This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Form:
Genre:
Published:
  • 1861
Collection:
Buy it on Amazon Listen via Audible FREE Audible 30 days

Indeed I don’t know who has.’

‘No, by Jove; that’s just it. That’s what my aunt Lady Hartletop says; there is no sense of duty left in the world. By the by, what an uncommon fool Dumbello is making himself!’ And then the conversation went off to that other topic.

Lord Lufton’s joke against himself about the willow branches was all very well, and nobody dreamed that his heart was sore in that matter. The world was laughing at Lord Dumbello for what it chose to call a foolish match, and Lord Lufton’s friends talked to him about it as though they had never suspected that he could have made an ass of himself in the same direction; but, nevertheless, he was not altogether contented. He by no means wished to marry Griselda; he had declared himself a dozen times since he had first suspected his mother’s manoeuvres that no consideration on earth should induce him to do so; he had pronounced her to be cold, insipid, and unattractive in spite of her beauty: and yet he felt almost angry that Lord Dumbello should have been successful. And this, too, was the more inexcusable, seeing that he had never forgotten Lucy Robarts, had never ceased to love her, and that, in holding those various conversations within his own bosom, he was as loud in Lucy’s favour as he was in dispraise of Griselda.

‘Your hero, then,’ I hear some well-balanced critic say, ‘is not worth very much.’ In the first place Lord Lufton is not my hero; and in the next place, a man may be very imperfect and yet worth a great deal. A man may be as imperfect as Lord Lufton, and yet worthy of a good mother and a good wife. If not, how many of us are unworthy of the mothers and wives we have! It is my belief that few young men settle themselves down to the work of the world, to the begetting of children, and carving and paying and struggling and fretting for the same, without having first been in love with four or five possible mothers for them, and probably with two or three at the same time. And yet these men are, as a rule, worthy of the excellent wives that ultimately fall to their lot. In this way, Lord Lufton had, to a certain extent, been in love with Griselda. There had been one moment in his life in which he would have offered her his hand, had not her discretion been so excellent; and though that moment never returned, still he suffered from some feeling akin to disappointment when he learned that Griselda had been won and was to be worn. He was, then, a dog in a manger, you will say. Well; and are we not all dogs in the manger more or less actively? Is not that manger-doggishness one of the most common phases of the human heart? But not the less was Lord Lufton truly in love with Lucy Robarts. Had he fancied that any Dumbello was carrying on a siege before that fortress, his vexation would have manifested itself in a very different manner. He could joke about Griselda Grantly with a frank face and a happy tone of voice; but had he heard of any tidings of a similar import with reference to Lucy, he would have been past all joking, and I must doubt whether it would not even have affected his appetite. ‘Mother,’ he said to Lady Lufton, a day or two after the declaration of Griselda’s engagement, ‘I am going to Norway to fish.’

‘To Norway,–to fish?’

‘Yes. We’ve got a rather nice party. Clontarf is going, and Culpepper–‘

‘What–that horrid man!’

‘He’s an excellent hand at fishing; and Haddington Peebles, and–and–there’ll be six of us altogether; and we start this day week.’

‘That’s rather sudden, Ludovic.’

‘Yes, it is sudden; but we’re sick of London. I should not care to go so soon myself, but Clontarf and Culpepper say that the season is early this year. I must go down to Framley before I start–about my horses: and therefore I came to tell you that I shall be there to-morrow.’

‘At Framley to-morrow? If you could put it off for three days I should be going myself.’ But Lord Lufton could not put it off for three days. It may be that on this occasion he did not wish for his mother’s presence at Framley while he was there; that he conceived that he should be more at his ease in giving orders about his stable if he were alone while so employed. At any rate he declined her company, and on the following morning did go down to Framley by himself.

‘Mark,’ said Mrs Robarts, hurrying into her husband’s book-room about the middle of the day, ‘Lord Lufton is at home. Have you heard it?’

‘What! Here at Framley?’

‘He is over at Framley Court; so the servants say. Carson saw him in the paddock with some of the horses. Won’t you go and see him?’

‘Of course I will,’ said Mark, shutting up his papers. ‘Lady Lufton can’t be here, and if he is alone he will probably come and dine.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Mrs Robarts, thinking of poor Lucy.

‘He is not in the least particular. What does for us will do for him. I shall ask him, at any rate.’ And without further parley the clergyman took up his hat and went off in search of his friend. Lucy Robarts had been present when the gardener brought in tidings of Lord Lufton’s arrival at Framley, and was aware that Fanny had gone to tell her husband.

‘He won’t come here, will he?’ she said, as soon as Mrs Robarts had returned.

‘I can’t say,’ said Fanny. ‘I hope not. He ought not to do so, and I don’t think he will. But Mark says that he will ask him to dinner.’

‘Then, Fanny, I must be taken ill. There is nothing else for it.’

‘I don’t think he will come. I don’t think he can be so cruel. Indeed, I feel sure that he won’t; but I thought it right to tell you.’ Lucy also conceived that it was improbable that Lord Lufton should come to the parsonage under the present circumstances; and she declared to herself that it would not be possible that she should appear at table if he did so; but, nevertheless, the idea of his being at Framley was, perhaps, not altogether painful to her. She did not recognize any pleasure as coming to her from his arrival, but still there was something in his presence which was, unconsciously to herself, soothing to her feelings. But that terrible question remained;–How was she to act if it should turn out that he was coming to dinner?

‘If he does come, Fanny,’ she said solemnly, after a pause, ‘I must keep to my own room, and leave Mark to think what he pleases. It will be better for me to make a fool of myself there, than in his presence in the drawing-room.’

Mark Robarts took his hat and stick and went over at once to the home paddock, in which he knew that Lord Lufton was engaged with the horses and grooms. He also was in no supremely happy frame of mind for his correspondence with Mr Tozer was on the increase. He had received notice from that indefatigable gentleman that certain ‘overdue bills’ were now lying at the bank in Barchester, and were very desirous of his, Mr Robarts’s, notice. A concatenation of certain peculiarly unfortunate circumstances made it indispensably necessary that Mr Tozer should be repaid, without further loss of time, the various sums of money which he had advanced on the credit of Mr Robarts’s name, &c, &c, &c. No absolute threat was put forth, and, singular to say, no actual amount was named. Mr Robarts, however, could not but observe, with a most painfully accurate attention, that mention was made, not of an overdue bill, but of overdue bills. What if Mr Tozer were to demand from him the instant repayment of nine hundred pounds? Hitherto he had merely written to Mr Sowerby, and he might have had an answer from that gentleman this morning, but no such answer had as yet reached him. Consequently he was not, at the present moment, in a very happy frame of mind.

He soon found himself with Lord Lufton and the horses. Four or five of them were being walked slowly about the paddock in the care of as many men or boys, and the sheets were being taken off them–off one after another, so that their master might look at them with the more accuracy and satisfaction. But though Lord Lufton was thus doing his duty, and going through his work, he was not doing it with his whole heart,–as the head groom perceived very well. He was fretful about the nags, and seemed anxious to get them out of his whole sight as soon as he had made a decent pretext of looking at them. ‘How are you, Lufton?’ said Robarts, coming forward. ‘They told me that you were down, and so I came across at once.’

‘Yes; I only got here this morning, and should have been over with you directly. I am going to Norway for six weeks or so, and it seems that the fish are so early this year that we must start at once. I have a matter on which I want to speak to you before I leave; and, indeed, it was that which brought me down more than anything else.’ There was something hurried and not altogether easy about his manner as he spoke, which struck Robarts, and made him think that this promised matter to be spoken would not be agreeable in discussion. He did not know whether Lord Lufton might not again be mixed up with Tozer and the bills.

‘You will dine with us to-day?’ he said, ‘if, as I suppose, you are all alone.’

‘Yes, I am all alone.’

‘Then you will come?’

‘Well, I don’t quite know. No, I don’t think I can go over to dinner. Don’t look so disgusted. I’ll explain it all to you just now.’ What could there be in the wind; and how was it possible that Tozer’s bill should make it inexpedient for Lord Lufton to dine at the parsonage? Robarts, however, said nothing further about it at the moment, but turned off to look at the horses.

‘They are an uncommonly nice set of animals,’ said he.

‘Well, yes; I don’t know. When a man has four or five horses to look at, somehow or other he never has one fit to go. That chestnut mare is a picture, now that nobody wants her; but she wasn’t able to carry me well to hounds a single day last winter. Take them in, Pounce; that’ll do.’

‘Won’t your lordship run your eye over the old black ‘oss?’ said Pounce, the head groom, in a melancholy tone; ‘he’s as fine, sir–as fine as a stag.’

‘To tell you the truth, I think they’re too fine; but that’ll do; take them in. And now, Mark, if you’re at leisure, we’ll take a turn round the place.’ Mark, of course, was at leisure, and so they started on their walk.

‘You’re too difficult to please about your stable,’ Robarts began.

‘Never mind about the stable now,’ said Lord Lufton. ‘The truth is, I am not thinking about it. Mark,’ he then said, very abruptly, ‘I want you to be frank with me. Has your sister ever spoken to you about me?’

‘My sister; Lucy?’

‘Yes; your sister Lucy.’

‘No, never; at least nothing special; nothing that I can remember at the moment.’

‘Nor your wife?’

‘Spoken about you!—Fanny? Of course she has, in the ordinary way. It would be impossible that she should not. But what do you mean?’

‘Have either of them told you that I made an offer to your sister?’

‘That you made an offer to Lucy?’

