HotFreeBooks.com
Sir Tom
by Mrs. Oliphant
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Jock went away the next day. He went with a basket of game for MTutor and many nice things for himself, and all the attention and care which might have been his had he been the heir instead of only the young brother and dependent. Lucy herself drove in with him to Farafield to see him off, and Sir Tom, who had business in the little town and meant to drive back with his wife, appeared on the railway platform just in time to say good-bye. "Now, Lucy, you will not forget," were Jock's last words as he looked out of the window when the train was already in motion. Lucy nodded and smiled, and waved her hand, but she did not make any other reply. Sir Tom said nothing until they were driving along the stubble fields in the afternoon sunshine. Lucy lay back in her corner with that mingled sense of regret and relief with which, when we are very happy at home, we see a guest go away—a gentle sorrow to part, a soft pleasure in being once more restored to the more intimate circle. She had not shaken off that impression of guiltiness, but now it was over, and nothing further could be said on the subject for a long time to come.

"What is it, Lucy, that you are not to forget?"

She roused herself up, and a warm flush of colour came to her face. "Oh, nothing, Tom, a little thing we were consulting about. It was Jock that brought it to my mind."

"I think it must be more than just a little thing. Mayn't I hear what this secret is?"

"Oh, it is nothing, Tom," Lady Randolph repeated; and then she sat up erect and said, "I must not deceive you. It is not merely a small matter. Still it is just between Jock and me. It was about—papa's will, Tom."

"Ah! that is a large matter. I don't quite see how that can be between you and Jock, Lucy. Jock has very little to do with it. I don't want to find fault, my dear, but I think as an adviser you will find me better than Jock."

"I know you are far better, Tom. You know more than both of us put together."

"That would not be very difficult," he said, with a smile.

Perhaps this calm acceptance of the fact nettled Lucy. At least she said, with a little touch of spirit, "And yet I know something about our kind of people better than you will ever do, Tom."

"Lucy, this is a wonderful new tone. Perhaps you may know better, but I am doubtful if you understand the relation of things as well. What is it, my dear?—that is to say, if you like to tell me, for I am not going to force your confidence."

"Tom—oh dear Tom! It is not that. It is rather that it was something to talk to Jock about. He remembers everything. When papa was making that will——" here Lucy stopped and sighed. It had not been doing her a good service to make her recollect that will, which had enough in it to make her life wretched, though that as yet nobody knew. "He recollects it all," she said. "He used to hear it read out. He remembers everything."

"I suppose, then," said Sir Tom, with a peculiar smile, "there is something in particular which he thought you were likely to forget?"

Here Lucy sighed again. "I am afraid I had forgotten it. No, not forgotten, but—I never knew very well what to do. Perhaps you don't remember either. It is about giving the money away."

Sir Tom was a far more considerable person in every way than the little girl who was his wife, and who was not clever nor of any great account apart from her wealth; and she was devoted to him, so that he could have very little fear how any conflict should end when he was on one side, if all the world were on the other. But perhaps he had been spoiled by Lucy's entire agreement and consent to whatever he pleased to wish, so that his tone was a little sharp, not so good-humoured as usual, but with almost a sneer in it when he replied quickly, not leaving her a moment to get her breath, "I see; Jock having inspiration from the fountain head, was to be your guide in that."

She looked at him alarmed and penitent, but reproachful. "I would have done nothing, I could have done nothing, oh Tom! without you."

"It is very obliging of you Lucy to say so; nevertheless, Jock thought himself entitled to remind you of what you had forgotten, and to offer himself as your adviser. Perhaps MTutor was to come in, too," he said, with a laugh.

Sir Tom was not immaculate in point of temper any more than other men, but Lucy had never suffered from it before. She was frightened, but she did not give way. The colour went out of her cheeks, but there was more in her than mere insipid submission. She looked at her husband with a certain courage, though she was so pale, and felt so profoundly the displeasure which she had never encountered before.

"I don't think you should speak like that, Tom. I have done nothing wrong. I have only been talking to my brother of—of—a thing that nobody cares about but him and me in all the world."

"And that is——"

"Doing what papa wished," Lucy said in a low voice. A little moisture stole into her eyes. Whether it came because of her father, or because her husband spoke sharply to her, it perhaps would have been difficult to say.

This made Sir Tom ashamed of his ill-humour. It was cruel to be unkind to a creature so gentle, who was not used to be found fault with; and yet he felt that for Lucy to set up an independence of any kind was a thing to be crushed in the bud. A man may have the most liberal principles about women, and yet feel a natural indignation when his own wife shows signs of desiring to act for herself; and besides, it was not to be endured that a boy and girl conspiracy should be hatched under his very nose to take the disposal of an important sum of money out of his hands. Such an idea was not only ridiculous in itself, but apt to make him ridiculous, a man who ought to be strong enough to keep the young ones in order. "My dear," he said, "I have no wish to speak in any way that vexes you; but I see no reason you can have—at least I hope there has been nothing in my conduct to give you any reason—to withdraw your confidence from me and give it to Jock."

Lucy did not make him any reply. She looked at him pathetically through the water in her eyes. If she had spoken she would have cried, and this in an open carriage, with a village close at hand, and people coming and going upon the road, was not to be thought of. By the time she had mastered herself Sir Tom had cooled down, and he was ashamed of having made Lucy's lips to quiver and taken away her voice.

"That was a very nasty thing to say," he said, "wasn't it, Lucy? I ought to be ashamed of myself. Still, my little woman must remember that I am too fond of her to let her have secrets with anybody but me."

And with this he took the hand that was nearest to him into both of his and held it close, and throwing a temptation in her way which she could not resist, led her to talk of the baby and forget everything else except that precious little morsel of humanity. He was far cleverer than Lucy; he could make her do whatever he pleased. No fear of any opposition, any setting up of her own will against his. When they got home he gave her a kiss, and then the momentary trouble was all over. So he thought at least. Lucy was so little and gentle and fair, that she appeared to her husband even younger than she was; and she was a great deal younger than himself. He thought her a sort of child-wife, whom a little scolding or a kiss would altogether sway. The kiss had been quite enough hitherto. Perhaps, since Jock had come upon the scene, a few words of admonition might prove now and then necessary, but it would be cruel to be hard upon her, or do more than let her see what his pleasure was.

But Lucy was not what Sir Tom thought. She could not endure that there should be any shadow between her husband and herself, but her mind was not satisfied with this way of settling an important question. She took his kiss and his apology gratefully, but if anything had been wanted to impress more deeply upon her mind the sense of a duty before her, of which her husband did not approve, and in doing which she could not have his help, it would have been this little episode altogether. Even little Tom did not efface the impression from her mind. At dinner she met her husband with her usual smile, and even assented when he remarked upon the pleasantness of finding themselves again alone together. There had been other guests besides Jock, so that the remark did not offend her; but yet Lucy was not quite like herself. She felt it vaguely, and he felt it vaguely, and neither was entirely aware what it was.

In the morning, at breakfast, Sir Tom received a foreign letter, which made him start a little. He started and cried, "Hollo!" then, opening it, and finding two or three closely-scribbled sheets, gave way to a laugh. "Here's literature!" he said. Lucy, who had no jealousy of his correspondents, read her own calm little letters, and poured out the tea, with no particular notice of her husband's interjections. It did not even move her curiosity that the letter was in a feminine hand, and gave forth a faint perfume. She reminded him that his tea was getting cold, but otherwise took no notice. One of her own letters was from the Dowager Lady Randolph, full of advice about the baby. "Mrs. Russell tells me that Katie's children are the most lovely babies that ever were seen; but she is very fantastic about them; will not let them wear shoes to spoil their feet, and other vagaries of that kind. I hope, my dear Lucy, that you are not fanciful about little Tom," Lady Randolph wrote. Lucy read this very composedly, and smiled at the suggestion. Fanciful! Oh, no, she was not fanciful about him—she was not even silly, Lucy thought. She was capable of allowing that other babies might be lovely, though why the feet of Katie's children should be of so much importance she allowed to herself she could not see. She was roused from these tranquil thoughts by a little commotion on the other side of the table, where Sir Tom had just thrown down his letter. He was laughing and talking to himself. "Why shouldn't she come if she likes it?" he was saying. "Lucy, look here, since you have set up a confidant, I shall have one too," and with that Sir Tom went off into an immoderate fit of laughing. The letter scattered upon the table all opened out, two large foreign sheets, looked endless. Nobody had ever written so much to Lucy in all her life. She could see it was largely underlined and full of notes of admiration and interrogation, altogether an out-of-the-way epistle. Was it possible that Sir Tom was a little excited as well as amused? He put his roll upon a hot plate, and began to cut it with his knife and fork in an absence of mind, which was not usual with him, and at intervals of a minute or two would burst out with his long "Ha, ha," again. "That will serve you out, Lucy," he said, with a shout, "if I set up a confidant too."



CHAPTER VII.

A WARNING.

"I wonder if I shall like her," Lucy said to herself.

She had been hearing from her husband about the Contessa di Forno-Populo, who had promised to pay them a visit at Christmas. He had laughed a great deal while he described this lady. "What she will do here in a country-house in the depth of winter, I cannot tell," he said, "but if she wants to come why shouldn't she? She and I are old friends. One time and another we have seen a great deal of each other. She will not understand me in the character of a Benedick, but that will be all the greater fun," he said with a laugh. Lucy looked at him with a little surprise. She could not quite make him out.

