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- Framley Parsonage - 2/111 -

Mark himself was a handsome fellow. At this time the vicar was about twenty-five years of age, and the future Mrs Robarts was two or three years younger. Nor did she come quite empty-handed to the vicarage. It cannot be said that Fanny Monsell was an heiress, but she had been left with a provision of some few thousand pounds. This was so settled, that the interest of his wife's money paid the heavy insurance on his life which young Robarts effected, and there was left to him, over and above, sufficient to furnish his parsonage in the very best style of clerical comfort, and to start him on the road of life rejoicing.

So much did Lady Lufton do for her protege, and it may well be imagined that the Devonshire physician, sitting meditative over his parlour fire, looking back, as men will look back on the upshot of their life, was well contented with that upshot, as regarded his eldest offshoot, the Rev. Mark Robarts, the vicar of Framley.

But little has been said, personally, as to our hero himself, and perhaps it may not be necessary to say much. Let us hope that by degrees he may come forth upon the canvas, showing to the beholder the nature of the man inwardly and outwardly. Here it may suffice to say that he was not born heaven's cherub, neither was he born a fallen devil's spirit. Such as his training made him, such he was. He had large capabilities for good--and aptitude also for evil, quite enough; quite enough to make it needful that he should repel temptations as temptation only can be repelled. Much had been done to spoil him, but in the ordinary acceptation of the word he was not spoiled. He had too much tact, too much common sense, to believe himself to be the paragon which his mother thought him. Self-conceit was not, perhaps, his greatest danger. Had he possessed more of it, he might have been a less agreeable man, but his course before him might on that account have been the safer. In person he was manly tall, and fair-haired, with a square forehead, denoting intelligence rather than thought, with clear, white hands, filbert nails, and a power of dressing himself in such a manner that no one should ever observe of him that his clothes were either good or bad, shabby or smart.

Such was Mark Robarts when at the age of twenty-five, or a little more, he married Fanny Monsell. The marriage was celebrated in his own church, for Miss Monsell had no home of her own, and had been staying for the last three months at Framley Court. She was given away by Sir George Meredith, and Lady Lufton herself saw that the wedding was what it should be, with almost as much care as she had bestowed on that of her own daughter. The deed of marrying, the absolute tying of the knot, was performed by the Very Reverend the Dean of Barchester, an esteemed friend of Lady Lufton's. And Mrs Arabin, the dean's wife, was of the party, though the distance from Barchester to Framley is long, and the roads deep, and no railway lends its assistance. And Lord Lufton was there of course; and people protested that he would surely fall in love with one of the four beautiful bridesmaids, of whom Blanche Robarts, the vicar's second sister, was by common acknowledgement by far the most beautiful. And there was there another and a younger sister of Mark's--who did not officiate at the ceremony, though she was present--and of whom no prediction was made, seeing that she was then only sixteen, but of whom mention is made here, as it will come to pass that my readers will know her hereafter. Her name was Lucy Robarts. And then the vicar and his wife on their wedding tour, the old curate taking care of the Framley souls the while. And in due time they returned; and after a further interval, in due course a child was born to them; and then another; and after that came a period at which we will begin our story. But before doing so, may I not assert that all men were right in saying all manner of good things as to the Devonshire physician, and in praising his luck in having such a son?

'You were up at the house to-day, I suppose,' said Mark to his wife, as he sat stretching himself in an easy chair in the drawing-room, before the fire, previously to his dressing for dinner. It was a November evening, and he had been out all day, and on such occasions the aptitude for delay in dressing is very powerful. A strong-minded man goes direct from the hall door to his chamber without encountering the temptation of the drawing-room fire.

'No; but Lady Lufton was down here.'

'Full of suggestions in favour of Sarah Thompson?'

'Exactly so, Mark.'

'And what did you say about Sarah Thompson?'

'Very little as coming from myself: but I did hint that you thought, or that I thought you thought, that one of the regular trained schoolmistresses would be better.'

'But her ladyship did not agree?'