‘Yes, that I made an offer to Lucy.’

‘No; nobody has told me so. I have never dreamed of such a thing; nor, as far as I believe, have they. If anybody has spread such a report, or said that either of them have hinted at such a thing, it is a base lie. Good heavens! Lufton, for what do you take them?’

‘But I did,’ said his lordship.

‘Did what?’ said the parson.

‘I did make your sister an offer.’

‘You made Lucy an offer of marriage?’

‘Yes, I did;–in as plain language as a gentleman could use to a lady.’

‘And what answer did she make?’

‘She refused me. And now, Mark, I have come down here with the express purpose of making that offer again. Nothing could be more decided than your sister’s answer. It struck me as being almost uncourteously decided. But still it is possible that circumstances may have weighed with her which ought not to weigh with her. If her love be not given to anyone else, I may still have a chance of it. It’s the old story of faint heart, you know; at any rate, I mean to try my luck again; and thinking over it with deliberate purpose, I have come to the conclusion that I ought to tell you before I see her.’

Lord Lufton in love with Lucy! As these words repeated themselves over and over again within Mark Robarts’s mind, his mind added to them notes of surprise without end. How had it come about–and why? In his estimation his sister Lucy was a very simple girl–not plain indeed, but by no means beautiful; certainly not stupid, but by no means brilliant. And then, he would have said, that of all the men he knew, Lord Lufton would have been the last to fall in love with such a girl as his sister. And now, what was he to say or do? What views was he bound to hold? In what direction should he act? There was Lady Lufton on the one side, to whom he owed everything. How would life be possible to him in that parsonage–within a few yards of her elbow–if he consent to receive Lord Lufton as the acknowledged suitor of his sister? It would be a great match for Lucy, doubtless; but–. Indeed he could not bring himself to believe that Lucy could in truth become the absolute reigning queen of Framley Court.

‘Do you think that Fanny knows anything of all this?’ he said after a moment or two.

‘I cannot possibly tell. If she does it is not with my knowledge. I should have thought that you could best answer that.’

‘I cannot answer it at all,’ said Mark. ‘I, at least, have had no remotest idea of such a thing.’

‘Your ideas of it now need not be at all remote,’ said Lord Lufton, with a faint smile; ‘and you may know it as a fact. I did make her an offer of marriage; I was refused; I am going to repeat it; and I am now taking you into my confidence, in order that, as her brother, and as my friend, you may give me such assistance as you can.’ They then walked on in silence for some yards, after which Lord Lufton added: ‘And now I’ll dine with you to-day if you wish it.’ Mr Robarts did not know what to say; he could not bethink himself what answer duty required of him. He had no right to interfere between his sister and such a marriage if she herself should wish it; but still there was something terrible in the thought of it! He had a vague conception that it must come to evil; that the project was a dangerous one; and that it could not finally result happily for any of them. What would Lady Lufton say? That undoubtedly was the chief source of his dismay.

‘Have you spoken to your mother about this?’ he said.

‘My mother? No; why speak to her till I know my fate? A man does not like to speak much of such matters if there be a probability of its being rejected. I tell you because I do not like to make my way into your house under a false pretence.’

‘But what would Lady Lufton say?’

‘I think it probable that she would be displeased on the first hearing of it; that in four-and-twenty hours she would be reconciled; and that after a week or so Lucy would be her dearest favourite and the Prime Minister of all her machinations. You don’t know my mother as well as I do. She would give her head off her shoulders to do me a pleasure.’

‘And for that reason,’ said Mark Robarts, ‘you ought, if possible, to do her pleasure.’

‘I cannot absolutely marry the wife of her choosing, if you mean that,’ said Lord Lufton. They went on walking about the garden for an hour, but they hardly got any farther than the point to which we have now brought them. Mark Robarts could not make up his mind on the spur of the moment; nor, as he said more than once to Lord Lufton, could he be at all sure that Lucy would in any way be guided by him. It was, therefore, at last settled between them that Lord Lufton should come to the parsonage immediately after breakfast on the following morning. It was agreed also that the dinner had better not come off, and Robarts promised that he would, if possible, have determined by the morning as to what advice he would give his sister. He went directly home to the parsonage from Framley Court, feeling that he was altogether in the dark till he should have consulted with his wife. How would he feel if Lucy were to become Lady Lufton? And how would he look Lady Lufton in the face in telling her that such was to be his sister’s destiny? On returning home he immediately found his wife, and had not been closeted with her five minutes before he knew, at any rate, all that she knew. ‘And you mean to say that she does love him?’ said Mark.

‘Indeed she does; and is it not natural that she should? When I saw them so much together I feared that she would. But I never thought that he would care for her.’ Even Fanny did not as yet give Lucy credit for half her attractiveness. After an hour’s talking the interview between the husband and wife ended in a message to Lucy, begging her to join them both in the book-room.

‘Aunty Lucy,’ said a chubby little darling, who was taken up into his aunt’s arms as he spoke, ‘Papa and Mamma ‘ant ‘oo’ in te tuddy, and I must go wis’ oo.’ Lucy, as she kissed the boy and pressed his face against her own, felt that her blood was running quick to her heart.

‘Mustn’t oo’ go wis me, my own one?’ she said as she put her playfellow down; but she played with the child only because she did not wish to betray, even to him, that she was hardly mistress of herself. She knew that Lord Lufton was at Framley; she knew that her brother had been to him; she knew that a proposal had been made that he should come there to dinner. Must it not, therefore, be the case that this call to a meeting in the study had arisen out of Lord Lufton’s arrival at Framley? And yet, how could it have done so? Had Fanny betrayed her in order to prevent the dinner invitation? It could not be possible that Lord Lufton himself should have spoken on the subject! And then again she stooped to kiss the child, rubbed her hands across her forehead to smooth her hair, and erase, if that might be possible, the look of care which she wore, and then descended slowly to her brother’s sitting-room. Her hand paused for a second on the door ere she opened it, but she had resolved that, come what might, she would be brave. She pushed it open and walked in with a bold front, with eyes wide open, and a slow step. ‘Frank says that you want me,’ she said. Mr Robarts and Fanny were both standing up by the fireplace, and each waited a second for the other to speak, when Lucy entered the room, and then Fanny began,–

‘Lord Lufton is here, Lucy.’

‘Here! Where? At the parsonage?’

‘No, not at the parsonage; but over at Framley Court,’ said Mark.

‘And he promises to call here after breakfast to-morrow’ said Fanny. And then again there was a pause. Mrs Robarts hardly dared to look Lucy in the face. She had not betrayed her trust, seeing that the secret had been told to Mark, not by her, but by Lord Lufton; but she could not but feel that Lucy would think that she had betrayed it.

‘Very well,’ said Lucy, trying to smile; ‘I have no objection in life.’

‘But, Lucy, dear,’–and now Mrs Robarts put her arm round her sister-in-law’s waist–‘he is coming here especially to see you.’

‘Oh; that makes a difference. I am afraid that I shall be– engaged.’

‘He has told everything to Mark,’ said Mrs Robarts. Lucy now felt that her bravery was almost deserting her. She hardly knew which way to look or how to stand. Had Fanny told everything also? There was so much that Fanny knew that Lord Lufton could not have known. But, in truth, Fanny had told all–the whole story of Lucy’s love, and had described the reasons which had induced her to reject her suitor; and had done so in words which, had Lord Lufton heard them, would have made him twice as passionate in his love. And then it certainly did occur to Lucy to think why Lord Lufton should have come to Framley and told all of his story to her brother. She attempted for a moment to make herself believe that she was angry with him for doing so. But she was not angry. She had not time to argue much about it, but there came upon her a gratified sensation of having been remembered, and thought of, and–loved. Must it not be so? Could it be possible that he himself would have told this tale to her brother, if he did not still love her? Fifty times she had said to herself that his offer had been an affair of the moment, and fifty times she had been unhappy in so saying. But this new coming of his could not be an affair of the moment. She had been the dupe, she had thought, of an absurd passion on her own part; but now–how was it now? She did not bring herself to think that she should ever be Lady Lufton. She had still, in some perversely obstinate manner, made up her mind against that result. But yet, nevertheless, it did in some unaccountable manner satisfy her to feel that Lord Lufton had himself come down to Framley and himself told his story. ‘He has told everything to Mark,’ said Mrs Robarts; and then again there was a pause for a moment, during which these thoughts passed through Lucy’s mind.

‘Yes,’ said Mark, ‘he has told me all, and he is coming here to-morrow morning that he may receive an answer from yourself.’

‘What answer?’ said Lucy, trembling.

‘Nay, dearest; who can say that but yourself?’ and her sister-in-law, as she spoke, pressed against her. ‘You must say that yourself.’ Mrs Robarts in her long conversation with her husband, had pleaded strongly on Lucy’s behalf, taking as it were a part against Lady Lufton. She had said that if Lord Lufton persevered in his suit, they at the parsonage could not be justified in robbing Lucy of all that she had won for herself, in order to do Lady Lufton’s pleasure.

‘But she will think,’ said Mark, ‘that we have plotted and intrigued for this. She will call us ungrateful, and will make Lucy’s life wretched.’ To which his wife had answered, that all must be left in God’s hands. They had not plotted or intrigued. Lucy, though loving the man in her heart of hearts, had already once refused him, because she would not be thought to have snatched at so great a prize. But if Lord Lufton loved her so warmly that he had come down there in this manner, on purpose, as he himself had put it, that he might learn his fate, then–so argued Mrs Robarts–they two, let their loyalty to Lady Lufton be ever so strong, could not justify it to their consciences to stand between Lucy and her lover. Mark had still somewhat demurred to this, suggesting how terrible would be their plight if they should now encourage Lord Lufton, and if he, after such encouragement, when they should have quarrelled with Lady Lufton, should allow himself to led away from his engagement by his mother. To which Fanny had answered that justice was justice, and that right was right. Everything must be told to Lucy, and she must judge for herself.