"If she is a friend she will not mind the country and the winter," said Lucy; "it will be you she will want to see——"

"That is all very well, my dear," said Sir Tom, "but she wants something more than me. She wants a little amusement. We must have a party to meet her, Lucy. We have never yet had the house full for Christmas. Don't you think it will be better to furnish the Contessa with other objects instead of letting her loose upon your husband. You don't know what it is you are treating so lightly."

"I—treat any one lightly that you care for, Tom! Oh, no; I was only thinking. I thought she would come to see you, not a number of strange people——"

"And you would not mind, Lucy?"

"Mind?" Lucy lifted her innocent eyes upon him with the greatest surprise. "To be sure it is most nice of all when there is nobody with us," she said—as if that had been what he meant. Enlightenment on this subject had not entered her mind. She did not understand him; nor did he understand her. He gave her a sort of friendly hug as he passed, still with that laugh in which there was no doubt a great perception of something comic, yet—an enlightened observer might have thought—a little uneasiness, a tremor which was almost agitation too. Lucy too had a perception of something a little out of the way which she did not understand, but she offered to herself no explanation of it. She said to herself, when he was gone, "I wonder if I shall like her?" and she did not make herself any reply. She had been in society, and held her little place with a simple composure which was natural to her, whoever might come in her way. If she was indeed a little frightened of the great ladies, that was only at the first moment before she became used to them; and afterwards all had gone well—but there was something in the suggestion of a foreign great lady, who perhaps might not speak English, and who would be used to very different "ways," which alarmed her a little; and then it occurred to her with some disappointment that this would be the time of Jock's holidays, and that it would disappoint him sadly to find her in the midst of a crowd of visitors. She said to herself, however, quickly, that it was not to be expected that everything should always go exactly as one wished it, and that no doubt the Countess of —— what was it she was the Countess of?—would be very nice, and everything go well; and so Lady Randolph went away to her baby and her household business, and put it aside for the moment. She found other things far more important to occupy her, however, before Christmas came.

For that winter was very severe and cold, and there was a great deal of sickness in the neighbourhood. Measles and colds and feverish attacks were prevalent in the village, and there were heartrending "cases," in which young Lady Randolph at the Hall took so close an interest that her whole life was disturbed by them. One of the babies, who was little Tom's age, died. When it became evident that there was danger in this case it is impossible to describe the sensations with which Lucy's brain was filled. She could not keep away from the house in which the child was. She sent to Farafield for the best doctor there, and everything that money could procure was got for the suffering infant, whose belongings looked on with wonder and even dismay, with a secret question like that of him who was a thief and kept the bag—to what purpose was this waste? for they were all persuaded that the baby was going to die.

"And the best thing for him, my lady," the grandmother said. "He'll be better done by where he's agoing than he ever could have been here."

"Oh, don't say so," said Lucy. The young mother, who was as young as herself, cried; yet if Lucy had been absent would have been consoled by that terrible philosophy of poverty that it was "for the best." But Lady Randolph, in such a tumult of all her being as she had never known before, with unspeakable yearning over the dying baby, and a panic beyond all reckoning for her own, would not listen to any such easy consolation. She shut her ears to it with a gleam of anger such as had never been seen in her gentle face before, and would have sat up all night with the poor little thing in her lap if death had not ended its little plaints and suffering. Sir Tom, in this moment of trial, came out in all his true goodness and kindness. He went with her himself to the cottage, and when the vigil was over appeared again to take her home. It was a wintry night, frosty and clear, the stars all twinkling with that mysterious life and motion which makes them appear to so many wistful eyes like persons rather than worlds, and as if there was knowledge and sympathy in those far-shining lights of heaven. Sir Thomas was alarmed by Lucy's colourless face, and the dumb passion of misery and awe that was about her. He was very tender-hearted himself at sight of the dead baby which was the same age as his lovely boy. He clasped the trembling hand with which his wife held his arm, and tried to comfort her. "Look at the stars, my darling," he said, "the angels must have carried the poor little soul that way." He was not ashamed to let fall a tear for the little dead child. But Lucy could neither weep nor think of the angels. She hurried him on through the long avenue, clinging to his arm but not leaning upon it, hastening home. Now and then a sob escaped her, but no tears. She flew upstairs to her own boy's nursery, and fell down on her knees by the side of his little crib. He was lying in rosy sleep, his little dimpled arms thrown up over his head, a model of baby beauty. But even that sight did not restore her. She buried her wan face in her hands and so gasped for breath that Sir Tom, who had followed her, took her in his arms and carrying her to her own room laid her down on the sofa by the fire and did all that man could to soothe her.

"Lucy, Lucy! we must thank God that all is well with our own," he said, half terrified by the gasping and the paleness; and then she burst forth:

"Oh, why should it be well with him, and little Willie gone? Why should we be happy and the others miserable? My baby safe and warm in my arms, and poor Ellen's—poor Ellen's——"

This name, and the recollection of the poor young mother, whom she had left in her desolation, made Lucy's tears pour forth like a summer storm. She flung her arms round her husband's neck, and called out to him in an agony of anxiety and excitement:

"Oh, what shall we do to save him? Oh, Tom, pray, pray! Little Willie was well on Saturday—and now—How can we tell what a day may bring forth?" Lucy cried, wildly pushing him away from her, and rising from the sofa.

Then she began to pace about the room as we all do in trouble, clasping her hands in a wild and inarticulate appeal to heaven. Death had never come across her path before save in the case of her father, an old man whose course was run, and his end a thing necessary and to be looked for. She could not get out of her eyes the vision of that little solemn figure, so motionless, so marble white. The thought would not leave her. To see the calm Lucy pacing up and down in this passion of terror and agony made Sir Tom almost as miserable as herself. He tried to take her into his arms, to draw her back to the sofa.

"My darling, you are over-excited. It has been too much for you," he said.

"Oh, what does it matter about me?" cried Lucy; "think—oh, God! oh, God I—if we should have that to bear."

"My dear love—my Lucy, you that have always been so reasonable—the child is quite well; come and see him again and satisfy yourself."

"Little Willie was quite well on Saturday," she cried again. "Oh, I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it! and why should it be poor Ellen and not me?"

When a person of composed mind and quiet disposition is thus carried beyond all the bounds of reason and self-restraint, it is natural that everybody round her should be doubly alarmed. Lucy's maid hung about the door, and the nurse, wrapped in a shawl, stole out of little Tom's room. They thought their mistress had the hysterics, and almost forced their way into the room to help her. It did Sir Tom good to send these busybodies away. But he was more anxious himself than words could say. He drew her arms within his, and walked up and down with her. "You know, my darling, what the Bible says, 'that one shall be taken and another left; and that the wind bloweth where it listeth,'" he said, with a pardonable mingling of texts. "We must just take care of him, dear, and hope the best."

Here Lucy stopped, and looked him in the face with an air of solemnity that startled him.

"I have been thinking," she said; "God has tried us with happiness first. That is how He always does—and if we abuse that then there comes—the other. We have been so happy. Oh, so happy!" Her face, which had been stilled by this profounder wave of feeling, began to quiver again. "I did not think any one could be so happy," she said.

"Well, my darling! and you have been very thankful and good——"

"Oh, no, no, no," she cried. "I have forgotten my trust. I have let the poor suffer, and put aside what was laid upon me—and now, now——" Lucy caught her husband's arm with both her hands, and drew him close to her. "Tom, God has sent his angel to warn us," she said, in a broken voice.

"Lucy, Lucy, this is not like you. Do you think that poor little woman has lost her baby for our sake? Are we of so much more importance than she is, in the sight of God, do you think? Come, come, that is not like you."

Lucy gazed at him for a moment with a sudden opening of her eyes, which were contracted with misery. She was subdued by the words, though she only partially comprehended them.

"Don't you think," he said, "that to deprive another woman of her child in order to warn you, would be unjust, Lucy? Come and sit down and warm your poor little hands, and take back your reason, and do not accuse God of wrong, for that is not possible. Poor Ellen I don't doubt is composed and submissive, while you, who have so little cause——"

She gave him a wild look. "With her it is over, it is over!" she cried, "but with us——"

Lucy had never been fanciful, but love quickens the imagination and gives it tenfold power; and no poet could have felt with such a breathless and agonised realisation the difference between the accomplished and the possible, the past which nothing can alter, and the pain and sickening terror with which we anticipate what may come. Ellen had entered into the calm of the one. She herself stood facing wildly the unspeakable terror of the other. "Oh, Tom, I could not bear it, I could not bear it!" she cried.

It was almost morning before he had succeeded in soothing her, in making her lie down and compose herself. But by that time nature had begun to take the task in hand, wrapping her in the calm of exhaustion. Sir Tom had the kindest heart, though he had not been without reproach in his life. He sat by her till she had fallen into a deep and quiet sleep, and then he stole into the nursery and cast a glance at little Tom by the dim light of the night lamp. His heart leaped to see the child with its fair locks all tumbled upon the pillow, a dimpled hand laid under a dimpled cheek, ease and comfort and well-being in every lovely curve; and then there came a momentary spasm across his face, and he murmured "Poor little beggar!" under his breath. He was not panic-stricken like Lucy. He was a man made robust by much experience of the world, and a child more or less was not a thing to affect him as it would a young mother; but the pathos of the contrast touched him with a keen momentary pang. He stole away again quite subdued, and went to bed thankfully, saying an uncustomary prayer in the emotion that possessed him: Good God, to think of it; if that poor little beggar had been little Tom!

