upstairs, not knowing what to do or how to look, and with what words to speak. It behoved her to go at once to Mrs Crawley’s room, and yet she longed to be alone. She knew that she was quite unable either to conceal her thoughts or express them; nor did she at the present moment want to talk to any one about her happiness — seeing that she could not at the present moment talk to Fanny Robarts. She went, however, without delay into Mrs Crawley’s room, and with that little eager way of speaking quickly which is so common with people who know that they are confused, said that she feared she had been a very long time away. ‘And was it Lady Lufton?’
‘Yes; it was Lady Lufton.’
‘Why, Lucy; I did not know that you and her ladyship were such friends.’
‘She had something particular she wanted to say,’ said Lucy, avoiding the question, and avoiding also Mrs Crawley’s eyes; and then she sat down in her usual chair.
‘It was nothing unpleasant, I hope.’
‘No, nothing at all unpleasant; nothing of that kind. — Oh, Mrs Crawley, I’ll tell you some other time, but pray do not ask me now.’ And then she got up and escaped, for it was absolutely necessary that she should be alone.
When she reached her own room — that in which the children always slept — she made a great effort to compose herself, but not altogether successfully. She got out her paper and blotting book, intending, as she said to herself, to write to Fanny, knowing, however, that the letter when written would be destroyed; but she was not able even to form a word. Her hand was unsteady and her eyes were dim and her thoughts were incapable of being fixed. She could only sit, and think, and wonder and hope; occasionally wiping the tears from her eyes, and asking herself why her present frame of mind was so painful to her? During the last two or three months she had felt no fear of Lord Lufton, had always carried herself before him on equal terms, and had been signally capable of doing so when he made his declaration to her at the parsonage; but now she looked forward with an undefined dread to the first moment in which she should see him. And then she thought of a certain evening she had passed at Framley Court, and acknowledged to herself that there was some pleasure in looking back to that. Griselda Grantly had been there, and all the constitutional powers of the two families had been at work to render easy a process of love-making between her and Lord Lufton. Lucy had seen and understood it all, without knowing that she understood it, and had, in a certain degree, suffered from beholding it. She had placed herself apart, not complaining — painfully conscious of some inferiority, but, at the same time, almost boasting to herself that in her own way she was the superior. And then he had come behind her chair, whispering to her, speaking to her his first words of kindness and good-nature, and she had resolved that she would be his friend — his friend, even though Griselda Grantly might be his wife. What those resolutions were worth had soon become manifest to her. She had soon confessed to herself the result of that friendship, and had determined to bear the punishment with courage. But now —
She sate so for about an hour, and would fain have so sat out the day. But as this could not be, she got up, and having washed her face and eyes returned to Mrs Crawley’s room. There she found Mr Crawley also, to her great joy, for she knew that while he was there no questions would be asked of her. He was always very gentle with her, treating her with an old-fashioned, polished respect — except when compelled on that one occasion by his sense of duty to accuse her of mendacity respecting the purveying of victuals — but he had never become absolutely familiar with her as his wife had done; and it was well for her now that he had not done so, for she could not have talked about Lady Lufton. In the evening, when the three were present, she did manage to say that she expected Mrs Robarts would come over on the following day. ‘We shall part with you, Miss Robarts, with the deepest regret,’ said Mr Crawley; ‘but we would not on any account keep you longer. Mrs Crawley can do without you now. What she would have done, had you not come, I am a loss to think.’
‘I did not say that I should go,’ said Lucy.
‘But you will,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘Yes, dear you will. I know that it is proper now that you should return. Nay, but we will not have you any longer. And the poor dear children, too — they may return. How am I to thank Mrs Robarts for what she has done for us?’ It was settled that if Mrs Robarts came on the following day Lucy should go back to her; and then, during the long watches of the night — for on this last night Lucy would not leave the bedside of her new friend till long after the dawn had broken, she did tell Mrs Crawley what was to be her destiny in life. To herself there seemed nothing strange in her new position; but to Mrs Crawley it was wonderful that she — she, poor as she was — should have an embryo peeress at her bedside, handing her her cup to drink, and smoothing her pillow that she might be at rest. It was strange, and she could hardly maintain her accustomed familiarity. Lucy felt this at the moment.