‘But I do not know what Lord Lufton wants,’ said Lucy, with her eyes fixed upon the ground, and now trembling more than ever. ‘He did come to me, and I did give him an answer.’

‘And is that answer to be final?’ said Mark–somewhat cruelly, for Lucy had not yet been told that her lover had made any repetition of his proposal. Fanny, however, determined that no injustice should be done, and therefore she at last continued the story.

‘We know that you did give him an answer, dearest; but gentlemen sometimes will not put up with one answer on such a subject. Lord Lufton has declared to Mark that he means to ask again. He has come down here on purpose to do so.’

‘And Lady Lufton–‘ said Lucy, speaking hardly above a whisper, and still hiding her face as she leaned against her sister’s shoulder.

‘Lord Lufton has not spoken to his mother about it,’ said Mark; and it immediately became clear to Lucy, from the tone of her brother’s voice, that he, at least, would not be pleased, should she accept her lover’s vow.

‘You must decide out of your own heart, dear,’ said Fanny, generously. ‘Mark and I know how well you have behaved, for I have told him everything.’ Lucy shuddered and leaned closer against her sister as this was said to her. ‘I had no alternative, dearest, but to tell him. It was best so; was it not? But nothing has been told to Lord Lufton. Mark would not let him come here to-day because it would have flurried you, and he wished to give you time to think. But you can see him to-morrow morning–can you not?–and then answer him.’

Lucy now stood perfectly silent, feeling that she dearly loved her sister-in-law’s for her sisterly kindness–for that sisterly wish to promote her sister’s love; but still there was in her mind a strong resolve not to allow Lord Lufton to come there under the idea that he would be received as a favoured lover. Her love was powerful, but so also was her pride; and she could not bring herself to bear the scorn which would lay in Lady Lufton’s eyes. ‘His mother will despise me, and then he will despise me too,’ she said to herself; and with a strong gulp of disappointed love and ambition she determined to persist. ‘Shall we leave you now, dear; and speak of it again to-morrow morning before he comes?’ said Fanny.

‘That will be the best,’ said Mark. ‘Turn it in your mind every way to-night. Think of it when you have said your prayers–and, Lucy, come here to me;’–then, taking her in his arms, he kissed her with a tenderness that was not customary with him towards her. ‘It is fair,’ said he, ‘that I should tell you this: that I have perfect confidence in your judgement and feeling; and that I will stand by you as your brother in whatever decision you may come to. Fanny and I both think that you have behaved excellently, and are both of us sure that you will do what is best. Whatever you do I will stick to you;–and so will Fanny.’

‘Dearest, dearest Mark!’

‘And now we will say nothing more about it till to-morrow morning,’ said Fanny. But Lucy felt that this saying nothing more about it till to-morrow morning would be tantamount to an acceptance on her part of Lord Lufton’s offer. Mrs Robarts knew, and Mr Robarts also now knew, the secret of her heart; and if, such being the case, she allowed Lord Lufton to come there with the acknowledged purpose of pleading his own suit, it would be impossible for her not to yield. If she were resolved that she would not yield, now was the time for her to stand her ground and make her fight. ‘Do not go, Fanny; at least not quite yet,’ she said.

‘Well, dear?’

‘I want you to stay while I tell Mark. He must not let Lord Lufton come here to-morrow.’

‘Not let him!’ said Mrs Robarts. Mr Robarts said nothing, but he felt his sister rising in his esteem from minute to minute.

‘No; Mark must bid him not come. He will not wish to pain me when it will do no good. Look here, Mark;’ and she walked over to her brother, and put both her hands upon his arm. ‘I do love Lord Lufton. I had not such meaning or thought when I first knew him. But I do love him–I love him dearly;–almost as well as Fanny loves you, I suppose. You may tell him so if you think proper–nay, you must tell him so, or he will not understand me. But tell him this, as coming from me: that I will never marry him, unless his mother asks me.’

‘She will not do that, I fear,’ said Mark, sorrowfully.

‘No; I suppose not,’ said Lucy, now regaining her courage. ‘If I thought it probable that she should wish me to be her daughter-in-law, it would not be necessary that I should make such a stipulation. It is because she will not wish it; because she would regard me as unfit to–to–mate with her son. She would hate me, and perhaps would cease to love me. I could not bear her eye upon me, if she thought that I had injured her son. Mark, you will go to him now; will you not? and explain this to him;–as much of it as necessary. Tell him, that if his mother asks me, I will–consent. But that as I know that she never will, he is to look upon all that he has said as forgotten. With me it shall be the same as though it were forgotten.’ Such was her verdict, and so confident were they both of her firmness–of her obstinacy Mark would have called it on any other occasion,–that they neither of them sought to make her alter it.

‘You will go to him now–this afternoon; will you not?’ she said; and Mark promised that he would. He could not but feel that he himself was greatly relieved. Lady Lufton might, probably, hear that her son had been fool enough to fall in love with the parson’s sister; but under existing circumstances she could not consider herself aggrieved either by the parson or by his sister. Lucy was behaving well, and Mark was proud of her. Lucy was behaving with fierce spirit, and Fanny was grieving for her.

‘I’d rather be by myself till dinner-time,’ said Lucy, as Mrs Robarts prepared to go with her out of the room. ‘Dear Fanny, don’t look so unhappy; there’s nothing to make us unhappy. I told you I should want goat’s milk, and that will be all.’ Robarts, after sitting for an hour with his wife, did return again to Framley Court; and, after a considerable search, found Lord Lufton returning home to a late dinner.

‘Unless my mother asks her,’ said he, when the story had been told him. ‘That is nonsense. Surely you told her that such is not the way of the world.’ Robarts endeavoured to explain to him that Lucy could not endure to think that her husband’s mother should look on her with disfavour.

‘Does she think that my mother dislikes her; her specially?’ asked Lord Lufton. No; Robarts could not suppose that such was the case; but Lady Lufton might probably think that a marriage with a clergyman’s sister would be a mesalliance.

‘That is out of the question,’ said Lord Lufton; ‘as she has specially wanted me to marry a clergyman’s daughter for some time past. But, Mark, that is absurd talking about my mother. A man in these days is not to marry as his mother bids him.’ Mark could only assure him, in answer to all this, that Lucy was very firm in what she was doing, that she had quite made up her mind, and that she altogether absolved Lord Lufton from any necessity to speak to his mother, if he did not think well of doing so. But all this was to very little purpose. ‘She does love me then,’ said Lord Lufton.

‘Well,’ said Mark, ‘I will not say whether she does or does not. I can only repeat her own message. She cannot accept you, unless she does so at your mother’s request.’ And having said that again, he took his leave, and went back to the parsonage. Poor Lucy, having finished her interview with so much dignity, having fully satisfied her brother, and declined any immediate consolation from her sister-in-law, betook herself to her own bedroom. She had to think over what had been said and done, and it was necessary that she should be alone to do so. It might be that, when she came to reconsider the matter, she would not be quite so well satisfied as was her brother. Her grandeur of demeanour and slow propriety of carriage lasted her till she was well into her own room. There are animals who, when they are ailing in any way, contrive to hide themselves, ashamed, as it were, that the weakness of their suffering, should be witnessed. Indeed, I am not sure whether all dumb animals do not do so more or less; and in this respect Lucy was like a dumb animal. Even in her confidences with Fanny she made a joke of her own misfortunes, and spoke of her heart ailments with self-ridicule. But now, having walked up the staircase with no hurried step, and having deliberately locked the door, she turned herself round to suffer in silence and solitude–as do the beasts and birds. She sat herself down on a low chair, which stood at the foot of her bed, and, throwing back her head, held her handkerchief across her eyes and forehead, holding it tight in both her hands; and then she began to think. She began to think and also to cry, for the tears came running down from beneath her handkerchief; and low sobs were to be heard–only that the animal had taken itself off, to suffer in solitude. Had she not thrown from her all her chances of happiness? Was it possible that he should come to her yet again–a third time? No; it was not possible. The very mode and pride of this, her second rejection of him, made it impossible. In coming to her determination, and making her avowal, she had been actuated by the knowledge that Lady Lufton would regard such a marriage with abhorrence. Lady Lufton would not and could not ask her to condescend to be her son’s bride. Her chance of happiness, of glory, of ambition, of love, was all gone. She had sacrificed not only herself, but him. When first he came there–when she had meditated over his first visit–she had hardly given him much credit for deep love; but now–there could be no doubt that he loved her now. After his season in London, his days and nights were passed with all that was beautiful, he had returned there, to that little country parsonage, that he might again throw himself at her feet. And she–she had refused to see him, though she loved him with all her heart, she had refused to see him because she was so vile a coward that she could not bear the sour looks of an old woman! ‘I will come down directly,’ she said, when Fanny at last knocked at the door, begging to be admitted. ‘I won’t open it, love, but I will be with you in ten minutes; I will, indeed.’ And so she was, not perhaps, without traces of tears, discernible by the experienced eye of Mrs Robarts, but yet with a smooth brow, and voice under her own command.

‘I wonder whether she really loves him,’ Mark said to his wife that night.

