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- Framley Parsonage - 10/111 -

'But I have a more astounding piece of news for you than this. There is to be a very great party at Gatherum Castle next week, and they have talked me over into accepting an invitation which the duke sent expressly to me. I refused at first; but everybody here said that my doing so would be so strange; and then they all wanted to know my reason. When I came to render it, I did not know what reason I had to give. The bishop is going, and he thought it very odd that I should not go also, seeing that I was asked. I know that my own darling will think, and I know that she will not be pleased, and I must put off my defence till I return to her from this ogre-land--if ever I get back alive. But joking apart, Fanny, I think that I should have been wrong to stand out, when so much was said about it. I should have been seeming to take upon myself to sit in judgement upon the duke. I doubt if there be a single clergyman in the diocese, under fifty years of age, who would have refused the invitation under such circumstances--unless it be Crawley, who is so mad on the subject that he thinks it almost wrong to take a walk out of his own parish. I must stay at Gatherum Castle over Sunday week--indeed, we only go there on Friday. I have written to Jones about his duties. I can make it up to him, as I know he wishes to go to Wales at Christmas. My wanderings will all be over then, and he may go for a couple of months if he pleases. I suppose you will take my classes in the school on Sunday, as well as your own; but pray make them have a good fire. If this be too much for you, make Mrs Podgens take the boys. Indeed I think that will be better.

'Of course you will tell her ladyship of my whereabouts. Tell her from me, that as regards the bishop, as well as regarding another great personage, the colour has been laid on perhaps a little too thickly. Not that Lady Lufton would ever like him. Make her understand that my going to the duke's house has almost become a matter of conscience with me. I have not known how to make it appear that it would be right for me to refuse, without absolutely making a party matter of it. I saw that it would be said, that I, coming from Lady Lufton's parish, could not go to the Duke of Omnium's. This I did not choose.

'I find that I shall want a little money before I leave here, five or ten pounds--say ten pounds. If you cannot spare it, get it from Davis. He owes me more than that, a good deal. And now, God bless and preserve you, my love. Kiss my darling bairns for papa, and give them my blessing. 'Always and ever your own, 'M.R.'

And then there was written, on an outside scrap, which was folded round the full-written sheet of paper. 'Make it as smooth at Framley Court as possible.' However strong, and reasonable, and unanswerable the body of Mark's letter may have been, all his hesitation, weakness, doubt, and fear, were expressed in that short postscript.



And now, with my reader's consent, I will follow the postman with that letter to Framley; not by its own circuitous route indeed, or by the same mode of conveyance; for that letter went into Barchester by the Courcy night mail-cart, which, on its road, passed through the villages of Uffey and Chaldicotes, reaching Barchester in time for the up-mail from London. By that train, the letter was sent towards the metropolis as far as the junction of the Barset branch line, but there it was turned in its course, and came down again by the main line as far as Silverbridge; at which place, between six and seven in the morning, it was shouldered by the Framley footpost messenger, and in due course delivered at the Framley Parsonage exactly as Mrs Robarts had finished reading prayers to the four servants. Or, I should say rather, that such would in its usual course have been that letter's destiny. As it was, however, it reached Silverbridge on Sunday, and lay there till the Monday, as the Framley people have declined their Sunday post. And then again, when the letter was delivered at the parsonage, on that wet Monday morning, Mrs Robarts was not at home. As we are all aware, she was staying with her ladyship at Framley Court.

'Oh, but it's mortial wet,' said the shivering postman as he handed in that and the vicar's newspaper. The vicar was a man of the world and took The Jupiter.

'Come in, Robin postman, and warm theeself awhile,' said Jemima the cook, pushing a stool a little to one side, but still well in front of the big kitchen fire.

'Well, I dudna jist know how it'll be. The wery 'edges 'as eyes and tells on me in Silverbridge, if I so much as steps to pick up a blackberry.'

'There hain't no hedges her, mon, nor yet no blackberries; so sit thee down and warm theeself. That's better nor blackberries, I'm thinking,' and she handed him a bowl of tea with a slice of buttered toast. Robin postman took the proffered tea, put his dripping hat on the ground, and thanked Jemima cook. 'But I dudna jist know how it'll be;' said he, 'only it do pour so tarmation heavy.' Which among us, O my readers, could have withstood that temptation?

