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- Framley Parsonage - 100/111 -


'Then, mother, you do not know her. You must permit me to say that you are talking of a girl whom you do not know. Of all the epithets of opprobrium which the English language could give you, that would nearly be the last she would deserve.'

'I have not intended any opprobrium.'

'Insignificant!'

'Perhaps you do not quite understand me, Ludovic.'

'I know what insignificant means, mother.'

'I think that she would not worthily fill the position which your wife should take in the world.'

'I understand what you say.'

'She would not do you honour at the head of your table.'

'Ah, I understand. You want me to marry some bouncing Amazon, some pink and white giantess of fashion who would frighten the little people into their proprieties.'

'Oh, Ludovic! You are intending to laugh at me now.'

'I was never less inclined to laugh in my life--never, I can assure you. And now I am more certain than ever that your objection to Miss Robarts arises from your not knowing her. You will find, I think, when you do know her, that she is as well able to hold her own as any lady of your acquaintance--aye, and to maintain her husband's position too. I can assure you that I shall have no fear of her on that score.'

'I think, dearest, that perhaps you hardly--'

'I think this, mother, that in such a matter as this I must choose for myself. I have chosen; and now I ask you, as my mother, to go to her and bid her welcome. Dear mother, I will own this, that I should not be happy if I thought that you did not love my wife.' These last words he said in a tone of affection that went to his mother's heart, and then he left the room.

Poor Lady Lufton, when she was alone, waited till she heard her son's steps retreating through the hall, and then betook herself upstairs to her customary morning work. She sat down at last as though about to occupy herself; but her mind was too full to allow of her taking up her pen. She had often said to herself, in days which to her were not as yet long gone by, that she would choose a bride for her son, and that then she would love the chosen one with all her heart. She would dethrone herself in favour of this new queen, sinking with joy into her dowager state, in order that her son's wife might shine with the greater splendour. The fondest day-dreams of her life had all had reference to the time when her son should bring home a new Lady Lufton, selected by herself from the female excellence of England, and in which she might be the first to worship her new idol. But could she dethrone herself for Lucy Robarts? Could she give up her chair of state in order to place thereon the little girl from the parsonage? Could she take to her heart, and treat with absolute loving confidence, with the confidence of an almost idolatrous mother, that little chit who, a few months since, had sat awkwardly in one corner of her drawing-room, afraid to speak to any one? And yet it seemed that it must come to this--to this--or else those day-dreams of hers would in nowise come to pass. She sat herself down, trying to think whether it were possible that Lucy might fill the throne; for she had begun to recognize it as probable that her son's will would be too strong for her; but her thoughts would fly away to Griselda Grantly. In her first and only matured attempt to realize her day-dreams, she had chosen Griselda for her queen. She had failed there, seeing that Fates had destined Miss Grantly for another throne; for another and higher one, as far as the world goes. She would have made Griselda the wife of a baron, but fate was about to make that young lady the wife of a marquis. Was there cause for grief in this? Did she really regret that Miss Grantly, with all her virtues, should be made over to the house of Hartletop? Lady Lufton was a woman who did not bear disappointment lightly; but nevertheless she did almost feel herself to have been relieved from a burden when she thought of the termination of the Lufton-Grantly marriage treaty. What if she had been successful, and, after all, the prize had been other than she had expected? She was sometimes prone to think that that prize was not exactly all that she had once hoped. Griselda looked the very thing that Lady Lufton wanted for a queen; but how would a queen reign who trusted only to her looks? In that respect it was perhaps well for her that destiny had interposed. Griselda, she was driven to admit, was better suited to Lord Dumbello than to her son. But still--such a queen as Lucy! Could it ever come to pass that the lieges of the kingdom would bow the knee in proper respect before so puny a sovereign? And then there was that feeling which, in still higher quarters, prevents the marriage of princes with the most noble of their people. Is it not a recognized rule of these realms that none of the blood royal shall raise to royal honours those of the subjects who are by birth un-royal? Lucy was a subject of the house of Lufton in that she was the sister of the parson and a resident denizen of the parsonage. Presuming that Lucy herself might do for a queen--granting that she might have some faculty to reign, the crown having been duly placed on her brow--how, then, about that clerical brother near the throne? Would it not come to this, that there would no longer be a queen at Framley? And yet she knew that she must yield. She did not say so to herself. She did not as yet acknowledge that she must put out her hand to Lucy, calling her by name as her daughter. She did not absolutely say as much to her own heart--not as yet. But she did begin to bethink herself of Lucy's high qualities, and to declare to herself that the girl, if not fit to be a queen, was at any rate fit to be a woman. That there was a spirit within that body, insignificant though the body might be, Lady Lufton was prepared to admit. That she had acquired the power--the chief of all powers in this world--of sacrificing herself for the sake of others; that, too, was evident enough. That she was a good girl, in the usual acceptation of the word good, Lady Lufton never doubted. She was ready-witted, too, prompt in action, gifted with a certain fire. It was that gift of fire which had won for her, so unfortunately, Lord Lufton's love. It was quite possible for her also to love Lucy Robarts; Lady Lufton admitted that to herself; but then who could bow the knee before her, and serve her as a queen? Was it not a pity that she should be so insignificant?

