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- Framley Parsonage - 60/111 -


take such a task on yourself. But I do think you might talk it over with me.'

'Might I? very well; I will. What is it? Oh, Grace Crawley--you want to know who is to teach her the irregular Greek verbs. Oh, dear, Fanny, my head does ache so; pray don't be angry with me.' And then Lucy, throwing herself back on the sofa, put one hand up painfully to her forehead, and altogether gave up the battle. Mrs Robarts was by her side in a moment.

'Dearest Lucy, what is it makes your head ache so often now? You used not to have those headaches.'

'It's because I'm growing stupid: never mind. We will go on about poor Grace. It would not do to have a governess, would it?'

'I can see that you are not well, Lucy,' said Mrs Robarts, with a look of deep concern. 'What is it, dearest? I can see that something is the matter.'

'Something the matter! No, there's not; nothing worth talking of. Sometimes I think I'll go back to Devonshire and live there. I could stay with Blanche for a time, and then get a lodging in Exeter.'

'Go back to Devonshire!' and Mrs Robarts looked as though she thought that her sister-in-law was going mad. 'Why do you want to go away from us? This is to be your own, own home, always now.'

'Is it? Then I am in a bad way. Oh dear, oh dear, what a fool I am! What an idiot I've been! Fanny, I don't think I can stay here; and I do wish I'd never come. I do--do--do, though you look at me so horribly,' and jumping up she threw herself into her sister-in-law's arms and began kissing her violently. 'Don't pretend to be wounded, for you know that I love you. You know that I could live with all my life, and think you were perfect--as you are; but--'

'Has Mark said anything?'

'Not a word--not a ghost of a syllable. It is not Mark; oh, Fanny!'

'I am afraid I know what you mean,' said Mrs Robarts in a low tremulous voice, and with deep sorrow painted on her face.

'Of course you do; of course you know; you have known it all along; since that day in the pony carriage. I knew that you knew it. You do not dare to mention his name; would not that tell me that you know it? And I, I am hypocrite enough for Mark; but my hypocrisy won't pass muster before you. And, now, had I not better go to Devonshire?'

'Dearest, dearest Lucy.'

'Was I not right about that labelling? O heavens! what idiots we girls are! That a dozen soft words should have bowled me over like a ninepin, and left me without an inch of ground to call my own. And I was so proud of my own strength; so sure that I should never be missish, and spoony, and sentimental! I was so determined to like him as Mark does, or you--'

'I shall not like him at all if he has spoken words to you that he should not have spoken.'

'But he has not.' And then she stopped a moment to consider. 'No, he has not. He never said a word to me that would make you angry with him if you knew of it. Except, perhaps, that he called me Lucy; and that was my fault, not his.'

'Because you talked of soft words.'

'Fanny, you have no idea what an absolute fool I am, what an unutterable ass. The soft words of which I tell you were of the kind which he speaks to you when he asks you how the cow gets on which he sent to you from Ireland, or to Mark about Ponto's shoulder. He told me that he knew papa, and that he was at school with Mark, and that as he was such good friends with you here at the parsonage, he must be good friends with me too. No; it has not been his fault. The soft words which did the mischief were such as those. But how well his mother understood the world! In order to have been safe, I should not have dared to look at him.'

'But, dearest Lucy--'

'I know what you are going to say, and I admit it all. He is no hero. There is nothing on earth wonderful about him. I never heard him say a single word of wisdom, or utter a thought that was akin to poetry. He devotes all his energies to riding after a fox or killing poor birds, and I never heard of his doing a single great action in my life. And yet--' Fanny was so astounded by the way her sister-in-law went on, that she hardly knew how to speak. 'He is an excellent son, I believe,' at last she said.