‘Love him!’ his wife had answered: ‘indeed she does; and, Mark, do not be led away by the stern-quiet of her demeanour. To my thinking she is a girl who might almost die for her love.

On the next day Lord Lufton left Framley; and started, according to his arrangements, for the Norway salmon fishing.

CHAPTER XXXII

THE GOAT AND COMPASSES

Harold Smith had been made unhappy by that rumour of a dissolution; but the misfortune to him would be as nothing compared to the severity with which it would fall on Mr Sowerby. Harold Smith might or might not lose his borough; but Mr Sowerby would undoubtedly lose his county; and, in losing that, he would lose everything. He felt very certain that the duke would not support him again, let who would be master of Chaldicotes; and as he reflected on these things he found it very hard to keep up his spirits. Tom Towers, it seems, had known all about it, as he always does. The little remark which had dropped from him at Miss Dunstable’s, made, no doubt, after mature deliberation, and with profound political motives, was the forerunner, only by twelve hours, of a very general report that the giants had not a majority in Parliament, generous as had been the promises of support disinterestedly made to them by the gods. This indeed was manifest, and therefore they were going to the country, although they had been deliberately warned by a very prominent scion of Olympus that if they did do so that disinterested support must be withdrawn. This threat did not seem to weigh much, and by two o’clock on the day following Miss Dunstable’s party, the fiat was presumed to have gone forth. The rumour had begun with Tom Towers, but by that time it had reached Buggins at the Petty Bag Office. ‘It won’t make no difference to hus, sir; will it, Mr Robarts?’ said Buggins, as he leaned respectfully against the wall near the door, in the room of the private secretary at that establishment.

A good deal of conversation, miscellaneous, special, and political, went on between young Robarts and Buggins in the course of the day; as was natural, seeing that they were thrown in these evil times very much upon each other. The Lord Petty Bag of the present ministry was not such a one as Harold Smith. He was a giant indifferent to his private notes, and careless of the duties even of patronage; he rarely visited the office, and as there were no other clerks in the establishment–owing to a root and branch reform carried out in the short reign of Harold Smith–to whom could young Robarts talk, if not to Buggins? ‘No; I suppose not,’ said Robarts, as he completed on his blotting-paper an elaborate picture of a Turk seated on a divan.

”Cause, you see, sir, we’re in the Upper ‘Ouse, now–as I always thinks we ought to be. I don’t think it ain’t constitutional for the Petty Bag to be in the Commons, Mr Robarts. Hany ways, it never usen’t.’

‘They’re changing all those sort of things nowadays, Buggins,’ said Robarts, giving the final touch to the Turk’s smoke.

‘Well; I’ll tell you what, Mr Robarts: I think I’ll go. I can’t stand all these changes. I’m turned of sixty now, and don’t want any ‘stifficates. I think I’ll take my pension and walk. The hoffice ain’t the same place at all since it come down among the Commons.’ And then Buggins retired sighing, to console himself with a pot of porter behind a large open office ledger, set up on end on a small table in the little lobby outside the private secretary’s room. Buggins sighed again as he saw that the date made visible on the open book was almost as old as his own appointment; for such a book as this lasted long in the Petty Bag Office. A peer of high degree had been Lord Petty Bag in those days; one whom a messenger’s heart could respect with infinite veneration, as he made his unaccustomed visits to the office with much solemnity–perhaps four times during the season. The Lord Petty Bag then was highly regarded by his staff, and his coming among them was talked about for some hours previously and for some days afterwards; but Harold Smith had bustled in and out like the managing clerk in a Manchester house. ‘The service is going to the dogs,’ said Buggins to himself, as he put down the porter pot, and looked up over the book at a gentleman who presented himself at the door. ‘Mr Robarts in his room?’ said Buggins, repeating the gentleman’s words. ‘Yes, Mr Sowerby; you’ll find him there–first door to the left.’ And then, remembering that the visitor was a county member–a position which Buggins regarded as next to that of a peer–he got up, and opening the private secretary’s door, ushered in the visitor.

Young Robarts and Sowerby had, of course, become acquainted in the days of Harold Smith’s reign. During that short time the member for East Barset had on most days dropped in at the Petty Bag Office for a minute or two, finding out what the energetic Cabinet minister was doing, chatting on semi-official subjects, and teaching the private secretary to laugh at his master. There was nothing, therefore, in his present visit which need appear to be singular, or which required any immediate special explanation. He sat himself down in his ordinary way, and began to speak of the subject of the day. ‘We’re all to go,’ said Sowerby.

‘So I hear,’ said the private secretary. ‘It will give me no trouble, for, as the respectable Buggins says, we’re in the Upper House now.’

‘What a delightful time those lucky dogs of lords do have!’ said Sowerby. ‘No constituents, no turning out, no fighting, no necessity for political opinions; and, as a rule, no such opinions at all!’

‘I suppose you’re tolerably safe in East Barsetshire?’ said Robarts. ‘The duke has it pretty much his own way there.’

‘Yes; the duke does have it pretty much his own way. By the by, where is your brother?’

‘At home,’ said Robarts; ‘at least I presume so.’

‘At Framley or at Barchester? I believe he was in residence at Barchester not long since.’

‘He’s at Framley now, I know. I got a letter only yesterday from his wife, with a commission. He was there, and Lord Lufton had just left.’

‘Yes; Lufton was down. He started for Norway this morning. I want to see your brother. You have not heard from him yourself, have you?’

‘No; not lately. Mark is a bad correspondent. He would not do at all for a private secretary.’

‘At any rate, not to Harold Smith. But you are sure I should not catch him at Barchester?’

‘Send down by telegraph, and he would meet you.’

‘I don’t want to do that. A telegraph message makes such a fuss in the country, frightening people’s wives, and setting all the horses about the place galloping.’

‘What is it about?’

‘Nothing of any great consequence. I didn’t know whether he might have told you. I’ll write down by to-night’s post, and then he can meet me at Barchester to-morrow. Or do you write. There’s nothing I hate so much as letter-writing; just tell him that I called, and that I shall be much obliged if he can meet me at the Dragon of Wantly–say at two to-morrow. I will go down by the express.’

Mark Robarts, in talking over this coming money trouble with Sowerby, had once mentioned that if it were necessary to take up the bill for a short time he might be able to borrow the money from his brother. So much of the father’s legacy still remained in the hands of the private secretary as would enable him to produce the amount of the latter bill, and there could be no doubt that he would lend it if asked. Mr Sowerby’s visit to the Petty Bag Office had been caused by a desire to learn whether any such request had been made–and also by a half-formed resolution to make the request himself if he should find that the clergyman had not done so. It seemed to him to be a pity that such a sum should be lying about, as it were, within reach, and that he should not stoop to put his hands on it. Such abstinence would be so contrary to him as it is for a sportsman to let pass a cock-pheasant. But yet something like remorse touched his heart as he sat there balancing himself on his chair in the private secretary’s room, and looking at the young man’s open face.

‘Yes; I’ll write to him,’ said John Robarts; ‘but he hasn’t said anything to me about anything particular.’

‘Hasn’t he? It does not much signify. I only mentioned it because I thought I understood him to say that he would.’ And then Mr Sowerby went on swinging himself. How was it that he felt so averse to mention that little sum of 500L to a young man like John Robarts, a fellow without wife or children or calls on him of any sort, who would not even by injured by the loss of the money, seeing that he had an ample salary on which to live? He wondered at his own weakness. The want of the money was urgent on him in the extreme. He had reasons for supposing that Mark would find it very difficult to renew the bills, but he, Sowerby, could stop their presentation if he could get this money at once into his own hands.

‘Can I do anything for you?’ said the innocent lamb, offering his throat to the butcher. But some unwonted feeling numbed the butcher’s fingers, and blunted his knife. He sat still for half a minute after the question, and then jumping from his seat, declined the offer. ‘No, no; nothing, thank you. Only write to Mark, and say that I shall be there to-morrow,’ and then, taking his hat, he hurried out of the office. ‘What an ass I am,’ he said to himself as he went: ‘as if it were of any use now to be particular.’

He then got into a cab and had himself driven half-way up Portman Street towards the New Road, and walking from thence a few hundred yards down a cross-street he came to a public-house. It was called the ‘Goat and Compasses’,–a very meaningless name, one would say; but the house boasted of being a place of public entertainment very long established on that site, having been a tavern out in the country in the days of Cromwell. At that time the pious landlord, putting up a pious legend for the benefit of his pious customers, had declared that–‘God encompasseth us.’ The ‘Goat and Compasses’ in these days does quite as well; and, considering the present character of the house, was perhaps less unsuitable than the old legend. ‘Is Mr Austen here?’ asked Mr Sowerby of the man at the bar.

‘Which on ’em? Not Mr John; he ain’t here. Mr Tom is in–the little room on the left-hand side.’ The man whom Mr Sowerby would have preferred to see was the elder brother John; but as he was not to be found, he did go into that little room. In that room he found–Mr Austen, junior, according to one arrangement of nomenclature, and Mr Tom Tozer according to another. To gentlemen of the legal profession he generally chose to introduce himself as belonging to the respectable family of the Austens; but among his intimates he had always been–Tozer. Mr Sowerby, though he was intimate with the family, did not love the Tozers: but he especially hated Tom Tozer. Tom Tozer was a bull-necked, beetle-browed fellow, the expression of whose face was eloquent with acknowledged roguery. ‘I am a rogue,’ it seemed to say. ‘I know it; all the world knows it: but you’re another. All the world don’t know that, but I do. Men are all rogues, pretty nigh. Some are soft rogues, and some are ‘cute rogues. I am a ‘cute one; so mind your eye.’ It was with such words that Tom Tozer’s face spoke out; and though a thorough liar in his heart, he was not a liar in his face. ‘Well, Tozer,’ said Mr Sowerby, absolutely shaking his hands with the dirty miscreant. ‘I wanted to see your brother.’