Lucy woke to the sound of her boy's little babbling of happiness in the morning, and found him blooming on her bed, brought there by his father, that she might see him and how well he was, even before she was awake. It was thus not till the first minute of delight was over that her recollections came back to her and she remembered the anguish of the previous night; and then with a softened pang, as was natural, and warm flood of thankfulness, which carried away harsher thoughts. But her mind was in a highly susceptible and tender state, open to every impression. And when she knelt down to make her morning supplications, Lucy made a dedication of herself and solemn vow. She said, like the little princess when she first knew that she was to be made queen, "I will be good." She put forth this promise trembling, not with any sense that she was making a bargain with God, as more rigid minds might suppose, but with all the remorseful loving consciousness of a child which feels that it has not made the return it ought for the good things showered upon it, and confronts for the first time the awful possibility that these tender privileges might be taken away. There was a trembling all over her, body and soul. She was shaken by the ordeal through which she had come—the ordeal which was not hers but another's: and with the artlessness of the child was mingled that supreme human instinct which struggles to disarm Fate by immediate prostration and submission. She laid herself down at the feet of the Sovereign greatness which could mar all her happiness in a moment, with a feeling that was not much more than half Christian. Lucy tried to remind herself that He to whom she knelt was love as well as power. But nature, which still "trembles like a guilty thing surprised" in that great Presence, made her heart beat once more with passion and sickening terror. God knew, if no one else did, that she had abandoned her father's trust and neglected her duty. "Sell all thou hast and give to the poor." Lucy rose from her knees with anxious haste, feeling as if she must do this, come what might and whoever should oppose; or at least since it was not needful for her to sell all she had, that she must hurry forth, and forestall any further discipline by beginning at once to fulfil the duty she had neglected. She could not yet divest herself of the thought that the baby who was dead was a little warning messenger to recall her to a sense of the punishments that might be hanging over her. A messenger to her of mercy, for what, oh! what would she have done if the blow had fallen upon little Tom?



CHAPTER VIII.

THE SHADOW OF DEATH.

After this it may perhaps be surprising to hear that Lucy did nothing to carry out that great trust with which she had been charged. She had felt, and did feel at intervals, for a long time afterwards, as if God Himself had warned her what might come upon her if she neglected her duty. But if you will reflect how very difficult that duty was, and how far she was from any opportunity of being able to discharge it! In early days, when she was fresh from her father's teaching, and deeply impressed with the instant necessity of carrying it out, Providence itself had sent the Russell family, poor and helpless people, who had not the faculty of getting on by themselves, into her way, and Lucy had promptly, or at least as promptly as indignant guardians would permit, provided for them in the modest way which was all her ideas reached to at the time. But around the Hall there was nobody to whom the same summary process could be applied. The people about were either working people, whom it is always easy to help, or well-off people, who had no wants which Lucy could supply. And this continued to be so even after her fright and determination to return to the work that had been allotted to her. No doubt, could she have come down to the hearts and lives of the neighbours who visited Lady Randolph on the externally equal footing which society pretends to allot to all gentlefolks, she would have found several of them who would have been glad to free her from her money; but then she could not see into their hearts. She did not know what a difficult thing it was for Mr. Routledge of Newby to pay the debts of his son when he had left college, or how hardly hit was young Archer of Fordham in the matter of the last joint-stock bank that stopped payment. If they had not all been so determined to hold up their heads with the best, and keep up appearances, Lucy might have managed somehow to transfer to them a little of the money which she wanted to get rid of, and of which they stood so much in need. But this was not to be thought of; and when she cast her eyes around her it was with a certain despair that Lucy saw no outlet whatever for those bounties which it had seemed to her heaven itself was concerned about, and had warned her not to neglect. Many an anxious thought occupied her mind on this subject. She thought of calling her cousin Philip Rainy, who was established and thriving at Farafield, and whose fortune had been founded upon her liberality, to her counsels. But if Sir Tom had disliked the confidences between her and her brother, what would he think of Philip Rainy as her adviser? Then Lucy in her perplexity turned again to the thought of Jock. Jock had a great deal more sense in him than anybody knew. He had been the wisest child, respected by everybody; and now he was almost a man, and had learned, as he said, a great deal at school. She thought wistfully of the poor curate of whom Jock had told her. Very likely that poor clergyman would do very well for what Lucy wanted. Surely there could be no better use for money than to endow such a man, with a whole family growing up, all the better for it, and a son on the foundation! And then she remembered that Jock had entreated her to do nothing till he came. Thus the time went on, and her passionate resolution, her sense that heaven itself was calling upon her, menacing her with judgment even, seemed to come to nothing—not out of forgetfulness or sloth, or want of will—but because she saw no way open before her, and could not tell what to do. And after that miserable night when Ellen Bailey's baby died, and death seemed to enter in, as novel and terrible as if he had never been known before, for the first time into Lucy's Paradise, she had never said anything to Sir Tom. Day after day she had meant to do it, to throw herself upon his guidance, to appeal to him to help her; but day after day she had put it off, shrinking from the possible contest of which some instinct warned her. She knew, without knowing how, that in this he would not stand by her. Impossible to have been kinder in that crisis, more tender, more indulgent, even more understanding than her husband was; but she felt instinctively the limits of his sympathy. He would not go that length. When she got to that point he would change. But she could not have him change; she could not anticipate the idea of a cloud upon his face, or any shadow between them. And then Lucy made up her mind that she would wait for Jock, and that he and she together, when there were two to talk it over, would make out a way.

All was going on well again, the grass above little Willie's grave was green, his mother consoled and smiling as before, and at the Hall the idea of the Christmas party had been resumed, and the invitations, indeed, were sent off, when one morning the visitor whom Lucy had anticipated with such dread came out of the village, where infantile diseases always lingered, and entered the carefully-kept nursery. Little Tom awoke crying and fretful, hot with fever, his poor little eyes heavy with acrid tears. His mother had not been among the huts where poor men lie for nought, and she saw at a glance what it was. Well! not anything so very dreadful—measles, which almost all children have. There was no reason in the world why she should be alarmed. She acknowledged as much, with a tremor that went to her heart. There were no bad symptoms. The baby was no more ill than it was necessary he should be. "He was having them beautiful," the nurse said, and Lucy scarcely allowed even her husband to see the deep, harrowing dread that was in her. By and by, however, this dread was justified; she had been very anxious about all the little patients in the village that they should not catch cold, which in the careless ignorance of their attendants, and in the limited accommodation of the cottages, was so usual, so likely, almost inevitable. A door would be left open, a sudden blast of cold would come upon the little sufferer; how could any one help it? Lucy had given the poor women no peace on this subject. She had "worrited them out o' their lives." And now, wonder above all finding out, it was in little Tom's luxurious nursery, where everything was arranged for his safety, where one careful nurse succeeded another by night and by day, and Lady Randolph herself was never absent for an hour, where the ventilation was anxiously watched and regulated, and no incautious intruder ever entered—it was there that the evil came. When the child had shaken off his little complaint and all was going well, he took cold, and in a few hours more his little lungs were labouring heavily, and the fever of inflammation consuming his strength. Little Tom, the heir, the only child! A cloud fell over the house; from Sir Tom himself to the lowest servant, all became partakers, unawares, of Lucy's dumb terror. It was because the little life was so important, because so much hung upon it, that everybody jumped to the conclusion that the worst issue might be looked for. Humanity has an instinctive, heathenish feeling that God will take advantage of all the special circumstances that aggravate a blow.