'Except when he goes to Gatherum Castle. I'll tell you what he has: he has fine straight legs, and a smooth forehead, and a good-humoured eye, and white teeth. Was it possible to see such a catalogue of perfections, and not fall down, stricken to the very bone? But it was not that that did it all, Fanny. I could have stood against that. I think I could at least. It was his title that killed me. I had never spoken to a lord before. Oh, me! what a fool, what a beast I have been!' And then she burst out into tears. Mrs Robarts, to tell the truth, could hardly understand poor Lucy's ailment. It was evident enough that her misery was real; but yet she spoke of herself and her sufferings with so much irony, with so near an approach to joking, that it was very hard to tell how far she was in earnest. Lucy, too, was so much given to a species of badinage which Mrs Robarts did not always quite understand, that the latter was afraid sometimes to speak out what came uppermost to her tongue. But now that Lucy was absolutely in tears, and was almost breathless with excitement, she could not remain silent any longer. 'Dearest Lucy, pray do not speak in that way; it will all come right. Things always do come right when no one has acted wrongly.'

'Yes, when nobody has done wrongly. That's what papa used to call begging the question. But I'll tell you what, Fanny; I will not be beaten. I will either kill myself or get through it. I am so heartily self-ashamed that I owe it to myself to fight the battle out.'

'To fight what battle, dearest?'

'This battle. Here, now, at the present moment I could not meet Lord Lufton. I should have to run like a scared fowl if he were to show himself within the gate; and I should not dare to go out of the house, if I knew that he was in the parish.'

'I don't see that, for I am sure you have not betrayed yourself.'

'Well, no; as for myself, I believe I have done the lying and the hypocrisy pretty well. But, dearest Fanny, you don't know half; and you cannot and must not know.'

'But I thought you said there had been nothing whatever between you.'

'Did I? Well, to you I have not said a word that was not true. I said that he had spoken nothing that it was wrong for him to say. It could not be wrong--But never mind. I'll tell you what I mean to do. I have been thinking of it for the last week--only I shall have to tell Mark.'

'If I were you, I would tell him all.'

'What, Mark! If you do, Fanny, I'll never, never, never speak to you again. Would you--when I have given you all my heart in true sisterly love?' Mrs Robarts had to explain that she had not proposed to tell anything to Mark herself, and was persuaded, moreover, to give a solemn promise that she would not tell anything to him unless specially authorized to do so.

'I'll go into a home, I think,' continued Lucy. 'You know what these homes are?' Mrs Robarts assured her that she knew very well, and then Lucy went on: 'A year ago I should have said that I was the last girl in England to think of such a life, but I do believe now that it would be the best thing for me. And then I'll starve myself, and flog myself, and, in that way I'll get back my own mind and my own soul.'

'Your own soul, Lucy,' said Mrs Robarts, in a tone of horror.

'Well, my own heart, if you like it better; but I hate to hear myself talking about hearts. I don't care for my heart. I'd let it go--with this popinjay lord or any one else, so that I could read, and talk, and walk, and sleep, and eat, without always feeling that I was wrong here--here--here--' and she pressed her hand vehemently against her side. 'What is it that I feel, Fanny? Why am I so weak in body that I cannot take exercise? Why cannot I keep my mind on a book for one moment? Why can I not write two sentences together? Why should every mouthful that I eat stick in my throat? Oh, Fanny, is it his legs, think you, or is it his title?' Through all her sorrow--and she was very sorrowful--Mrs Robarts could not help smiling. And, indeed, there was every now and then something even in Lucy's look that was almost comic. She acted the irony so well with which she strove to throw ridicule on herself! 'Do laugh at me,' she said. 'Nothing on earth will do me so much good as that; nothing, unless it be starvation and a whip. If you would only tell me that I must be a sneak and an idiot to care for a man because he is good-looking and a lord!'

'But that has not been the reason. There is a great deal more in Lord Lufton than that; and since I must speak, dear Lucy, I cannot but say that I should not wonder at your being in love with him, only--only that--'

'Only what? Come, out with it. Do not mince matters, or think that I shall be angry with you because you scold me.'

'Only that I should have thought that you would have been too guarded to have--have cared for any gentleman till--till he had shown that he cared for you.'

'Guarded! Yes, that's it; that's just the word. But it's he that should have been guarded. He should have had a fire-guard hung before him, or a love-guard, if you will. Guarded! Was I not guarded, till you all would drag me out? Did I want to go there? And when I was there, did I not make a fool of myself, sitting in a corner, and thinking how much better placed I should have been down in the servants' hall. Lady Lufton--she dragged me out, and then


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