‘John ain’t here, and ain’t like; but it’s all as one.’

‘Yes, yes; I suppose it is. I know you two hunt in couples.’

‘I don’t know what you mean about hunting, Mr Sowerby. You gents ‘as all the hunting, and we poor folk ‘as all the work. I hope you’re going to make up this trifle of money we’re out of so long.’

‘It’s about that I’ve called. I don’t know what you call long, Tozer; but the last bill was only dated in February.’

‘It’s overdue; ain’t it?’

‘Oh, yes; it’s overdue. There’s no doubt about that.’

‘Well; when a bit of paper is come round, the next thing is to take it up. Them’s my ideas. And to tell you the truth, Mr Sowerby, we don’t think as ‘ow you’ve been treating us just on the square lately. In that matter of Lord Lufton’s you was down on us uncommon.’

‘You know I couldn’t help myself.’

‘Well, and we can’t help ourselves now. That’s where it is, Mr Sowerby. Lord love you; we know what’s what, we do. And so, the fact is we’re uncommon low as to the ready just at present, and we must have them few hundred pounds. We must have them at once, or we must sell up that clerical gent. I’m dashed if it ain’t as hard to get money from a parson as it is to take a bone from a dog. ‘E’s ‘ad ‘is account, no doubt, and why don’t he pay?’ Mr Sowerby had called with the intention of explaining that he was about to proceed to Barchester on the following day with the express view of ‘making arrangements’ about this bill; and had he seen John Tozer, John would have been compelled to accord to him some little extension of time. Both Tom and John knew this; and, therefore, John–the soft-hearted one–kept out of the way. There was no danger that Tom would be weak; and, after some half-hour of parley, he was again left by Mr Sowerby, without having evinced any symptom of weakness.

‘It’s the dibs as we want, Mr Sowerby, that’s all,’ were the last words which he spoke as the member of Parliament left the room. Mr Sowerby then got into another cab, and had himself driven to his sister’s house. It is a remarkable thing with reference to men who are distressed for money–distressed as was now the case with Mr Sowerby–that they never seem at a loss for the luxuries which small sums purchase. Cabs, dinners, wine, theatres, and new gloves are always at the command of men who are drowned in pecuniary embarrassments, whereas those who don’t owe a shilling are so frequently obliged to go without them! It would seem that there is no gratification so costly as that of keeping out of debt. But then it is only fair that, if a man has a hobby, he should pay for it. Any one else would have saved a shilling, as Mrs Harold Smith’s house was only just across from Oxford Street, in the neighbourhood of Hanover Square; but Mr Sowerby never thought of this. He had never saved a shilling in his life, and it did not occur to him to begin now. He had sent word to her to remain at home for him, and he now found her waiting. ‘Harriet,’ said he, throwing himself back into an easy chair, ‘the game is pretty well up at last.’

‘Nonsense,’ said she. ‘The game is not up at all if you have the spirit to carry it on.’

‘I can only say that I got formal notice this morning from the duke’s lawyer, saying that he meant to foreclose at once;–not from Fothergill, but from those people in South Audley Street.’

‘You expected that,’ said his sister.

‘I don’t see how that makes it any better; besides, I am not quite sure that I did expect it; at any rate I did not feel certain. There is no doubt now.’

‘It is better that there should be no doubt. It is much better that you should know on what ground you have to stand.’

‘I shall soon have no ground to stand on, none at least of my own–not an acre,’ said the unhappy man, with great bitterness in his tone.

‘You can’t in reality be poorer now than you were last year. You have not spent anything to speak of. There can be no doubt that Chaldicotes will be ample to pay all you owe the duke.’

‘It’s as much as it will; and what am I to do then? I almost think more of the seat than I do of Chaldicotes.’

‘You know what I advise,’ said Mrs Smith. ‘Ask Miss Dunstable to advance the money on the same security which the duke holds. She will be as safe then as he is now. And if you can arrange that, stand for the county against him; perhaps you may be beaten.’

‘I shouldn’t have a chance.’

‘But it would show that you are not a creature in the duke’s hands. That’s my advice,’ said Mrs Smith, with much spirit; ‘and if you wish, I’ll broach it to Miss Dunstable, and ask her to get her lawyer to look into it.’

‘If I had done this before I had run my head into that other absurdity!’

‘Don’t fret yourself about that; she will lose nothing by such an investment, and therefore you are not asking any favour of her. Besides, did she not make the offer? and she is just the woman to do this for you now, because she refused to do that thing for you yesterday. You understand most things, Nathaniel; but I am not sure that you understand women; not, at any rate, such a woman as her.’ It went against the grain with Mr Sowerby, this seeking of pecuniary assistance from the very woman whose hand he had attempted to gain about a fortnight since; but he allowed his sister to prevail. What could any man do in such straits that would not go against the grain? At the present moment he felt in his mind an infinite hatred against the duke, Mr Fothergill, Gumption & Gagebee, and all the tribes of Gatherum Castle and South Audley Street; they wanted to rob of that which had belonged to the Sowerbys before the name of Omnium had been heard of in the county, or in England! The great leviathan of the deep was anxious to swallow him up as prey! He was to be swallowed up, and made away with, and put out of sight, without a pang of remorse. Any measure which could not present itself as a means of staving off so evil a day would be acceptable; and therefore he gave his sister the commission of making this second proposal to Miss Dunstable. In cursing the duke–for he did curse the duke lustily–it hardly occurred to him to think that, after all, the duke only asked for his own. As for Mrs Harold Smith, whatever may be the view taken of her general character as a wife and a member of society, it must be admitted that as a sister she had virtues.

CHAPTER XXXIII

CONSOLATION

On the next day at two o’clock punctually, Mark Robarts was at the “Dragon of Wantly” walking up and down the very room in which the party had breakfasted after Harold Smith’s lecture, and waiting for the arrival of Mr Sowerby. He had been very well able to divine what was the business on which his friend wished to see him, and he had been rather glad than otherwise to receive the summons. Judging of his friend’s character by what he had hitherto had seen, he thought that Mr Sowerby would have kept out of the way, unless he had it in his power to make some provision for these terrible bills. So he walked up and down the dingy room, impatient for the expected arrival, and thought himself wickedly ill-used in that Mr Sowerby was not there when the clock struck a quarter to three. But when the clock struck three, Mr Sowerby was there, and Mark Robarts’s hopes were nearly at an end.

‘Do you mean that they will demand nine hundred pounds?’ said Robarts, standing up and glaring angrily at the member of Parliament.

‘I fear they will,’ said Sowerby. ‘I think it is best to tell you the worst, in order that we may see what can be done.’

‘I can do nothing, and will do nothing,’ said Robarts. ‘They may do what they choose–what the law allows them.’ And then he thought of Fanny and his nursery, and Lucy refusing in her pride Lord Lufton’s offer, and he turned away his face that the hard man of the world before him might not see the tear gathering in his eye.

‘But, Mark, my dear fellow–‘ said Sowerby, trying to have recourse to the power of his cajoling voice. Robarts, however, would not listen.

‘Mr Sowerby,’ said he, with an attempt at calmness which betrayed itself at every syllable, ‘it seems to me that you have robbed me. That I have been a fool, and worse than a fool, I know well; but–but–but I thought that your position in the world would guarantee me from such treatment as this.’ Mr Sowerby was by no means without feeling, and the words which he now heard cut him very deeply–the more so because it was impossible that he should answer them with an attempt at indignation. He had robbed his friend, and, with all his wit, knew no words at the present moment sufficiently witty to make it seem that he had not done so. ‘Robarts,’ said he, ‘you may say what you like to me now; I shall not resent it.’

‘Who would care for your resentment?’ said the clergyman, turning on him with ferocity. ‘The resentment of a gentleman is terrible to a gentleman; and the resentment of one just man is terrible to another. Your resentment!’–and then he walked twice the length of the room, leaving Sowerby dumb in his seat. ‘I wonder whether you ever thought of my wife and children when you were plotting this ruin for me!’ And then again he walked the room.

‘I suppose you will be calm enough presently to speak of this with some attempt to make a settlement?’

‘No; I will make no such attempt. These friends of yours, you tell me, have a claim on me for nine hundred pounds, of which they demand immediate payment. You shall be asked in a court of law how much of that money I have handled. You know that I have never touched–have never wanted to touch–one shilling. I will make no attempt at any settlement. My person is here, and there is my house. Let them do their worst.’

‘But, Mark–‘

‘Call me by my name, sir, and drop that affectation of regard. What an ass I have been to be so cozened by a sharper!’ Sowerby had by no means expected this. He had always known that Robarts possessed what he, Sowerby, would have called the spirit of a gentleman. He had regarded him as a bold, open, generous fellow, able to take his own part when called on to do so, and by no means disinclined to speak his own mind; but he had not expected from him such a torrent of indignation, or thought that he was capable of such a depth of anger. ‘If you use such language, Robarts, I can only leave you.’

‘You are welcome. Go. You tell me that you are the messenger of these men who intend to work nine hundred pounds out of me. You have done your part in the plot, and have now brought their message. It seems to me that you had better go back to them. As for me, I want my time to prepare my wife for the destiny before her.’