Lucy, for her part, received the stroke into her very soul. She was outwardly more calm than when her heart had first been roused to terror by the death of the little child in the village. That which she had dreaded was come, and all her powers were collected to support her. The moment had arrived—the time of trial—and she would not fail. Her hand was steady and her head clear, as is the case with finer natures when confronted with deadly danger. This simple girl suddenly became like one of the women of tragedy, fighting, still and strong, with a desperation beyond all symbols—the fight with death. But Sir Tom took it differently. A woman can nurse her child, can do something for him; but a man is helpless. At first he got rid of his anxieties by putting a cheerful face upon the matter, and denying the possibility of danger. "The measles! every child had the measles. If no fuss was made the little chap," he declared, "would soon be all right. It was always a mistake to exaggerate." But when there could no longer be any doubt on the subject, a curious struggle took place in Sir Tom's mind. That baby—die? That crowing, babbling creature pass away into the solemnity of death! It had not seemed possible, and when he tried to get it into his mind his brain whirled. Wonder for the moment seemed to silence even the possibility of grief. He had himself gone through labours and adventures that would have killed a dozen men, and had never been conscious even of alarm about himself; and the idea of a life quenched in its beginning by so accidental a matter as a draught in a nursery seemed to him something incomprehensible. When he had heard of a child's death he had been used to say that the mother would feel it, no doubt, poor thing; but it was a small event, that scarcely counted in human history to Sir Tom. When, however, his own boy was threatened, after the first incredulity, Sir Tom felt a pang of anger and wretchedness which he could not understand. It was not that the family misfortune of the loss of the heir overwhelmed him, for it was very improbable that poor little Tom would be his only child; it was a more intimate and personal sensation. A sort of terrified rage came over him which he dared not express; for if indeed his child was to be taken from him, who was it but God that would do this? and he did not venture to turn his rage to that quarter. And then a confusion of miserable feelings rose within him. One night he did not go to bed. It was impossible in the midst of the anxiety that filled the house, he said to himself. He spent the weary hours in going softly up and down stairs, now listening at the door of the nursery and waiting for his wife, who came out now and then to bring him a bulletin, now dozing drearily in his library downstairs. When the first gleams of the dawn stole in at the window he went out upon the terrace in the misty chill morning, all damp and miserable, with the trees standing about like ghosts. There was a dripping thaw after a frost, and the air was raw and the prospect dismal; but even that was less wretched than the glimmer of the shaded lights, the muffled whispering and stealthy footsteps indoors. He took a few turns up and down the terrace, trying to reason himself out of this misery. How was it, after all, that the little figure of this infant should overshadow earth and heaven to a man, a reasonable being, whose mind and life were full of interests far more important? Love, yes! but love must have some foundation. The feeling which clung so strongly to a child with no power of returning it, and no personal qualities to excite it, must be mere instinct not much above that of the animals. He would not say this before Lucy, but there could be no doubt it was the truth. He shook himself up mentally, and recalled himself to what he attempted to represent as the true aspect of affairs. He was a man who had obtained most things that this world can give. He had sounded life to its depths (as he thought), and tasted both the bitter and the sweet; and after having indulged in all these varied experiences it had been given to him, as it is not given to many men, to come back from all wanderings and secure the satisfactions of mature life, wealth, and social importance, and the power of acting in the largest imperial concerns. Round about him everything was his; the noble woods that swept away into the mist on every side; the fields and farms which began to appear in the misty paleness of the morning through the openings in the trees. And if he had not by his side such a companion as he had once dreamed of, the beautiful, high-minded ideal woman of romance, yet he had got one of the best of gentle souls to tread the path of life along with him, and sympathise even when she did not understand. For a man who had not perhaps deserved very much, how unusual was this happiness. And was it possible that all these things should be obscured, cast into the shade, by so small a matter as the sickness of a child? What had the baby ever done to make itself of so much importance? Nothing. It did not even understand the love it excited, and was incapable of making any response. Its very life was little more than a mechanical life. The woman who fed it was far more to it than its father, and there was nothing excellent or noble in the world to which it would not prefer a glittering tinsel or a hideous doll. If the little thing had grown up, indeed, if it had developed human tastes and sympathies, and become a companion, an intelligence, a creature with affections and thoughts,—but that the whole house should thus be overwhelmed with miserable anxiety and pain because of a being in the embryo state of existence, who could neither respond nor understand, what a strange thing it was! No doubt this instinct had been implanted in order to preserve the germ and keep the race going; but that it should thus develop into an absorbing passion and overshadow everything else in life was a proof how the natural gets exaggerated, and, if we do not take care, changes its character altogether, mastering us instead of being kept in its fit place, and in check, as it ought to be by sense and reason. From time to time, as Sir Tom made these reflections, there would flit across his mind, as across a mirror, something which was not thought, which was like a picture momentarily presented before him. One of the most persistent of these, which flashed out and in upon his senses like a view in a magic lantern, was of that moment in the midst of the flurry of the election when little Tom, held up in his mother's arms, had clapped his baby hands for his father. This for a second would confound all his thoughts, and give his heart a pang as if some one had seized and pressed it with an iron grasp; but the next moment he would pick up the thread of his reflections again, and go on with them. That, too, was merely mechanical, like all the little chap's existence up to this point. Poor little chap! here Sir Tom stopped in his course of thought, impeded by a weight at his heart which he could not shake off; nor could he see the blurred and vague landscape round him—something more blinding even than the fog had got into his eyes.

Then Sir Tom started and his heart sprang up to his throat beating loudly. It was not anything of much importance, it was only the opening of the window by which he himself had come out upon the terrace. He turned round quickly, too anxious even to ask a question. If it had been a king's messenger bringing him news that affected the whole kingdom, he would have turned away with an impatient "Pshaw!" or struck the intruder out of his way. But it was his wife, wrapped in a dressing-gown, pale with watching, her hair pushed back upon her forehead, her eyes unnaturally bright. "How is he?" cried Sir Tom, as if the question was one of life or death.

Lucy told him, catching at his arm to support herself, that she thought there was a little improvement. "I have been thinking so for the last hour, not daring to think it, and yet I felt sure; and now nurse says so too. His breathing is easier. I have been on thorns to come and tell you, but I would not till I was quite sure."

"Thank God! God be praised!" said Sir Tom. He did not pretend to be a religious man on ordinary occasions, but at the present moment he had no time to think, and spoke from the bottom of his heart. He supported his little wife tenderly on one arm, and put back the disordered hair on her forehead. "Now you will go and take a little rest, my darling," he said.

"Not yet, not till the doctor comes. But you want it as much as I."

"No; I had a long sleep on the sofa. We are all making fools of ourselves, Lucy. The poor little chap will be all right. We are queer creatures. To think that you and I should make ourselves so miserable over a little thing like that, that knows nothing about it, that has no feelings, that does not care a button for you and me."

"Tom, what are you talking of? Not of my boy, surely—not my boy!"

"Hush, my sweet. Well," said Sir Tom, with a tremulous laugh, "what is it but a little polypus after all? that can do nothing but eat and sleep, and crow perhaps—and clap its little fat hands," he said, with the tears somehow getting into his voice, and mingling with the laughter. "I allow that I am confusing my metaphors."

At this moment the window opening upon the terrace jarred again, and another figure in a dressing-gown, dark and ghost-like, appeared beckoning to Lucy, "My lady! my lady!"

Lucy let go her husband's arm, thrust him away from her with passion, gave him one wild look of reproach, and flew noiselessly like a spirit after the nurse to her child. Sir Tom, with his laugh still wavering about his mouth, half hysterically, though he was no weakling, tottered along the terrace to the open window, and stood there leaning against it, scarcely breathing, the light gone out of his eyes, his whole soul suspended, and every part of his strong body, waiting for what another moment might bring to pass.



CHAPTER IX.

A CHRISTMAS VISIT.

Little Tom did not die, but he became "delicate,"—and fathers and mothers know what that means. The entire household was possessed by one pervading terror lest he should catch cold, and Lucy's life became absorbed in this constant watchfulness. Naturally the Christmas guests were put off, and it was understood in respect to the Contessa di Forno-Populo, that she was to come at Easter. Sir Tom himself thought this a better arrangement. The Parliamentary recess was not a long one, and the Contessa would naturally prefer, after a short visit to her old friend, to go to town, where she would find so many people she knew.

"And even in the country the weather is more tolerable in April," said Sir Tom.

"Oh, yes, yes. The doctor says if we keep clear of the east winds that he may begin to go out again and get up his strength," said Lucy.

"My love, I am thinking of your visitors, and you are thinking of your baby," Sir Tom said.

"Oh, Tom, what do you suppose I could be thinking of?" his wife cried.

Sir Tom himself was very solicitous about the baby, but to hear of nothing else worried him. He was glad when old Lady Randolph, who was an invariable visitor, arrived.

"How is the baby?" was her first question when he met her at the train.

"The baby would be a great deal better if there was less fuss made about him," he said. "You must give Lucy a hint on that subject, aunt."

Lady Randolph was a good woman, and it was her conviction that she had made this match. But it is so pleasant to feel that you have been right, that she was half pleased, though very sorry, to think that Sir Tom (as she had always known) was getting a little tired of sweet simplicity. She met Lucy with an affectionate determination to be very plain with her, and warn her of the dangers in her path. Jock had arrived the day before. He rose up in all the lanky length of sixteen from the side of the fire in the little drawing-room when the Dowager came in. It was just the room into which one likes to come after a cold journey at Christmas; the fire shining brightly in the midst of the reflectors of burnished steel and brass, shining like gold and silver, of the most luxurious fireplace that skill could contrive (the day of tiled stoves was not as yet), and sending a delicious glow on the soft mossy carpets into which the foot sank; a table with tea, reflecting the firelight in all the polished surfaces of the china and silver, stood near; and chairs invitingly drawn towards the fire. The only drawback was that there was no one to welcome the visitor. On ordinary occasions Lucy was at the door, if not at the station, to receive the kind lady whom she loved. Lady Randolph was somewhat surprised at the difference, and when she saw the lengthy boy raising himself up from the fireside, turned round to her nephew and asked, "Do I know this young gentleman? There is not light enough to see him," with a voice in which Jock, shy and awkward, felt all the old objection to his presence as a burden upon Lucy, which in his precocious toleration he had accepted as reasonable, but did not like much the better for that. And then she sat down somewhat sullenly at the fire. The next minute Lucy came hastily in with many apologies: "I did not hear the carriage, aunt. I was in the nursery——"

"And how is the child?" Lady Randolph said.

"Oh, he is a great deal better—don't you think he is much better, Tom? Only a little delicate, and that, we hope, will pass away."

"Then, Lucy, my dear, though I don't want to blame you, I think you should have heard the carriage," said Aunt Randolph. "The tea-table does not look cheerful when the mistress of the house is away."

"Oh, but little Tom——" Lucy said, and then stopped herself, with a vague sense that there was not so much sympathy around her as usual. Her husband had gone out again, and Jock stood dumb, an awkward shadow against the mantelpiece.

"My dear, I only speak for your good," the elder lady said. "Big Tom wants a little attention too. I thought you were going to have quite a merry Christmas and a great many people here."