Such was the circuitous course of Mark's letter; but as it left Chaldicotes on Saturday evening and reached Mrs Robarts on the following morning, or would have done but for the intervening Sunday, doing all peregrinations during the night, it may be held that its course of transport was not inconveniently arranged. We, however, will travel by a much shorter route. Robin, in the course of his daily travels, passed, first the post-office at Framley, then Framley Court back entrance, and then the vicar's house, so that on this wet morning Jemima cook was not able to make use of his services in transporting the letter back to her mistress; for Robin had got another village before him, expectant of his letters.

'Why didn't thee leave it, mon, with Mr Applejohn at the Court?' Mr Applejohn was the butler who took the letter-bag. 'Thee know'st as how missus was there.' And then Robin, mindful of the tea and toast, explained to her courteously how the law made it imperative on him to bring the letter to the very house that was indicated, let the owner of the letter be where she might; and he laid down the law very satisfactorily with sundry long-worded quotations. Not to much effect, however, for the housemaid called him an oaf; and Robin would decidedly have had the worst of it had not the gardener come in and taken his part. 'They woman knows nothin', and understands nothin',' said the gardener. 'Give us hold of the letter. I'll take it up to the house. It's the master's fist.' And then Robin postman went on one way, and the gardener, he went the other. The gardener never disliked an excuse for going to the Court gardens, even on so wet a day as this.

Mrs Robarts was sitting over the drawing-room fire with Lady Meredith, when her husband's letter was brought to her. The Framley Court letter-bag had been discussed at breakfast; but that was now nearly an hour since, and Lady Lufton, as was her wont, was away in her own room, writing her own letters, and looking after her own matters: for Lady Lufton was a person who dealt in figures herself, and understood business almost as well as Harold Smith. And on that morning she also had received a letter which had displeased her not a little. Whence arose the displeasure neither Mrs Robarts nor Lady Meredith knew; but her ladyship's brow had grown black at breakfast time; she had bundled up an ominous-looking epistle in her bag, without speaking of it, and had left the room immediately that breakfast was over.

'There's something wrong,' said Sir George.

'Mamma does fret herself so much about Ludovic's money matters,' said Lady Meredith. Ludovic was Lord Lufton--Ludovic Lufton, Baron Lufton of Lufton, in the county of Oxfordshire.

'And yet I don't think Lufton gets much astray,' said Sir George, as he sauntered out of the room. 'Well, Justy; we'll put off going then till to-morrow; but remember, it must be the first train.' Lady Meredith said she would remember, and then they went into the drawing-room, and there Mrs Robarts received her letter. Fanny, when she read it, hardly at first realised to herself the idea that her husband, the clergyman of Framley, the family clerical friend of Lady Lufton's establishment, was going to stay with the Duke of Omnium. It was so thoroughly understood at Framley Court that the duke and all belonging to him, was noxious and damnable. He was a Whig, he was a bachelor, he was a gambler, he was immoral in every way, he was a man of no Church principle, a corrupter of youth, a sworn foe of young wives, a swallower up of small men's patrimonies; a man whom mothers feared for their sons, and sisters for their brothers; and worse again, whom fathers had cause to fear for their daughters, and brothers for their sisters;--a man who, with his belongings, dwelt, and must dwell, poles asunder from Lady Lufton and her belongings! And it must be remembered that all these evil things were fully believed by Mrs Robarts. Could it really be that her husband was going to dwell in the halls of Apollyon, to shelter himself beneath the wings of this very Lucifer? A cloud of sorrow settled upon her face, and then she read the letter again very slowly, not omitting the tell-tale postscript.

'Oh, Justinia!' at last she said.

'What, have you got bad news, too?'

'I hardly know how to tell you what has occurred. There; I suppose you had better read it;' and she handed her husband's epistle to Lady Meredith--keeping back, however, the postscript.

'What on earth will her ladyship do now?' said Lady Meredith, as she folded the paper, and replaced it in the envelope.

'What had I better do, Justinia? how had I better tell her?' And then the two ladies put their heads together, bethinking themselves how they might best deprecate the wrath of Lady Lufton. It had been arranged that Mrs Robarts should go back to the parsonage after lunch, and she had persisted in her intention after it had been settled that the Merediths were to stay over that evening. Lady Meredith now advised her friend to carry out this determination

Framley Parsonage - 10/111

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