‘Robarts, you will be sorry some day for the cruelty of your words.’

‘I wonder whether you will ever be sorry for the cruelty of your doings, or whether these things are really a joke to you.’

‘I am at this moment a ruined man,’ said Sowerby. ‘Everything is going from me,–my place in the world, the estate of my family, my father’s house, my seat in Parliament, the power of living among my countrymen, or, indeed, of living anywhere;–but all this does not oppress me now so much as the misery which I have brought upon you.’

And then Sowerby also turned away his face, and wiped from his eyes tears which were not artificial. Robarts was still walking up and down the room, but it was not possible for him to continue his reproaches after this. This is always the case. Let a man endure to heap contumely on his own head, and he will silence the contumely of others–for the moment. Sowerby, without meditating on the matter, had had some inkling of this, and immediately saw that there was at last an opening for conversation. ‘You are unjust to me,’ said he, ‘in supposing that I have now no wish to save you. It is solely in the hope of doing so that I have come here.’

‘And what is your hope? That I should accept another brace of bills, I suppose.’

‘Not a brace; but one renewed bill for–‘

‘Look here, Mr Sowerby. On no earthly consideration that can be put before me will I again sign my name to any bill in the guise of an acceptance. I have been very weak, and am ashamed of my weakness; but so much strength as that, I hope, is left to me. I have been very wicked, and am ashamed of my wickedness; but so much right principle as that, I hope, remains. I will put my name to no other bill; not for you, not even for myself.’

‘But, Robarts, under your present circumstances that will be madness.’

‘Then I will be mad.’

‘Have you seen Forrest? If you will speak to him, I think you will find that everything can be accommodated.’

‘I already owe Mr Forrest a hundred and fifty pounds, which I obtained from him when you pressed me for the price of that horse, and I will not increase the debt. What a fool I was again there! Perhaps you do not remember that, when I agreed to buy the horse, the price was to be my contribution to the liquidation of those bills.’

‘I do remember it; but I will tell you how that was.’

‘It does not signify. It has been all of a piece.’

‘But listen to me. I think you would feel for me if you knew all that I have gone through. I pledge you my solemn word that I had no intention of asking you for the money when you took the horse;–indeed I had not. But you remember that affair of Lufton’s, when he came to you at your hotel in London and was so angry about an outstanding bill.’

‘I know that he was very unreasonable as far as I was concerned.’

‘He was so; but that makes no difference. He was resolved, in his rage, to expose the whole affair; and I saw that, if he did so, it would be most injurious to you, seeing that you had just accepted your stall at Barchester.’ Here the poor prebendary winced terribly. ‘I moved heaven and earth to get up that bill. Those vultures stuck to their prey when they found the value which I attached to it, and I was forced to raise above a hundred pounds at the moment to obtain possession of it, although every shilling absolutely due on it had not long since been paid. Never in my life did I wish to get money as I did to raise that hundred and twenty pounds: and as I hope for mercy in my last moments, I did that for your sake. Lufton could not have injured me in that matter.’

‘But you told him that you got it for twenty-five pounds.’

‘Yes, I told him so. I was obliged to tell him that, or I should have apparently condemned myself by showing how anxious I was to get it. And you know that I could not have explained all this before him and you. You would have thrown up the stall in disgust.’ Would that he had! That was Mark’s wish now,–his futile wish. In what a slough of despond had he come to wallow in consequence of his folly on that night at Gatherum Castle! He had done a silly thing, and was he now to rue it by almost total ruin? He was sickened also with all those lies. His very soul was dismayed by the dirt through which he was forced to wade. He had become unconsciously connected with the lowest dregs of mankind, and would have to see his name mingled with theirs in the daily newspapers. And for what had he done this? Why had he thus filed his mind and made himself a disgrace to his cloth? In order that he might befriend such a one as Mr Sowerby!

‘Well,’ continued Sowerby, ‘I did get the money, but you would hardly believe the rigour of the pledge which was exacted from me for repayment. I got it from Harold Smith, and never in my worst straits, will I again look to him for assistance. I borrowed it only for a fortnight; and in order that I might repay it, I was obliged to ask you for the price of the horse. Mark, it was on your behalf that I did all this,–indeed it was.’

‘And now I am to repay you for your kindness by the loss of all that I have in the world.’

‘If you will put the affair into the hands of Mr Forrest, nothing need be touched,–not a hair of a horse’s back; no, not though you should be obliged to pay the whole amount yourself gradually out of your income. You must execute a series of bills, falling due quarterly, and then–‘

‘I will execute no bill, I will put my name to no paper in the matter; as to that my mind is fully made up. They may come and do their worst.’ Mr Sowerby persevered for a long time, but he was quite unable to move the parson from his position. He would do nothing towards making what Mr Sowerby called an arrangement, but persisted that he would remain at home at Framley, and that any one who had a claim upon him might take legal steps. ‘I shall do nothing myself,’ he said; ‘but if proceedings against me be taken, I shall prove that I have never had a shilling of the money.’ And with this resolution he quitted the Dragon of Wantly. Mr Sowerby at one time said a word as to the expediency of borrowing that sum of money from John Robarts; but as to this Mark would say nothing. Mr Sowerby was not the friend with whom he now intended to hold consultation in such matters. ‘I am not at present prepared,’ he said, ‘to declare what I may do; I must first see what steps others take.’ And then he took his hat and went off; and mounting his horse in the yard of the Dragon of Wantly–that horse which he had now so many reasons to dislike–he slowly rode back home.

Many thoughts passed through his mind during that ride, but only one resolution obtained itself a fixture there. He must now tell his wife everything. He would not be so cruel as to let it remain untold until a bailiff were at the door, ready to walk him off to the county jail, or until the bed on which they slept was to be sold from under them. Yes, he would tell her everything,–immediately, before his resolution could again have faded away. He got off his horse in the yard, and seeing his wife’s maid at the kitchen door, desired her to beg her mistress to come to him in the book-room. He would not allow one half-hour to pass towards the waning of his purpose. If it be ordained that a man shall drown, had he not better drown and have done with it? Mrs Robarts came to him in his room, reaching him in time to touch his arm as he entered it. ‘Mary says you want me. I have been gardening, and she caught me just as I came in.’

‘Yes, Fanny, I do want you. Sit down for a moment.’ And walking across the room, he placed his whip in its proper place.

‘Oh, Mark, is there anything the matter?’

‘Yes, dearest; yes. Sit down, Fanny: I can talk to you better if you will sit.’ But she, poor lady, did not wish to sit. He had hinted at some misfortune, and therefore she felt a longing to stand by him and cling to him.

‘Well, there; I will if I must; but, Mark, do not frighten me. Why is your face so very wretched?’

‘Fanny, I have done very wrong,’ he said. ‘I have been very foolish. I fear that I have brought upon you great sorrow and trouble.’ And then he leaned his head upon his hands and turned his face away from her.

‘Oh, Mark, dearest Mark, my own Mark! What is it?’ And then she was quickly up from her chair, and went down on her knees before him. ‘Do not turn from me. Tell me, Mark! tell me, that we may share it.’

‘Yes, Fanny, I must tell you now; but I hardly know what you will think of me when you have heard it.’

‘I will think that you are my own husband, Mark; I will think that–that chiefly, whatever it may be.’ And then she caressed his knees, and looked up in his face, and, getting hold of one of his hands, pressed it between her own. ‘Even if you have been foolish, who should forgive you if I cannot?’ And then he told her all, beginning from that evening when Mr Sowerby had got him into his bedroom, and going on gradually, now about the bills, and now about the horses, till his poor wife was utterly lost in the complexity of the accounts. She could by no means follow him in the details of his story; nor could she quite sympathize with him in his indignation against Mr Sowerby, seeing that she did not comprehend at all the nature of the renewing of a bill. The only part to her of importance in the matter was the money which her husband would be called upon to pay; that, and her strong hope, which was already a conviction, that he would never again incur such debts.

‘And how much is it, dearest, altogether?’

‘These men claim nine hundred pounds of me.’

‘Oh dear! that is a terrible sum.’

‘And then there is the hundred and fifty which I have borrowed from the bank–the price of the horse, you know; and there are some other debts,–not a great deal, I think; but people will now look for every shilling that is due to them. If I have to pay it all, it will be twelve or thirteen hundred pounds.’

‘That will be as much as a year’s income, Mark; even with the stall.’ That was the only word of reproach she said–if that could be called a reproach.

‘Yes,’ he said; ‘and it is claimed by men who will have no pity in exacting it at any sacrifice, if they have the power. And to think that I should have incurred all this debt, without having received anything for it. Oh, Fanny, what will you think of me!’ But she swore to him that she would think nothing of it–that she would never bear it in her mind against him–that it could have no effect in lessening her trust in him. Was he not her husband? She was so glad she knew it, that she might comfort him. And she did comfort him, making the weight seem lighter and lighter on his shoulders as he talked of it. And such weights do thus become lighter. A burden that will crush a single pair of shoulders will, when equally divided,–when shared by two, each of whom is willing to take the heavier part–become light as a feather. Is not that sharing of the mind’s burdens one of the chief purposes for which a man wants a wife? For there is no folly so great as keeping one’s sorrows hidden. And this wife cheerfully, gladly, thankfully took her share. To endure with her lord all her lord’s troubles was easy to her; it was the work to which she had pledged herself. But to have thought that her lord had troubles not communicated to her,–that would have been to her the one thing not to be borne. And then they discussed their plans; what mode of escape they might have out of this terrible money difficulty. Like a true woman, Mrs Robarts proposed at once to abandon all superfluities. They would sell all their horses; they would not sell their cows, but would sell the butter that came from them; they would sell the pony-carriage, and get rid of the groom. That the footman must go was so much a matter of course, that it was hardly mentioned. But then, as to that house at Barchester, the dignified prebendal mansion in the close–might they not be allowed to leave it unoccupied for one year longer–perhaps to let it? The world of course must know of their misfortune; but if that misfortune was faced bravely, the world would be less bitter in its condemnation. And then, above all things, everything must be told to Lady Lufton.