"But, Aunt Randolph, baby——"

"Oh, my dear, you must think of something else besides baby. Take my word for it, baby would be a great deal stronger if you left him a little to himself. You have your husband, you know, to think of, and what harm would it have done baby if there had been a little cheerful company for his father? But you will think I have come to scold, and I don't in the least mean that. Give me a cup of tea, Lucy. Tom tells me that this tall person is Jock."

"You would not have known him?" said Lucy, much subdued in tone.

She occupied herself with the tea, arranging the cups and saucers with hands that trembled a little at the unexpected and unaccustomed sensation of a repulse.

"Well, I cannot even see him. But he has certainly grown out of knowledge—I never thought he would have been so tall; he was quite a little pinched creature as a child. I daresay you took too much care of him, my dear. I remember I used to think so; and then when he was tossed into the world or sent to school—it comes to much the same thing, I suppose—he flourished and grew."

"I wonder," said Lucy, somewhat wistfully, "if that is really so? Certainly it is since he has been at school that he has grown so much." Jock all this time fidgeted about from one leg to another with unutterable darkness upon his brow, could any one have seen it. There are few things so irritating, especially at his age, as to be thus discussed over one's own head.

"My dear Lucy," said Lady Randolph, "don't you remember some one says—who was it, I wonder? it sounds like one of those dreadfully clever French sayings that are always so much to the point—about the advantages of a little wholesome neglect?"

"Can neglect ever be wholesome? Oh, I don't think so—I can't think so—at least with children."

"It is precisely children that are meant," said the elder Lady Randolph. But as she talked, sitting in the warm light of the fire, with her cup in her hand, feeling extremely comfortable, discoursing at her ease, and putting sharp arrows as if they had been pins into the heart of Lucy, Sir Tom's large footsteps became audible coming through the great drawing-room, which was dark. The very sound of him was cheerful as he came in, and he brought the scent of fresh night air, cold but delightful, with him. He passed by Lucy's chair and said, "How is the little 'un?" laying a kind hand upon her head.

"Oh, better. I am sure he is better. Aunt Randolph thinks——"

"I am giving Lucy a lecture," said Lady Randolph, "and telling her she must not shut herself up with that child. He'll get on all the better if he is not coddled too much."

Sir Tom made no reply, but came to the fire, and drew a chair into the cheerful glow. "You are all in the dark," he said, "but the fire is pleasant this cold night. Well, now that you are thawed, what news have you brought us out of the world? We are two hermits, Lucy and I. We forget what kind of language you speak. We have a little sort of talk of our own which answers common needs about babies and so forth, but we should like to hear what you are discoursing about, just for a change."

"There is no such thing as a world just now," said Lady Randolph, "there are nothing but country-houses. Society is all broken up into little bits, as you know as well as I do. One gleans a little here and a little there, and one carries it about like a basket of eggs."

"Jock has a world, and it is quite entire," said Sir Tom, with his cordial laugh. "No breaking up into little bits there. If you want a society that knows its own opinions, and will stick to them through thick and thin, I can tell you where to find it; and to see how it holds together and sits square whatever happens——"

Here there came a sort of falsetto growl from Jock's corner, where he was blushing in the firelight. "It's because you were once a fellow yourself, and know all about it."

"So it is, Jock; you are right, as usual," said Sir Tom; "I was once a fellow myself, and now I'm an old fellow, and growing duller. Turn out your basket of eggs, Aunt Randolph, and let us know what is going on. Where did you come from last—the Mulberrys? Come; there must have been some pretty pickings of gossip there."

"You shall have it all in good time. I am not going to run myself dry the first hour. I want to know about yourselves, and when you are going to give up this honeymooning. I expected to have met all sorts of people here."

"Yes," said Sir Tom, and then he burst forth in a laugh, "La Forno-Populo and a few others; but as little Tom is not quite up to visitors, we have put them off till Easter."

"La Forno-Populo!" said Lady Randolph, in a voice of dismay.

"Why not?" said Sir Tom. "She wrote and offered herself. I thought she might find it a doubtful pleasure, but if she likes it—— However, you may make yourself easy, nobody is coming," he added, with a certain jar of impatience in his tone.

"Well, Tom, I must say I am very glad of that," Lady Randolph said gravely—and then there was a pause. "I doubt whether Lucy would have liked her," she added, after a moment. Then with another interval, "I think, Lucy, my love, after that nice cup of tea, and my first sight of you, that I will go to my own room. I like a little rest before dinner—you know my lazy way."

"And it's getting ridiculously dark in this room," Sir Tom said, kicking a footstool out of the way. This little impatient movement was like one of those expletives that seem to relieve a man's mind, and both the ladies understood it as such, and knew that he was angry. Lucy, as she rose from her tea-table to attend upon her visitor, herself in a confused and painful mood, and vexed with what had been said to her, thought her husband was irritated by his aunt, and felt much sympathy with him, and anxiety to conduct Lady Randolph to her room before it should go any farther. But the elder lady understood it very differently. She went away, followed by Lucy through the great drawing-room, where a solitary lamp had been placed on a table to show the way. It had been the Dowager's own house in her day, and she did not require any guidance to her room. Nor did she detain Lucy after the conventional visit to see that all was comfortable.

"That I haven't the least doubt of," Lady Randolph said, "and I am at home, you know, and will ask for anything I want; but I must have my nap before dinner; and do you go and talk to your husband."

Lucy could not resist one glance into the nursery, where little Tom, a little languid but so much better, was sitting on his nurse's knee before the fire, amused by those little fables about his fingers and toes which are the earliest of all dramatic performances. The sight of him thus content, and the sound of his laugh, was sweet to her in her anxiety. She ran downstairs again without disturbing him, closing so carefully the double doors that shut him out from all draughts, not without a wondering doubt as she did so, whether it was true, perhaps, that she was "coddling" him, and if there was such a thing as wholesome neglect. She went quickly through the dim drawing-room to the warm ruddy flush of firelight that shone between the curtains from the smaller room, thinking nothing less than to find her husband, who was fond of an hour's repose in that kindly light before dinner. She had got to her old place in front of the fire before she perceived that Sir Tom's tall shadow was no longer there. Lucy uttered a little exclamation of disappointment, and then she perceived remorsefully another shadow, not like Sir Tom's, the long weedy boyish figure of her brother against the warm light.

"But you are here, Jock," she said, advancing to him. Jock took hold of her arm, as he was so fond of doing.

"I shall never have you, now she has come," Jock said.

"Why not, dear? You were never fond of Lady Randolph—you don't know how good and kind she is. It is only when you like people that you know how nice they are," Lucy said, all unconscious that a deeper voice than hers had announced that truth.

"Then I shall never know, for I don't like her," said Jock uncompromising. "You'll have to sit and gossip with her when you're not in the nursery, and I shall have no time to tell you, for the holidays last only a month."

"But you can tell me everything in a month, you silly boy; and if we can't have our walks, Jock (for it's cold), there is one place where she will never come," said Lucy, upon which Jock turned away with an exclamation of impatience.

His sister put her hand on his shoulder and looked reproachfully in his face.

"You too! You used to like it. You used to come and toss him up and make him laugh——"

"Oh, don't, Lucy! can't you see? So I would again, if he were like that. How you can bear it!" said the boy, bursting away from her. And then Jock returned very much ashamed and horror-stricken, and took the hand that dropped by her side, and clumsily patted and kissed it, and held it between his own, looking penitently, wistfully, in her face all the while: but not knowing what to say.

Lucy stood looking down into the glowing fire, with her head drooping and an air of utter dejection in her little gentle figure. "Do you think he looks so bad as that?" she said, in a broken voice.

"Oh, no, no; that is not what I mean," the boy cried. "It's—the little chap is not so jolly; he's—a little cross; or else he's forgotten me. I suppose it's that. He wouldn't look at me when I ran up. He's so little one oughtn't to mind, but it made me——your baby, Lucy! and the little beggar cried and wouldn't look at me."

"Is that all?" said Lucy. She only half believed him, but she pretended to be deceived. She gave a little trembling laugh, and laid her head for a moment upon Jock's boyish breast, where his heart was beating high with a passion of sorrow and tender love. "Sometimes," she said, leaning against him, "sometimes I think I shall die. I can't live to see anything happen to him: and sometimes—— But he is ever so much better; don't you think he looks almost himself?" she said, raising her head hurriedly, and interrogating the scarcely visible face with her eyes.

"Looks! I don't see much difference in his looks, if he wouldn't be so cross," said Jock, lying boldly, but with a tremor, for he was not used to it. And then he said hurriedly, "But there's that clergyman, the father of the fellow on the foundation. I've found out all about him. I must tell you, Lucy. He is the very man. There is no call to think about it or put off any longer. What a thing it would be if he could have it by Christmas! I have got all the particulars—they look as if they were just made for us," Jock cried.



CHAPTER X.

LUCY'S ADVISERS.