'Well, I won't exactly say that;--though I think that perhaps she did not.'

'I am sure she did not. When she has a point to carry, she is very fond of carrying it.'

'But, you see, in this affair of the school she is thinking more of her protege than she does of the children.'

'Tell her that, and I am sure she will give way.' And then again they were both silent. And the vicar having thoroughly warmed himself, as far as this might be done by facing the fire, turned round and began the operation a tergo.

'Come, Mark, it is twenty minutes past six. Will you go and dress?'

'I'll tell you what, Fanny: she must have her way about Sarah Thompson. You can see her to-morrow and tell her so.'

'I am sure, Mark, I would not give way, if I thought it wrong. Nor would she expect it.'

'If I persist this time, I shall certainly have to yield the next; and then the next may probably be more important.'

'But if it's wrong, Mark?'

'I didn't say it was wrong. Besides, if it is wrong, wrong in some infinitesimal degree, one must put up with it. Sarah Thompson is very respectable; the only question is whether she can teach.'

The young wife, though she did not say so, had some idea her husband was in error. It is true that one must put up with wrong, with a great deal of wrong. But no one need put up with wrong that he can remedy. Why should he, the vicar, consent to receive an incompetent teacher for the parish children, when he was able to procure one that was competent? In such a case--so thought Mrs Robarts to herself--she would have fought the matter out with Lady Lufton. On the next morning, however, she did as she was bid, and signified to the dowager that all objections to Sarah Thompson would be withdrawn.

'Ah! I was sure he would agree with me,' said her ladyship, 'when he learned what sort of person she is. I know I had only to explain;'--and then she plumed her feathers, and was very gracious; for to tell the truth, Lady Lufton did not like to be opposed in things which concerned the parish nearly.

'And, Fanny,' said Lady Lufton, in her kindest manner, 'you are not going anywhere on Saturday, are you?'

'No, I think not.'

'Then you must come to us. Justinia is to be here, you know,' Lady Meredith was named Justinia--'and you and Mr Robarts had better stay with us till Monday. He can have the little book-room all to himself on Sunday. The Merediths go on Monday; and Justinia won't be happy if you are not with her.' It would be unjust to say that Lady Lufton had determined not to invite the Robartses if she were not allowed to have her own way about Sarah Thompson. But such would have been the result. As it was, however, she was all kindness; and when Mrs Robarts made some little excuse, saying that she was afraid she must return home in the evening, because of the children, Lady Lufton declared that there was room enough at Framley Court for baby and nurse, and so settled the matter in her own way, with a couple of nods and three taps of her umbrella. This was on a Tuesday morning, and on the same evening, before dinner, the vicar again seated himself in the same chair before the drawing-room fire, as soon as he had seen his horse led into the stable.

'Mark,' said his wife, 'the Merediths are to be at Framley on Saturday and Sunday; and I have promised that we will go up and stay over till Monday.'

'You don't mean it! Goodness gracious, how provoking!'

'Why? I thought you wouldn't mind it. And Justinia would think it unkind if I were not there.'

'You can go, my dear, and of course will go. But as for me, it's impossible.'

'But why, love?'

'Why? Just now, at the school-house, I answered a letter that was brought to me from Chaldicotes. Sowerby insists on my going over there for a week or so; and I have said that I would.'

'Go to Chaldicotes for a week, Mark?'

'I believe I have even consented to ten days.'

'And be away two Sundays?'

'No, Fanny, only one. Don't be so censorious.'

'Don't call me censorious, Mark; you know I am not so. But I am so sorry. It is just what Lady Lufton won't like. Besides, you were away in Scotland two Sundays last month.'

'In September, Fanny. And that is being censorious.'

'On, but Mark, dear Mark; don't say so. You know I don't mean it. But Lady Lufton does not like those Chaldicotes people. You know Lord Lufton was with you the last time you were there; and how annoyed she was!'

'Lord Lufton won't be there with me now, for he is still in

Framley Parsonage - 2/111

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