‘You may, at any rate, believe this, Fanny,’ said he, ‘that for no consideration which can be offered to me will I ever put my name to another bill.’ The kiss with which she thanked him for this was as warm and generous as though he had brought to her that day news of the brightest; and when he sat, as he did that evening, discussing it all, not only with his wife, but with Lucy, he wondered how it was that his troubles were now so light. Whether or no a man should have his own private pleasures, I will not now say; but it never can be worth his while to keep his sorrows private.

CHAPTER XXXIV

LADY LUFTON IS TAKEN BY SURPRISE

Lord Lufton, as he returned to town, found some difficulty in resolving what step he would next take. Sometimes, for a minute or two, he was half inclined to think–or rather to say to himself–that Lucy was perhaps not worth the trouble which she threw in his way. He loved her very dearly, and would willingly make her his wife, he thought or said at such moments; but– Such moments, however, were only moments. A man in love seldom loves less because his love becomes difficult. And thus, when those moments were over, he would determine to tell his mother at once, and urge her to signify her consent to Miss Robarts. That she would not be quite pleased he knew; but if he were firm enough to show that he had a will of his own in this matter, she would probably not gainsay him. He would not ask this humbly, as a favour, but request her ladyship to go through the ceremony as though it were one of those motherly duties which she as a good mother could not hesitate to perform on behalf of her son. Such was the final resolve with which he reached his chambers in the Albany. On the next day he did not see his mother. It would be well, he thought, to have his interview with her immediately before he started for Norway, so that there might be no repetition of it; and it was on the day before he did start that he made his communication, having invited himself to breakfast in Brook Street on the occasion.

‘Mother,’ he said, quite abruptly, throwing himself into one of the dining-room chairs. ‘I have a thing to tell you.’ His mother at once knew that the thing was important, and with her own peculiar motherly instinct imagined that the question to be discussed had reference to matrimony. Had her son desired to speak to her about money, his tone and look would have been different; as would also have been the case–in a different way–had he entertained any thought of a pilgrimage to Peking, or a prolonged fishing excursion to the Hudson Bay Territories.

‘A thing, Ludovic! well, I am quite at liberty.’

‘I want to know what you think of Lucy Robarts?’ Lady Lufton became pale and frightened, and the blood ran cold to her heart. She had feared more than rejoiced in conceiving that her son was about to talk of love, but she had feared nothing so bad as this.

‘What do I think of Lucy Robarts?’ she said, repeating her son’s words in a tone of evident dismay.

‘Yes, mother; you have said once or twice lately that you thought I ought to marry, and I am beginning to think so too. You selected one clergyman’s daughter for me, but that lady is going to do much better with herself–‘

‘Indeed she is not,’ said Lady Lufton sharply.

‘And therefore I rather think I shall select for myself another clergyman’s sister. You don’t dislike Miss Robarts, I hope?’

‘Oh, Ludovic!’ It was all that Lady Lufton could say at the spur of the moment.

‘Is there any harm in her! Have you any objection to her? Is there anything about her that makes her unfit to be my wife?’

For a moment or two Lady Lufton sat silent, collecting her thoughts. She thought that there was a very great objection to Lucy Robarts, regarding her as the possible future Lady Lufton. She could hardly have stated all her reasons, but they were very cogent. Lucy Robarts had, in her eyes, neither beauty, nor style, nor manner, nor even the education which was desirable. She was almost as far removed from being so as a woman could be in her position. But, nevertheless, there were certain worldly attributes which she regarded as essential to the character of any young lady who might be considered fit to take the place which she herself had so long filled. It was her desire in looking for a wife for her son to combine these with certain moral excellences which she regarded as equally essential. Lucy Robarts might have the moral excellences, or she might not; but as to the other attributes Lady Lufton regarded her as altogether deficient. She could never look like a Lady Lufton, or carry herself in the county as a Lady Lufton should do. She had not that quiet personal demeanour–that dignity of repose–which Lady Lufton loved to look upon in a young married woman of rank. Lucy, she would have said, could be nobody in a room except by dint of her tongue, whereas Griselda Grantly would have held her peace for a whole evening, and yet would have impressed everybody by the majesty of her presence. Then again, Lucy had no money–and, again Lucy was only the sister of her own parish clergyman. People are rarely prophets in their own country, and Lucy was no prophet at Framley; she was none, at least, in the eyes of Lady Lufton. Once before, as may be remembered, she had had fears on this subject–fears, not so much for her son, whom she could hardly bring herself to suspect of such a folly, but for Lucy, who might be foolish enough to fancy that the lord was in love with her. Alas! alas! Her son’s question fell upon the poor woman at the present moment with the weight of a terrible blow. ‘Is there anything about her which makes her unfit to be my wife?’ Those were her son’s last words.

‘Dearest Ludovic, dearest Ludovic!’ and she got up and came over to him, ‘I do think so; I do, indeed.’

‘Think what?’ said he, in a tone that was almost angry.

‘I do think that she is unfit to be your wife. She is not of that class from which I would wish to see you choose.’

‘She is of the same class as Griselda Grantly.’

‘No, dearest. I think you are in error there. The Grantlys have moved in a different sphere of life. I think you must feel that they are–‘

‘Upon my word, mother, I don’t. One man is Rector of Plumstead, and the other is Vicar of Framley. But it is no good arguing that. I want you to take to Lucy Robarts. I have come to you on purpose to ask it of you as a favour.’

‘Do you mean as your wife, Ludovic?’

‘Yes; as my wife.’

‘Am I to understand that you are–are engaged to her?’

‘Well, I cannot say that I am–not actually engaged to her. But you may take this for granted that, as far as it lies in my power, I intend to become so. My mind is made up, and I certainly shall not alter it.’

‘And the young lady knows all this?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Horrid, sly, detestable, underhand girl,’ Lady Lufton said to herself, not being by any means brave enough to speak out such language before her son. What hope could there be if Lord Lufton had already committed himself by a positive offer? ‘And her brother, and Mrs Robarts; are they aware of it?’

‘Yes; both of them.’

‘And both approve of it?’

‘Well, I cannot say that. I have not seen Mrs Robarts, and do not know what may be her opinion. To speak my mind honestly about Mark, I do not think he does cordially approve. He is afraid of you, and would be desirous of knowing what you think.’

‘I am glad, at any rate, to hear that,’ said Lady Lufton, gravely. ‘Had he done anything to encourage this, it would have been very base.’ And then there was another short period of silence. Lord Lufton had determined not to explain to his mother the whole state of the case. He would not tell her that everything depended on her word–that Lucy was ready to marry him only on condition that she, Lady Lufton, would desire her to do so. He would not let her know that everything depended on her–according to Lucy’s present verdict. He had a strong disinclination to ask his mother’s permission to get married; and he would have to ask it were he to tell her the whole truth. His object was to make her think well of Lucy, and to induce her to be kind, and generous, and affectionate down at Framley. Then things would all turn out comfortably when he again visited that place, as he intended to do on his return from Norway. So much he thought it possible he might effect, relying on his mother’s probable calculation that it would be useless for her to oppose a measure which she had no power of stopping by her authority. But were he to tell her that she was to be the final judge, that everything was to depend on her will, then, so thought Lord Lufton, that permission would in all probability be refused.

‘Well, mother, what answer do you intend to give me?’ he said. ‘My mind is positively made up. I should not have come to you had not that been the case. You will now be going down home, and I would wish you to treat Lucy as you yourself would wish to treat any girl to whom you knew that I was engaged.’

‘But you say that you are not engaged.’

‘No, I am not; but I have made my offer to her, and I have not been rejected. She has confessed that she–loves me,—not to myself, but to her brother. Under these circumstances, may I count upon your obliging me?’ There was something in his manner which almost frightened his mother, and made her think that there was more behind this than was told to her. Generally speaking, his manner was open, gentle, and unguarded; but now he spoke as though he had prepared his words, and was resolved on being harsh as well as obstinate.

‘I am so much taken by surprise, Ludovic, that I can hardly give you an answer. If you ask whether I approve of such a marriage, I must say that I do not; I think that you would be throwing yourself away marrying Miss Robarts.’

‘That is because you do not know her.’

‘May it not be possible that I know her better than you do, dear Ludovic? You have been flirting with her–‘

‘I hate that word; it always sounds to me to be vulgar.’

‘I will say making love to her, if you like it better; and gentlemen under these circumstances will sometimes become infatuated.’

‘You would not have a man marry a girl without making love to her. The fact is, mother, that your tastes and mine are not exactly the same; you like silent beauty, whereas I like talking beauty, and then–‘

‘Do you call Miss Robarts beautiful?’