Lady Randolph found her visit dull. It is true that there had been no guests to speak of on previous Christmases since Sir Tom's marriage; but the house had been more cheerful, and Lucy had been ready to drive, or walk, or call, or go out to the festivities around. But now she was absorbed by the nursing, and never liked to be an hour out of call. The Dowager put up with it as long as she was able. She did not say anything more on the subject for some days. It was not, indeed, until she had been a week at the Hall that, being disturbed by the appeals of Lucy as to whether she did not think baby was looking better than when she came, she burst forth at last. They were sitting by themselves in the hour after dinner when ladies have the drawing-room all to themselves. It is supposed by young persons in novels to be a very dreary interval, but to the great majority of women it is a pleasant moment. The two ladies sat before the pleasant fire; Lucy with some fleecy white wool in her lap with which she was knitting something for her child, Lady Randolph with a screen interposed between her and the fire, doing nothing, an operation which she always performed gracefully and comfortably. It could not be said that the gentlemen were lingering over their wine. Jock had retired to the library, where he was working through all the long-collected literary stores of the Randolph family, with an instinctive sense that his presence in the drawing-room was not desired. Sir Tom had business to do, or else he was tired of the domestic calm. The ladies had been sitting for some time in silence when Lady Randolph suddenly broke forth—

"You know what I said to you the first evening, Lucy? I have not said a word on the subject since—of course I didn't come down here to enjoy your hospitality and then to find fault."

"Oh, Aunt Randolph! don't speak of hospitality; it is your own house."

"My dear, it is very pretty of you to say so. I hope I am not the sort of person to take advantage of it. But I feel a sort of responsibility, seeing it was I that brought you together first. Lucy, I must tell you. You are not doing what you ought by Tom. Here he is, a middle-aged man, you know, and one of the first in the county. People look to him for a great many things: he is the member: he is a great landowner: he is (thanks to you) very well off. And here is Christmas, and not a visitor in the house but myself. Oh, there's Jock! a schoolboy home for his holidays—that does not count; not a single dinner that I can hear of——"

"Yes, aunt, on the 6th," said Lucy, with humility.

"On the 6th, and it is now the 27th! and no fuss at all made about Christmas. My dear, you needn't tell me it's a bore. I know it is a bore—everywhere wherever one goes; still, everybody does it. It is just a part of one's responsibilities. You don't go to balls in Lent, and you stand on your heads, so to speak, at Christmas. The country expects it of you; and it is always a mistake to take one's own way in such matters. You should have had, in the first place," said Lady Randolph, counting on her fingers, "your house full; in the second, a ball, to which everybody should have been asked. On these occasions no one that could possibly be imagined to be gentlefolk should be left out. I would even stretch a point—doctors and lawyers, and so forth, go without saying, and those big brewers, you know, I always took in; and some people go as far as the 'vet.,' as they call him. He was a very objectionable person in my day, and that was where I drew the line; then three or four dinners at the least."

"But, Aunt Randolph, how could we when baby is so poorly——"

"What has baby to do with it, Lucy? You don't have the child down to receive your guests. With the door of his nursery shut to keep out the noise (if you think it necessary: I shouldn't think it would matter) what harm would it do him? He would never be a bit the wiser, poor little dear. Yes, I dare say your heart would be with him many a time when you were elsewhere; but you must not think of yourself."

"I did not mean to do so, aunt. I thought little Tom was my first duty."

"Now, I should have thought, my dear," said the Dowager, smiling blandly, "that it would have been big Tom who answered to that description."

"But, Tom——" Lucy paused, not knowing in what shape to put so obvious a truth, "he is like me," she said. "He is far, far more anxious than he lets you see. It is his—duty too."

"A great many other things are his duty as well; besides, there is so much, especially in a social point of view, which the man never sees till his wife points it out. That's one of the uses of a woman. She must keep up her husband's popularity, don't you see? You must never let it be said: 'Oh, Sir Tom! he is all very well in Parliament, but he does nothing for the county.'"

"I never thought of that," said Lucy, with dismay.

"But you must learn to think of it, my love. Never mind, this is the first Christmas since the election. But one dinner, and nothing else done, not so much as a magic lantern in the village! I do assure you, my dearest girl, you are very much to blame."

"I am very sorry," said Lucy, with a startled look, "but, dear aunt, little Tom——"

"My dear Lucy! I am sure you don't wish everybody to get sick of that poor child's very name."

Lucy sprang up from her chair at this outrage; she could not bear any more. A flush of almost fury came upon her face. She went up to the mantelpiece, which was a very fine one of carved wood, and leant her head upon it. She did not trust herself to reply.

"Now, I know what you are thinking," said Lady Randolph blandly. "You are saying to yourself, that horrid old woman, who never had a child, how can she know?—and I don't suppose I do," said the clever Dowager pathetically. "All that sweetness has been denied to me. I have never had a little creature that was all mine. But when I was your age, Lucy, and far older than you, I would have given anything—almost my life—to have had a child."

Lucy melted in a moment, threw herself down upon the hearth-rug upon her knees, and took Lady Randolph's hands in her own and kissed them.

"Oh, dear aunt, dear aunt!" she cried, "to think I should have gone on so about little Tom and never remembered that you—— But we are all your children," she said, in the innocence and fervour of her heart.

"Yes, my love." Lady Randolph freed one of her hands and put it up with her handkerchief to her cheek. As a matter of fact she did not regret it now, but felt that a woman when she is growing old is really much more able to look after her own comforts when she has no children; and yet, when she remembered how she had been bullied on the subject, and all the reproaches that had been addressed to her as if it were her fault, perhaps there was something like a tear. "That is why I venture to say many things to you that I would not otherwise. Tom, indeed, is too old to have been my son; but I have felt, Lucy, as if I had a daughter in you." Then shaking off this little bit of sentiment with a laugh, the Dowager raised Lucy and kissed her and put her into a chair by her own side.

"Since we are about it," she said, "there is one other thing I should like to talk to you about. Of course your husband knows a great deal more of the world than you do, Lucy; but it is perhaps better that he should not decide altogether who is to be asked. Men have such strange notions. If people are amusing it is all they think of. Well, now, there is that Contessa di Forno-Populo. I would not have her, Lucy, if I were you."

"But it was she who was the special person," said Lucy, in amaze. "The others were to come to meet her. She is an old friend."

"Oh, I know all about the old friendship," said Lady Randolph. "I think Tom should be ashamed of himself. He knows that in other houses where the mistress knows more about the world. Yes, yes, she is an old friend. All the more reason, my dear, why you should have as little to say to her as possible; they are never to be reckoned upon. Didn't you hear what he called her. La Forno-Populo? Englishmen never talk of a lady like that if they have any great respect for her; but it can't be denied that this lady has a great deal of charm. And I would just keep her at arm's length, Lucy, if I were you."

"Dear Aunt Randolph, why should I do that?" said Lucy, gravely. "If she is Tom's friend, she must always be welcome here. I do not know her, therefore I can only welcome her for my husband's sake; but that is reason enough. You must not ask me to do anything that is against Tom."

"Against Tom! I think you are a little goose, Lucy, though you are so sensible. Is it not all for his sake that I am talking? I want you to see more of the world, not to shut yourself up here in the nursery entirely on his account. If you don't understand that, then words have no meaning."

"I do understand it, aunt," said Lucy meekly. "Don't be angry; but why should I be disagreeable to Tom's friend? The only thing I am afraid of is, should she not speak English. My French is so bad——"

"Oh, your French will do very well; and you will take your own way, my dear," said the elder lady, getting up. "You all do, you young people. The opinion of others never does any good; and as Tom does not seem to be coming, I think I shall take my way to bed. Good-night, Lucy. Remember what I said, at all events, about the magic lantern. And if you are wise you will have as little to do as possible with La Forno-Populo as you can—and there you have my two pieces of advice."

Lucy was disturbed a little by her elder's counsel, both in respect to the foreign lady, whom, however, she simply supposed Lady Randolph did not like—and in regard to her own nursery tastes and avoidance of society;—could that be why Tom sat so much longer in the dining-room and did not come in to talk to his aunt? She began to think with a little ache in her heart, and to remember that in her great preoccupation with the child he had been left to spend many evenings alone, and that he no longer complained of this. She stood up in front of the fire and pressed her hot forehead to the mantel-shelf. How was a woman to know what to do? Was not he that was most helpless and had most need of her the one to devote her time to? There was not a thought in her that was disloyal to Sir Tom. But what if he were to form the habit of doing without her society? This was an idea that filled her with a vague dread. Some one came in through the great drawing-room as she stood thinking, and she turned round eagerly, supposing that it was her husband; but it was only Jock, who had been on the watch to hear Lady Randolph go upstairs.

"I never see you at all now, Lucy," cried Jock. "I never have a chance but in the holidays, and now they're half over, and we have not had one good talk. And what about poor Mr. Churchill, Lucy? I thought he was the very man for you. He has got about a dozen children and no money. Somebody else pays for Churchill, that's the fellow I told you of that's on the foundation. I shouldn't have found out all that, and gone and asked questions and got myself thought an inquisitive beggar, if it hadn't been for your sake."

"Oh, Jock, I'm sure I am much obliged to you," said Lucy, dolefully; "and I am so sorry for the poor gentleman. It must be dreadful to have so many children and not to be able to give them everything they require."

At this speech, which was uttered with something between impatience and despair, and which made no promise of any help or succour, her brother regarded her with a mixture of anger and disappointment.

"Is that all about it, Lucy?" he said.

"Oh, no, Jock! I am sure you are right, dear. I know I ought to bestir myself and do something, but only—— How much do you think it would take to make them comfortable? Oh, Jock, I wish that papa had put it all into somebody's hands, to be done like business—somebody that had nothing else to think of!"