But, nevertheless, we may say that as Lady Lufton sate that morning in her own room for two hours without employment, the star of Lucy Robarts was gradually rising in the firmament. After all, love was the food chiefly necessary for the nourishment of Lady Lufton--the only food necessary. She was not aware of this herself, nor probably would those who knew her best have so spoken of her. They would have declared that family pride was her daily pabulum, and she herself would have said so too, calling it, however, by some less offensive name. Her son's honour, and the honour of her house!---of those she would have spoken as the things dearest to her in this world. And this was partly true, for had her son been dishonoured, she would have sunk with sorrow to the grave. But the one thing necessary to her daily life was the power of loving those who were dear to her. Lord Lufton, when he left the dining-room, intended at once to go up to the parsonage, but he first strolled round the garden in order that he might make up his mind what he would say there. He was angry with his mother, having not had the wit to see that she was about to give way and yield to him, and he was determined to make it understood that in this matter he would have his own way. He had learned that which it was necessary that he should know as to Lucy's heart, and such being the case he would not conceive it possible that he should be debarred by his mother's opposition. 'There is no son in England loves his mother better than I do,' he said to himself; 'but there are some things which a man cannot stand. She would have married me to that block of stone if I would have let her; and now, because she is disappointed there--Insignificant! I never in my life heard anything so absurd, so untrue, so uncharitable, so--She'd like me to bring a dragon home, I suppose. It would serve her right if I did--some creature that would make the house intolerable to her.' 'She must do it though,' he said again, 'or she and I will quarrel,' and then he turned off towards the gate, preparing to go to the parsonage.

'My lord have you heard what has happened?' said the gardener, coming to him at the gate. The man was out of breath, and almost overwhelmed by the greatness of his own tidings.

'No; I have heard nothing. What is it?'

'The bailiffs have taken possession of everything at the parsonage.'

CHAPTER XLIV

THE PHILISTINES AT THE PARSONAGE

It has already been told how things went on between the Tozers, Mr Curling, and Mark Robarts during that month. Mr Forrest had drifted out of the business altogether, as also had Mr Sowerby, as far as any active participation in it went. Letters came frequently from Mr Curling to the parsonage, and at last came a message by special mission to say that the evil day was at hand. As far as Mr Curling's professional experience would enable him to anticipate or foretell the proceedings of such a man as Tom Tozer he thought that the sheriff's officers would be at Framley parsonage on the following morning. Mr Curling's experience did not mislead him in this respect. 'And what will you do, Mark?' said Fanny, speaking through her tears, after she had read the letter which her husband handed to her.

'Nothing. What can I do? They must come.'

'Lord Lufton came to-day. Will you go to him?'

'No. If I were to do so it would be the same thing as asking him for the money.'

'Why not borrow it of him, dearest? Surely it would not be so much for him to lend?'

'I could not do it. Think of Lucy, and how she stands with him. Besides, I have already had words with Lufton about Sowerby and his money matters. He thinks that I am to blame, and he would tell me so; and then there would sharp things said between us. He would advance me the money if I pressed him for it, but he would do so in a way that would make it impossible that I should take it.'

There was nothing more, then, to be said. If she had had her own


Framley Parsonage - 100/111

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