‘Yes, I do; very beautiful; she has the beauty that I admire. Good-bye now, mother; I shall not see you again before I start. It will be no use writing, as I shall be away for so short a time, and I don’t quite know where we shall be. I shall come down to Framley immediately I return, and shall learn from you how the land lies. I have told you my wishes, and you will consider how far you think it right to fall in with them.’ He then kissed her, and without waiting for a reply, he took his leave. Poor Lady Lufton, when she was left to herself, felt that her head was going round and round. Was this to be the end of all her ambition,–of all her love for her son? and was this the result of all her kindness to the Robarts’s? She almost hated Mark Robarts as she reflected that she had been the means of bringing him and his sister to Framley. She thought over all his sins, his absences from the parish, his visit to Gatherum Castle, his dealings with reference to that farm which was to have been sold, his hunting, and then his acceptance of that stall, given, as she had been told, through the Omnium interest. How could she love him at such a moment as this? And then she thought of his wife. Could it be possible that Fanny Robarts, her own friend Fanny, would be so untrue to her as to lend any assistance to such a marriage as this; as not to use all her power in preventing it? She had spoken to Fanny on this very subject–not fearing for her son, but with a general idea of the impropriety of intimacies between such girls as Lucy, and such men as Lord Lufton, and then Fanny had agreed with her. Could it be possible that even she must be regarded as an enemy? And then by degrees Lady Lufton began to reflect what steps she had better take. In the first place, should she give in at once, and consent to the marriage? The only thing quite certain to her was this, that life would be not worth having if she were forced into a permanent quarrel with her son. Such an event would probably kill her. When she read of quarrels in other noble families–and the accounts of such quarrels will sometimes, unfortunately, force themselves upon the attention of my unwilling readers–she would hug herself, with a spirit that was almost pharisaical, reflecting that her destiny was not like that of others. Such quarrels and hatreds between fathers and daughters, and mothers and sons, were in her eyes disreputable to all the persons concerned. She had lived happily with her husband, comfortably with her neighbours, respectably with the world, and, above all things, affectionately with her children. She spoke everywhere of Lord Lufton as though he were nearly perfect,–and in so speaking, she had not belied her convictions. Under these circumstances, would not any marriage be better than a quarrel? But, then, again, how much of the pride of her daily life would be destroyed by such a match as that! And might it not be within her power to prevent it without any quarrel? That her son would be sick of such a chit as Lucy before he had been married to her six months–of that Lady Lufton entertained no doubt, and therefore her conscience would not be disquieted in disturbing the consummation of an arrangement so pernicious. It was evident that the matter was not considered as settled even by her son; and also evident that he regarded the matter as being in some way dependent on his mother’s consent. On the whole, might it not be better for her–better for them all–that she should think wholly of her duty, and not of the disagreeable results to which that duty might possibly lead? It could not be her duty to accede to such an alliance; and therefore she would do her best to prevent it. Such, at least, should be her attempt in the first instance.

Having so decided, she next resolved on her course of action. Immediately on her arrival at Framley, she would send for Lucy Robarts, and use all her eloquence–and perhaps also a little of that stern dignity for which she was so remarkable–in explaining to that young lady how very wicked it was on her part to think of forcing herself on such a family as that of the Luftons. She would explain to Lucy that no happiness could come of it, that people placed by misfortune above their sphere are always miserable; and, in short, make use of all those excellent moral lessons which are so customary on such occasions. The morality might perhaps be thrown away; but Lady Lufton depended much on her dignified sternness. And then, having so resolved, she prepared for her journey home. Very little had been said at Framley parsonage about Lord Lufton’s offer after the departure of that gentleman; very little, at least, in Lucy’s presence. That the parson and his wife should talk about it between themselves was a matter of course; but very few words were spoken on the matter either by or to Lucy. She was left to her own thoughts, and possibly to her own hopes. And then other matters came up at Framley which turned the current of interest into other tracks. In the first place there was the visit made by Mr Sowerby to the Dragon of Wantly, and the consequent revelation made by Mark Robarts to his wife. And while that latter subject was yet new, before Fanny and Lucy had as yet made up their minds as to all the little economies which might be practised in the household without serious detriment to their master’s comfort, news reached them that Mrs Crawley of Hogglestock had been stricken with fever. Nothing of the kind could well be more dreadful than this. To those who knew the family it seemed impossible that their most ordinary wants could be supplied if that courageous head were even for a day laid low; and then the poverty of poor Mr Crawley was such that the sad necessities of a sick bed could hardly be supplied without assistance. ‘I will go over at once,’ said Fanny.

‘My dear!’ said her husband, ‘it is typhus, and you must think of the children. I will go.’

‘What on earth could you do, Mark?’ said his wife. ‘Men on such occasions are almost worse than useless; and then they are so much more liable to infection.’

‘I have no children, nor am I a man,’ said Lucy, smiling; ‘for both of which exemptions I am thankful. I will go, and when I come back I will keep clear of the bairns.’

So it was settled, and Lucy started in the pony-carriage, carrying with her such things from the parsonage storehouse as were thought to be suitable to the wants of the sick lady at Hogglestock. When she arrived there, she made her way into the house, finding the door open, and not being able to obtain the assistance of the servant girl in ushering her in. In the parlour she found Grace Crawley, the eldest child, sitting demurely in her mother’s chair nursing an infant. She, Grace herself, was still a young child, but not the less, on this occasion of well-understood sorrow, did she go through her task with zeal but almost with solemnity. Her brother, a boy of six years old, was with her, and he had the care of another baby. There they sat in a cluster, quiet, grave, and silent, attending on themselves, because it had been willed by fate that no one else should attend them. ‘How is your mamma, dear Grace?’ said Lucy, walking up to her and holding out her hand.

‘Poor mamma is very ill indeed,’ said Grace.

‘And papa is very unhappy,’ said Bobby, the boy.

‘I can’t get up because of baby,’ said Grace; ‘but Bobby can go and call papa out.’

‘I will knock at the door,’ said Lucy; and so saying she walked up to the bedroom door, and tapped against it lightly. She repeated this for the third time before she was summoned in by a low hoarse voice, and then on entering she saw Mr Crawley standing by the bedside with a book in his hand. He looked at her uncomfortably, in a manner which seemed to show that he was annoyed by this intrusion, and Lucy was aware that she had disturbed him while at prayers by the bedside of his wife. He came across the room, however, and shook hands with her, and answered her inquiries in his ordinary grave and solemn voice. ‘Mrs Crawley is very ill,’ he said–‘very ill. God has stricken us heavily, but His will be done. But you had better not go to her, Miss Robarts. It is typhus.’

The caution, however, was too late; for Lucy was already at the bedside, and had taken the hand of the sick woman, which had been extended on the coverlid to greet her. ‘Dear Miss Robarts,’ said a weak voice; ‘this is very good of you; but it makes me unhappy to see you here.’ Lucy lost no time in taking sundry matters into her own hands, and ascertaining what was most wanted in that wretched household. For it was wretched enough. Their only servant, a girl of sixteen, had been taken away by her mother as soon as it became known that Mrs Crawley was ill with fever. The poor mother, to give her her due, had promised to come down morning and evening herself, to do such work as might be done in an hour or so; but she could not, she said, leave her child to catch the fever. And now, at the period of Lucy’s visit, no step had been taken to procure a nurse, Mr Crawley having resolved to take upon himself the duties of that position. In his absolute ignorance of all sanitary measures, he had thrown himself on his knees to pray; and if prayers–true prayers–might succour his poor wife, of such succour she might be confident. Lucy, however, thought that other aid was wanting to her. ‘If you can do anything for us,’ said Mrs Crawley, ‘let it be for the poor children.’

‘I will have them all moved from this till you are better,’ said Lucy boldly.

‘Moved!’ said Mr Crawley, who even now–even in his present strait–felt a repugnance to the idea that any one should relieve him of any portion of his burden.

‘Yes,’ said Lucy; ‘I am sure it will be better that you should lose them for a week or two, till Mrs Crawley may be able to leave the room.’

‘But where are they to go?’ said he, very gloomily. As to this Lucy was not as yet able to say anything. Indeed when she left Framley parsonage there had been no time for discussion. She would go back and talk it over with Fanny, and find out in what way the children might be best put out of danger. Why should they not all be harboured at the parsonage, as soon as assurance could be felt that they were not tainted with the poison of the fever? An English lady of the right sort will do all things but one for a sick neighbour; but for no neighbour will she wittingly admit contagious sickness within the precincts of her own nursery. Lucy unloaded her jellies and her febrifuges, Mr Crawley frowning at her bitterly the while. It had come to this with him, that food had been brought into his house, as an act of charity, in his very presence, and in his heart of hearts he disliked Lucy Robarts in that she had brought it. He could not cause the jars and the pots to be replaced in the pony-carriage, as he would have done had the position of his wife been different. In her state it would have been barbarous to refuse them, and barbarous also to have created the fracas of a refusal; but each parcel that was introduced was an additional weight laid on the sore withers of his pride, till the total burden became almost unbearable. All this his wife saw and recognized even in her illness, and did make some light ineffectual efforts to give him ease; but Lucy in her new power was ruthless, and the chicken to make the chicken-broth was taken out of the basket under his very nose. But Lucy did not remain long. She had made up her mind what it behoved her to do herself, and she was soon ready to return to Framley. ‘I shall be back again, Mr Crawley,’ she said, ‘probably this evening, and I shall stay with her till she is better.’ ‘Nurses don’t want rooms,’ she went on to say, when Mr Crawley muttered something about there being no bed- chamber. ‘I shall make up some sort of litter near her; you’ll see that I shall be very snug.’ And then she got into the pony-chaise, and drove herself home.

CHAPTER XXXV

THE STORY OF KING COPHETUA

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-in-law 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.’