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- Framley Parsonage - 30/111 -
'Well, I suppose it's a good thing to have land in the market sometimes, so that the millionaires may know what to do with their money.'
'God forbid that yours should be there!' And the widow made a little mental prayer that her son's acres might be protected from the millionaires and other Philistines.
'Why, yes; I don't exactly want to see a Jew tailor investing his earnings at Lufton.' said the lord.
'Heaven forbid!' said the widow. All this, as I have said, was very nice. It was manifest to her ladyship, from his lordship's way of talking, that no vital injury had as yet been done: he had no cares on his mind, and spoke freely about the property: but nevertheless there were clouds even now, at this period of bliss, which somewhat obscured the brilliancy of Lady Lufton's sky. Why was Ludovic so slow in that affair of Griselda Grantly? Why so often in these latter winter days did he saunter over to the parsonage? And then that terrible visit to Gatherum Castle! What actually did happen at Gatherum Castle, she never knew. We, however, are more intrusive, less delicate in our enquiries, and we can say. He had a very bad day's sport with the West Barsetshire. The county is altogether short of foxes, and some one who understands the matter must take that point up before they can do any good. And after that he had had rather a dull dinner with the duke. Sowerby had been there, and in the evening he and Sowerby had played billiards. Sowerby had won a pound or two, and that had been the extent of the damage done. But those saunterings over to the parsonage might be more dangerous. Not that it ever occurred to Lady Lufton as possible that her son should fall in love with Lucy Robarts. Lucy's personal attraction were not of a nature to give grounds for such a fear as that. But he might turn the girl's head with his chatter; she might be fool enough to fancy any folly; and, moreover, people would talk. Why should he go to the parsonage now more frequently than he had ever done before Lucy came there?
And then her ladyship, in reference to the same trouble, hardly knew how to manage her invitations to the parsonage. These hitherto had been very frequent, and she had been in the habit of thinking that they could hardly be too much so; but now she was almost afraid to continue the custom. She could not ask the parson and his wife without Lucy; and when Lucy was there, her son would pass the greater part of the evening in talking to her, or playing chess with her. Now this did disturb Lady Lufton not a little. And then Lucy took it all so quietly. On her first arrival at Framley she had been so shy, so silent, and so much awestruck by the grandeur of Framley Court, that Lady Lufton had sympathized with her and encouraged her. She had endeavoured to moderate the blaze of her own splendour, in order that Lucy's unaccustomed eyes might not be dazzled. But all this was changed now. Lucy could listen to the young lord's voice by the hour together--without being dazzled in the least. Under these circumstances two things occurred to her. She would speak either to her son or to Fanny Robarts, and by a little diplomacy have this evil remedied. And then she had to determine on which step she would take. 'Nothing could be more reasonable than Ludovic.' So at least she said to herself over and over again. But then Ludovic understood nothing about such matters; and had, moreover, a habit, inherited from his father, of taking the bit between his teeth whenever he suspected interference. Drive him gently without pulling his mouth about, and you might take him anywhere, almost at any pace; but a smart touch, let it be ever so slight, would bring him on his haunches, and then it might be a question whether you could get him another mile that day. So that on the whole Lady Lufton thought that the other plan would be the best. I have no doubt that Lady Lufton was right.
She got Fanny up into her own den one afternoon, and seated her discreetly in an easy arm-chair, making her guest take off her bonnet, and showing by various signs that her visit was regarded as one of great moment. 'Fanny,' she said, 'I want to speak to you about something that is important and necessary to mention, and yet it is a very delicate affair to speak of.' Fanny opened her eyes and said that she hoped that nothing was wrong. 'No, my dear, I think nothing is wrong: I hope so, and I think I may say I'm sure of it; but then it's always well to be on one's guard.'
'Yes, it is,' said Fanny, who knew that something unpleasant was coming--something as to which she might be called upon to differ from her ladyship. Mrs Robarts's own fears, however, were running entirely in the direction of her husband;--and, indeed, Lady Lufton had a word to two to say on that subject also, only not exactly now. A hunting parson was not at all to her taste; but that matter might be allowed to remain in abeyance for a few days.
'Now, Fanny, you know that we have all liked your sister-in-law, Lucy, very much.' And then Mrs Robarts's mind was immediately opened, and she knew the rest as well as though it had been all spoken. 'I need hardly tell you that, for I an sure we have shown it.'