‘It must make no difference, you know,’ said she, eagerly; ‘none at all between you and me. Promise me that it will make no difference.’ The promise was, of course, exacted; but it was not possible that such a promise should be kept. Very early on the following morning — so early that it woke her while still on her first sleep — there came a letter for her from the parsonage. Mrs Robarts had written it, after her return home from Lady Lufton’s dinner. The letter said:-
‘MY OWN DEAR DARLING, ‘How am I to congratulate you, and be eager enough in wishing you joy? I do wish you joy, and am so very happy. I write now chiefly to say that I shall be over with you about twelve tomorrow, and that I must bring you away with me. If I did not some one else, by no means so trustworthy, would insist on doing it.’
But this, though it was thus stated to be the chief part of the letter, and though it might be so in matter, was by no means so in space. It was very long, for Mrs Robarts had sat in writing it till past midnight. She went on to say, after two pages had been filled with his name:-
‘I will not say anything about him, but I must tell you how beautifully she has behaved. You will own that she is a dear woman; will you not?’
Lucy had already owned it many times since the visit of yesterday, and had declared to herself, as she has continued to declare ever since, that she never doubted it.
‘She took us by surprise when we got into the drawing-room before dinner, and she told us first of all that she had been to see you at Hogglestock. Lord Lufton, of course, could not keep the secret, but brought it out instantly. I can’t tell you now how he told it all, but I am sure you will believe that he did it in the best possible manner. He took my hand and pressed it half a dozen times, and I thought he was going to do something else; but he did not, so you need not be jealous. And she was so nice to Mark, saying such things in praise of you, and paying all manner of compliments to your father. But Lord Lufton scolded her immediately for not bringing you. He said it was lackadaisical and nonsensical; but I could see how much he loved her for what she had done; and she could see it too, for I know her ways, and know that she was delighted with him. She could not keep her eyes off him all the evening, and certainly I never did see him so well.
‘And then while Lord Lufton and Mark were in the dining-room, where they remained a terribly long time, she would make me go through the house that she might show me your rooms, and explain how you were to be the mistress there. She has got it all arranged to perfection, and I am sure she has been thinking about it for years. Her great fear at present is that you and he should go and live at Lufton. If you have any gratitude in you, either to her or to me, you will not let him do this. I consoled her by saying that there are not two stones upon one another at Lufton as yet; and I believe such is the case. Besides, everybody says that it is the ugliest spot in the world. She went on to declare, with tears in her eyes, that if you were content to remain at Framley, she would never interfere in anything. I do think that she is the best woman that ever lived.’
So much have I given of this letter formed but a small portion of it, but it comprises all that it is necessary that we should know. Exactly at twelve o’clock on that day Puck the pony appeared, with Mrs Robarts and Grace Crawley behind him, Grace having been brought back as being capable of some service in the house. Nothing that was confidential, and very little that was loving, could be said at the moment, because Mr Crawley was there, waiting to bid Miss Robarts adieu; and he had not as yet been informed of what was to be the future fate of his visitor. So they could only press each other’s hands and embrace, which to Lucy was almost a relief; for even to her sister-inlaw she hardly as yet knew how to speak openly on this subject.
‘May God Almighty bless you, Miss Robarts,’ said Mr Crawley, as he stood in his dingy sitting-room ready to lead her out to the pony-carriage. ‘You have brought sunshine into this house, even in the time of sickness, when there was no sunshine; and He will bless you. You have been the Good Samaritan, binding up the wounds of the afflicted, pouring in oil and balm. To the mother of my children you have given life, and to me you have brought light, and comfort and good words — making my spirit glad within me as it had not been gladdened before. All this hath come of charity, which vaunteth not itself and is not puffed up. Faith and hope are great and beautiful, but charity exceedeth them all.’ And having so spoken, instead of leading her he went away and hid himself. How Puck behaved himself as Fanny drove him back to Framley, and how those two ladies in the carriage behaved themselves — of that, perhaps, nothing need be said.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01