"What have you to think of, Lucy?" said the boy, seriously, in the superiority of his youth. "I suppose, you know, you are just too well off. You can't understand what it is to be like that. You get angry at people for not being happy, you don't want to be disturbed." He paused remorsefully, and cast a glance at her, melting in spite of himself, for Lucy did not look too well off. Her soft brow was contracted a little; there was a faint quiver upon her lip. "If you really want to know," Jock said, "people can live and get along when they have about five hundred a year. That is, as far as I can make out. If you gave them that, they would think it awful luck."

"I wish I could give them all of it, and be done with it!"

"I don't see much good that would do. It would be two rich people in place of one, and the two would not be so grand as you. That would not have done for father at all. He liked you to be a great heiress, and everybody to wonder at you, and then to give your money away like a queen. I like it too," said Jock, throwing up his head; "it satisfies the imagination: it is a kind of a fairy tale."

Lucy shook her head.

"He never thought how hard it would be upon me. A woman is never so well off as a man. Oh, if it had been you, Jock, and I only just your sister."

"Talking does not bring us any nearer a settlement," said Jock, with some impatience. "When will you do it, Lucy? Have you got to speak to old Rushton, or write to old Chervil, or what? or can't you just draw them a cheque? I suppose about ten thousand or so would be enough. And it is as easy to do it at one time as another. Why not to-morrow, Lucy? and then you would have it off your mind."

This proposal took away Lucy's breath. She thought with a gasp of Sir Tom and the look with which he would regard her—the laugh, the amused incredulity. He would not be unkind, and her right to do it was quite well established and certain. But she shrank within herself when she thought how he would look at her, and her heart jumped into her throat as she realised that perhaps he might not laugh only. How could she stand before him and carry her own war in opposition to his? Her whole being trembled even with the idea of conflict. "Oh, Jock, it is not just so easily managed as that," she said faltering; "there are several things to think of. I will have to let the trustees know, and it must all be calculated."

"There is not much need for calculation," said Jock, "that is just about it. Five per cent is what you get for money. You had better send the cheque for it, Lucy, and then let the old duffers know of it afterwards. One would think you were afraid!"

"Oh, no," said Lucy, with a slight shiver, "I am not afraid." And then she added, with growing hesitation, "I must—speak to—— Oh! Is it you, Tom?" She made a sudden start from Jock's side, who was standing close by her, argumentative and eager, and whose bewildered spectatorship of her guilty surprise and embarrassment she was conscious of through all.

"Yes, it is I," said Sir Tom, putting his hand upon her shoulders; "you must have been up to some mischief, Jock and you, or you would not look so frightened. What is the secret?" he said, with his genial laugh. But when he looked from Jock, astonished but resentful and lowering, to Lucy, all trembling and pale with guilt, even Sir Tom, who was not suspicious, was startled. His little Lucy! What had she been plotting that made her look so scared at his appearance? Or was it something that had been told to her, some secret accusation against himself? This startled Sir Tom also a little, and it was with a sudden gravity, not unmingled with resentment, that he added, "Come! I mean to know what it is."



CHAPTER XI.

AN INNOCENT CONSPIRACY.

"It was only something that Jock was saying," said Lucy, "but, Tom, I will tell you another time. I wish you had come in before Lady Randolph went upstairs. I think she was a little disappointed to have only me."

"Did she share Jock's secret?" Sir Tom said with a keen look of inquiry. It is perhaps one advantage in the dim light which fashion delights in, that it is less easy to scrutinise the secrets of a face.

"We are all a little put wrong when you do not come in," said Lucy. The cunning which weakness finds refuge in when it has to defend itself came to her aid. "Jock is shy when you are not here. He thinks he bores Lady Randolph; and so we ladies are left to our own devices."

"Jock must not be so sensitive," Sir Tom said; but he was not satisfied. It occurred to him suddenly (for schoolboys are terrible gossips) that the boy might have heard something which he had been repeating to Lucy. Nothing could have been more unlikely, had he thought of it, than that Jock should carry tales on such a subject. But we do not stop to argue out matters when our own self-regard is in question. He looked at the two with a doubtful and suspicious eye.

"He will get over it as he grows older," said Lucy; but she gave her brother a look which to Sir Tom seemed one of warning, and he was irritated by it; he looked from one to another and he laughed; but not with the genial laugh which was his best known utterance.

"You are prodigiously on your guard," he said. "I suppose you have your reasons for it. Have you been confiding the Masons' secret or something of that awful character to her, Jock?"

"Why shouldn't I tell him?" cried Jock with great impatience. "What is the use of making all those signs? It's nothing of the sort. It's only I've heard of somebody that is poor—somebody she ought to know of—the sort of thing that is meant in father's will."

"Oh!" said Sir Tom. It was the simplest of exclamations, but it meant much. He was partially relieved that it was not gossip, but yet more gravely annoyed than if it had been.

Lucy made haste to interpose.

"I will tell you afterwards," she said. "If I made signs, as Jock said, it was only that I might tell it you, Tom, myself, when there was more time."

"I am at no loss for time," said Sir Tom, placing himself in the vacant chair. The others were both standing, as became this accidental moment before bed-time. And Lucy had been on thorns to get away, even before her husband appeared. She had wanted to escape from the discussion even with Jock. She had wanted to steal into the nursery, and see that her boy was asleep, to feel his little forehead with her soft hand, and make sure there was no fever. To be betrayed into a prolonged and agitating discussion now was very provoking, very undesirable; and Lucy had grown rather cowardly and anxious to push away from her, as far as she could, everything that did not belong to the moment.

"Tom," she said, a little tremulously, "I wish you would put it off till to-morrow. I am—rather sleepy; it is nearly eleven o'clock, and I always run in to see how little Tom is going on. Besides," she added, with a little anxiety which was quite fictitious, "it is keeping Fletcher up——"

"I am not afraid of Fletcher, Lucy."

"Oh! but I am," she said. "I will tell you about it to-morrow. There is nothing in the least settled, only Jock thought——"

"Settled!" Sir Tom said, with a curious look. "No, I hope not."

"Oh! nothing at all settled," said Lucy. She stood restlessly, now on one foot now on the other, eager for flight. She did not even observe the implied authority in this remark, at which Jock pricked up his ears with incipient offence. "And Jock ought to be in bed—oh, yes, Jock, you ought. I am sure you are not allowed to sit up so late at school. Come now, there's a good boy—and I will just run and see how baby is."

She put her hand on her brother's arm to take him away with her, but Jock hung back, and Sir Tom interposed, "Now that I have just settled myself for a chat, you had better leave Jock with me at least, Lucy. Run away to your baby, that is all right. Jock and I will entertain each other. I respect his youth, you see, and don't try to seduce him into a cigar—you should be thankful to me for that."

"If I was not in sixth form," said Jock sharply, nettled by this indignity, "I should smoke; but it is bad form when you are high up in school. In the holidays I don't mind," he added, with careless grandeur, upon which Sir Tom, mollified, laughed as Lucy felt like himself.

"Off duty, eh?" he said, "that's a very fine sentiment, Jock. You may be sure it's bad form to do anything you have promised not to do. You will say that sounds like a copy-book. Come now, Lucy, are not you going, little woman? Do you want to have your share in the moralities?"

For this sudden change had somehow quenched Lucy's desire both to inspect the baby and get to bed. But what could she do? She looked very earnestly at Jock as she bade him good-night, but neither could she shake his respect for her husband by giving him any warning, nor offend her husband by any appearance of secret intelligence with Jock. Poor little Lucy went away after this through the stately rooms and up the grand staircase with a great tremor in her heart. There could not be a life more guarded and happy than hers had been—full of wealth, full of love, not a crumpled rose-leaf to disturb her comfort. But as she stole along the dim corridor to the nursery her heart was beating full of all the terrors that make other hearts to ache. She was afraid for the child's life, which was the worst of all, and looked with a suppressed yet terrible panic into the dark future which contained she knew not what for him. And she was afraid of her husband, the kindest man in the world, not knowing how he might take the discovery he had just made, fearing to disclose her mind to him, finding herself guilty in the mere idea of hiding anything from him. And she was afraid of Jock, that he would irritate Sir Tom, or be irritated by him, or that some wretched breach or quarrel might arise between these two. Jock was not an ordinary boy; there was no telling how he might take any reproof that might be addressed to him—perhaps with the utmost reasonableness, perhaps with a rapid defiance. Lady Randolph thus, though no harm had befallen her, had come into the usual heritage of humanity, and was as anxious and troubled as most of us are; though she was so happy and well off. She was on thorns to know what was passing in the room she had just left.

This was all that passed. Jock, standing up against the mantelpiece, looked down somewhat lowering upon Sir Tom in the easy chair. He expected to be questioned, and had made up his mind, though with great indignation at the idea that any one should find fault with Lucy, to take the whole blame upon himself. That Lucy should not be free to carry out her duty as seemed to her best was to Jock intolerable. He had put his boyish faith in her all his life. Even since the time, a very early one, when Jock had felt himself much cleverer than Lucy; even when he had been obliged to make up his mind that Lucy was not clever at all—he had still believed in her. She had a mission in the world which separated her from other women. Nobody else had ever had the same thing to do. Many people had dispensed charities and founded hospitals, but Lucy's office in the world was of a different description—and Jock had faith in her power to do it. To see her wavering was trouble to him, and the discovery he had just made of something beneath the surface, a latent opposition in her husband which she plainly shrank from encountering, gave the boy a shock from which it was not easy to recover. He had always liked Sir Tom; but if—— One thing, however, was apparent, if there was any blame, anything to find fault with, it was he, Jock, and not Lucy, that must bear that blame.