'You have indeed, as you always do.'
'And you must not think that I am going to complain,' continued Lady Lufton.
'I hope there is nothing to complain of,' said Fanny, speaking by no means in a defiant tone, but humbly as it were, and deprecating her ladyship's wrath. Fanny had gained one signal victory over Lady Lufton, and on that account, with a prudence equal to her generosity, felt that she could afford to be submissive. It might, perhaps, not be long before she would be equally anxious to conquer again.
'Well, no; I don't think there is,' said Lady Lufton. 'Nothing to complain of; but a little chat between you and me may, perhaps, set matters right, which, otherwise, might become troublesome.'
'Is it about Lucy?'
'Yes, my dear--about Lucy. She is a very nice, good girl, and a credit to her father--'
'And a great comfort to us,' said Fanny.
'I am sure she is; she must be a very pleasant companion to you, and so useful about the children; but--' And then Lady Lufton paused for moment; for she, eloquent and discreet as she always was, felt herself rather at a loss for words to express her exact meaning.
'I don't know what I should do without her,' said Fanny, speaking with the object of assisting her ladyship in her embarrassment.
'But the truth is this: she and Lord Lufton are getting in the way of being too much together--of talking to each other too exclusively. I am sure you must have noticed it, Fanny. It is not that I suspect any evil. I don't think that I am suspicious by nature.'
'Oh! no,' said Fanny.
'But they will each of them get wrong ideas about the other, and about themselves. Lucy will, perhaps, think that Ludovic means more than he does, and Ludovic will--' But it was not quite so easy to say what Ludovic might do or think; but Lady Lufton went on:
'I am sure that you understand me, Fanny, with your excellent sense and tact. Lucy is clever, and amusing, and all that; and Ludovic, like all young men, is perhaps ignorant that his attentions may be taken to mean more than he intends--'
'You don't think that Lucy is in love with him?'
'On, dear no--nothing of the kind. If I thought it had come to that, I should recommend that she should be sent away altogether. I am sure she is not so foolish as that.'
'I don't think there is anything in it at all, Lady Lufton.'
'I don't think there is, my dear, and therefore I would not for worlds make any suggestion about it to Lord Lufton. I would not let him suppose that I suspected Lucy of being so imprudent. But still, it may be well that you should just say a word to her. A little management now and then, in such matters is so useful.'
'But what shall I say to her?'
'Just explain to her that any young lady who talks so much to the same young gentleman will certainly be observed--that people will accuse her of setting her cap at Lord Lufton. Not that I suspect her--I give her credit for too much proper breeding: I know her education has been good, and her principles are upright. But people will talk of her. You must understand that, Fanny, as well as I do.' Fanny could not help meditating whether proper feeling, education, and upright principles did forbid Lucy Robarts to fall in love with Lord Lufton; but her doubts on this subject, if she held any, were not communicated to her ladyship. It had never entered into her mind that a match was possible between Lord Lufton and Lucy Robarts, nor had she the slightest wish to encourage it now that the idea was suggested to her. On such a matter she would sympathize with Lady Lufton, though she did not completely agree with her as to the expediency of any interference. Nevertheless, she at once offered to speak to Lucy. 'I don't think that Lucy has any idea in her head upon the subject,' said Mrs Robarts.
'I dare say not--I don't suppose she has. But young ladies sometimes allow themselves to fall in love, and then to think themselves very ill-used just because they have had no idea in their head.'
'I will put her on her guard if you wish it, Lady Lufton.'
'Exactly, my dear; that is just it. Put her on her guard--that is all that is necessary. She is a dear, good, clever girl, and it would be very sad if anything were to interrupt our comfortable way of getting on with her.' Mrs Robarts knew to a nicety the exact meaning of this threat. If Lucy should persist in securing to herself so much of Lord Lufton's time and attention, her visits to Framley Court must become less frequent. Lady Lufton would do much, very much indeed, for her friends at the parsonage; but not even for them could she permit her son's prospects in life to be so endangered. There was nothing more said between them, and Mrs Robarts got up to take her leave, having promised to speak to Lucy.
'You manage everything so perfectly,' said Lady Lufton, as she pressed Mrs Robarts's hand, 'that I am quite at ease now that I find you will agree with me.' Mrs Robarts did not exactly agree
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