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- Framley Parsonage - 111/111 -
'Why did you say it was impossible?'
'Did I say impossible?' She knew that she had said so. She remembered how she had waited till he had gone, and that then, going to her own room, she had reproached herself with the cowardice of the falsehood. She had lied to him then; and now--how was she punished for it?
'Well, I suppose it was possible,' she said.
'But why did you say so when you knew it would make me so miserable?'
'Miserable! nay, but you went away happy enough! I thought I had never seen you look better satisfied.'
'You had done your duty, and had had such a lucky escape! What astonishes me is that you should have ever come back again. But the pitcher may go to the well once too often, Lord Lufton.'
'But will you tell me the truth now?'
'That day, when I came to you--did you love me at all then?'
'We'll let bygones be bygones, if you please.'
'But I swear you shall tell me. It was such a cruel thing to answer me as you did, unless you meant it. And yet you never saw me again till after my mother had been over for you to Mrs Crawley's.'
'It was absence that made me--care for you.'
'Lucy, I swear I believe you loved me then.'
'Ludovic, some conjurer must have told you that.' She was standing as she spoke, and, laughing at him, she held up her hands and shook her head. But she was now in his power, and he had his revenge--his revenge for her past falsehood and her present joke. How could he be more happy when he was made happy by having all his own, than he was now? And in these days there again came up that petition as to her riding--with very different result now than on that former occasion. There were so many objections, then. There was no habit, and Lucy was--or said she was--afraid; and then, what would Lady Lufton say? But now Lady Lufton thought it would be quite right; only were they quite sure about the horse? Was Ludovic certain that the horse had been ridden by a lady? And Lady Meredith's habits were dragged out as a matter of course, and one of them chipped and snipped and altered, without any compunction. And as for fear, there could be no bolder horsewoman than Lucy Robarts. It was quite clear to all Framley that riding was the very thing for her. 'But I never shall be happy, Ludovic, till you have got a horse properly suited for her,' said Lady Lufton. And then, also, came the affair of her wedding garments, of her trousseau--as to which I cannot boast that she showed capacity or steadiness at all equal to that of Lady Dumbello. Lady Lufton, however, thought it a very serious matter; and as, in her opinion, Mrs Robarts did not go about it with sufficient energy, she took the matter mainly into her own hands, striking Lucy dumb by her frowns and nods, deciding on everything herself, down to the very tags of the boot-ties.
'My dear, you really must allow me to know what I am about;' and Lady Lufton patted her on the arm as she spoke. 'I did it all for Justinia, and she never had reason to regret a single thing that I bought. If you'll ask her, she'll tell you so.' Lucy did not ask her future sister-in-law, seeing that she had no doubt whatever as to her future mother-in-law's judgement on the articles in question. Only the money! And what could she want with six dozen pocket-handkerchiefs all at once? There was no question of Lord Lufton's going out as Governor-General to India! But twelve dozen pocket-handkerchiefs had not been too many for Griselda's imagination. And Lucy would sit alone in the drawing-room at Framley Court, filling her heart with thoughts of that evening when she had first sat there. She had then resolved, painfully, with inward tears, with groanings of her spirit, that she was wrongly placed in being in that company. Griselda Grantly had been there, quite at her ease, petted by Lady Lufton, admired by Lord Lufton; while she had retired out of sight, sore at heart, because she felt herself to be no fit companion to those around her. Then he had come to her, making matters almost worst by talking to her, bringing the tears into her eyes by his good-nature, but still wounding her by the feeling that she could not speak to him at her ease. But things were at a different pass with her now. He had chosen her--her out of all the world, and brought her there to share with him his own home, his own honours, and all that he had to give. She was the apple of his eye, and the pride of his heart. And the stern mother, of whom she had stood in so much awe, who at first had passed her by as a thing not to be noticed, and had then sent out to her that she might be warned to keep herself aloof, now hardly knew in what way she might sufficiently show her love, regard and solicitude.
I must not say that Lucy was not proud in these moments--that her heart was not elated at these thoughts. Success does beget pride, as failure begets shame. But her pride was of that sort which is no way disgraceful to either man or woman, and was accompanied by pure true love, and a full resolution to do her duty in that state of life to which it had pleased her God to call her. She did rejoice greatly to think that she had been chosen, and not Griselda. Was it possible that having loved she should not so rejoice, or that, rejoicing, she should not be proud of her love? They spent the whole winter abroad, leaving the dowager Lady Lufton to her plans and preparations for their reception at Framley Court; and in the following spring they appeared in London, and there set up their staff. Lucy had some tremblings of the spirit, and quiverings about the heart, at thus beginning her duty before the great world, but she said little or nothing to her husband on the matter. Other women had done as much before her time, and by courage had gone through with it. It would be dreadful enough, that position in her own house with lords and ladies bowing to her, and stiff members of Parliament for whom it would be necessary to make small talk; but, nevertheless, it was to be endured. The time came, and she did endure it. The time came, and before the first six weeks were over she found that it was easy enough. The lords and ladies got into their proper places and talked to her about ordinary matters in a way that made no effort necessary, and the members of Parliament were hardly more stiff than the clergymen she had known in the neighbourhood of Framley. She had not been long in town before she met Lady Dumbello. At this interview also she had to overcome some little inward emotion. On the few occasions on which she had met Griselda Grantly at Framley they had not much progressed in friendship, and Lucy had felt that she had been despised by the rich beauty. She also in her turn had disliked, if she had not despised, her rival. But how would it be now? Lady Dumbello could hardly despise her, and yet it did not seem possible that they should meet as friends. They did meet, and Lucy came forward with a pretty eagerness to give her hand to Lady Lufton's late favourite. Lady Dumbello smiled slightly--the same smile which had come across her face when they two had been first introduced in the Framley drawing-room; the same smile without the variation of a line,--took the offered hand, muttered a word or two, and then receded. It was exactly as she had done before. She had never despised Lucy Robarts. She had accorded to the parson's sister the amount of cordiality with which she usually received her acquaintance; and now she could do no more for the peer's wife. Lady Dumbello and Lady Lufton have known each other ever since, and have occasionally visited each other's houses, but the intimacy between them has never gone beyond this.
The dowager came up to town for about a month, and while there contented to fill a second place. She had no desire to be the great lady in London. But then came the trying period when they commenced their life together at Framley Court. The elder lady formally renounced her place at the top of the table--formally persisted in renouncing it though Lucy with tears implored her to resume it. She said also, with equal formality--repeating her determination over and over again to Mrs Robarts with great energy,--that she would in no respect detract by interference of her own from the authority of the proper mistress of the house; but, nevertheless, it is well known to every one at Framley that old Lady Lufton still reigns paramount in the parish.
'Yes, my dear; the big room looking into the little garden to the south was always the nursery; and if you ask my advice, it will remain so. But, of course, any room you please--'
And the big room looking into the little garden to the south is still the nursery at Framley Court.
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