"So, Jock, Lucy thinks you should be in bed. When do they put out your lights at school? In my time we were up to all manner of tricks. I remember a certain dark lantern that was my joy; but that was in old Keate's time, you know, who never trusted the fellows. You are under a better rule now."

This took away Jock's breath, who had been prepared for a sterner interrogation. He answered with a sudden blush, but with the rallying of all his forces: "I light them again sometimes. It's hard on a fellow, don't you think, sir, when he's not sleepy and has a lot to do?"

"I never had much experience of that," said Sir Tom. "We were always sleepy, and never did anything in my time. It was for larking, I'm afraid, that we wanted light. And so it is seen on me, Jock. You will be a fellow of your college, whereas I——"

"I don't think so," said Jock generously. "That construe you gave me, don't you remember, last half? MTutor says it is capital. He says he couldn't have done it so well. Of course, that is his modest way," the boy added, "for everybody knows there isn't such another scholar! but that's what he says."

Sir Tom laughed, and a slight suffusion of colour appeared on his face. He was pleased with this unexpected applause. At five-and-forty, after knocking about the world for years, and "never opening a book," as people say, to have given a good "construe" is a feather in one's cap. "To be second to your tutor is all a man has to hope for," he said, with that mellow laugh which it was so pleasant to hear. "I hope I know my place, Jock. We had no such godlike beings in my time. Old Puck, as we used to call him, was my tutor. He had a red nose, which was the chief feature in his character. He looked upon us all as his natural enemies, and we paid him back with interest. Did I ever tell of that time when we were going to Ascot in a cab, four of us, and he caught sight of the turn-out?"

"I don't think so," said Jock, with a little hesitation. He remembered every detail of this story, which indeed Sir Tom had told him perhaps more than once; for in respect to such legends the best of us repeat ourselves. Many were the thoughts in the boy's mind as he stood against the mantelpiece and looked down upon the man before him, going over with much relish the tale of boyish mischief, the delight of the urchins and the pedagogue's discomfiture. Sir Tom threw himself back in his chair with a peal of joyous laughter.

"Jove! I think I can see him now with the corners of his mouth all dropped, and his nose like a beacon," he cried. Jock meanwhile looked down upon him very gravely, though he smiled in courtesy. He was a different manner of boy from anything Sir Tom could ever have been, and he wondered, as young creatures will, over the little world of mystery and knowledge which was shut up within the elder man. What things he had done in his life—what places he had seen! He had lived among savages, and fought his way, and seen death and life. Jock, only on the threshold, gazed at him with a curious mixture of awe and wonder and kind contempt. He would himself rather look down upon a fellow (he thought) who did that sort of practical joke now. MTutor would regard such an individual as a natural curiosity. And yet here was this man who had seen so much, and done so much, who ought to have profited by the long results of time, and grown to such superiority and mental elevation—here was he, turning back with delight to the schoolboy's trick. It filled Jock with a great and compassionate wonder. But he was a very civil boy. He was one who could not bear to hurt a fellow-creature's feelings, even those of an old duffer whose recollections were all of the bygone ages. So he did his best to laugh. And Sir Tom enjoyed his own joke so much that he did not know that it was from the lips only that his young companion's laugh came. He got up and patted Jock on the shoulders with the utmost benevolence when this pastime was done.

"They don't indulge in that sort of fooling nowadays," he said. "So much the better—though I don't know that it did us much harm. Now come along, let us go to bed, according to my lady's orders. We must all, you know, do what Lucy tells us in this house."

Jock obeyed, feeling somewhat "shut up," as he called it, in a sort of blank of confused discomfiture. Sir Tom had the best of it, by whatever means he attained that end. The boy had intended to offer himself a sacrifice, to brave anything that an angry man could say to him for Lucy's sake, and at the same time to die if necessary for Lucy's right to carry out her father's will, and accomplish her mission uninterrupted and untrammelled. When lo, Sir Tom had taken to telling him schoolboy stories, and sent him to bed with good-humoured kindness, without leaving him the slightest opening either to defend Lucy or take blame upon himself. He was half angry, and humbled in his own esteem, but there was nothing for it but to submit. Sir Tom for his part, did not go to bed. He went and smoked a lonely cigar, and his face lost its genial smile. The light of it, indeed, disappeared altogether under a cloud, as he sat gravely over his fire and puffed the smoke away. He had the air of a man who had a task to do which was not congenial to him. "Poor little soul," he said to himself. He could not bear to vex her. There was nothing in the world that he would have grudged to his wife. Any luxury, any adornment that he could have procured for her he would have jumped at. But it was his fate to be compelled to oppose and subdue her instead. The only thing was to do it quickly and decisively, since done it must be. If she had been a warrior worthy of his steel, a woman who would have defended herself and held her own, it would have been so much more easy; but it was not without a compunction that Sir Tom thought of the disproportion of their forces, of the soft and compliant creature who had never raised her will against his or done other than accept his suggestions and respond to his guidance. He remembered how Lucy had stuck to her colours before her marriage, and how she had vanquished the unwilling guardians who regarded what they thought the squandering of her money with a consternation and fury that were beyond bounds. He had thought it highly comic at the time, and even now there passed a gleam of humour over his face at the recollection. He could not deny himself a smile when he thought it all over. She had worsted her guardians, and thrown away her money triumphantly, and Sir Tom had regarded the whole as an excellent joke. But the recollection of this did not discourage him now. He had no thought that Lucy would stand out against him. It might vex her, however, dear little woman. No doubt she and Jock had been making up some fine Quixotic plans between them, and probably it would be a shock to her when her husband interfered. He had got to be so fond of his little wife, and his heart was so kind, that he could not bear the idea of vexing Lucy. But still it would have to be done. He rose up at last, and threw away the end of his cigar with a look of vexation and trouble. It was necessary, but it was a nuisance, however. "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly," he said to himself; then laughed again, as he took his way upstairs, at the over-significance of the words. He was not going to murder anybody; only when the moment proved favourable, for once and only once, seeing it was inevitable, he had to bring under lawful authority—an easy task—the gentle little feminine creature who was his wife.



CHAPTER XII.

THE FIRST STRUGGLE.

Lucy knew nothing of this till the next forenoon after breakfast, and after the many morning occupations which a lady has in her own house. She looked wistfully at both her brother and her husband when they met at table, and it was a great consolation to her, and lightening of her heart, when she perceived that they were quite at ease with each other; but still she was burning with curiosity to know what had passed. Sir Tom had not said a word. He had been just as usual, not even looking a consciousness of the unexplained question between them. She was glad and yet half sorry that all was about to blow over, and to be as if it had not been. After going so far, perhaps it would have been better that it had gone farther and that the matter had been settled. This she said to herself in the security of a respite, believing that it had passed away from Sir Tom's mind. She wanted to know, and yet she was afraid to ask, for her heart revolted against asking questions of Jock which might betray to him the fear of a possible quarrel. After she had superintended little Tom's toilet, and watched him go out for his walk (for the weather was very mild for the time of the year), and seen Mrs. Freshwater, the housekeeper, and settled about the dinner, always with a little quiver of anxiety in her heart, she met Jock by a happy chance, just as she was about to join Lady Randolph in the drawing-room. She seized his arm with energy, and drew him within the door of the library; but after she had done this with an eagerness not to be disguised, Lucy suddenly remembered all that it was inexpedient for her to betray to Jock. Accordingly she stopped short, as it were, on the threshold, and instead of saying as she had intended, "What did he say to you?" dropped down into the routine question, "Where are you going—were you going out?"

"I shall some time, I suppose. What do you grip a fellow's arm for like that? and then when I thought you had something important to say to me, only asking am I going out?"

"Yes, clear," said Lucy, recovering herself with an effort. "You don't take enough exercise. I wish you would not be always among the books."

"Stuff, Lucy!" said Jock.

"I am sure Tom thinks the same. He was telling me—now didn't he say something to you about it last night?"

"That's all bosh," said the boy. "And if you want to know what he said to me last night, he just said nothing at all, but told me old stories of school that I've heard a hundred times. These old d—— fellows," (Jock did not swear; he was going to say duffers, that was all) "always talk like that. One would think they had not had much fun in their life when they are always turning back upon school," Jock added, with fine sarcasm.

"Oh, only stories about school!" said Lucy with extreme relief. But the next moment she was not quite so sure that she was comfortable about this entire ignoring of a matter which Sir Tom had seemed to think so grave. "What sort of stories?" she said dreamily, pursuing her own thoughts without much attention to the answer.

"Oh, that old stuff about Ascot and about the old master that stopped them. It isn't much. I know it," said Jock, disrespectfully, "as well as I know my a, b, c."

"It is very rude of you to say so, Jock."

"Perhaps it is rude," the boy replied, with candour; but he did not further explain himself, and Lucy, to veil her mingled relief and disquietude, dismissed him with an exhortation to go out.

"You read and read," she cried, glad to throw off a little excitement in this manner, though she really felt very little anxiety on the subject, "till you will be all brains and nothing else. I wish you would use your legs a little too." And then, with a little affectionate push away from her, she left him in undisturbed possession of his books, and the morning, which, fine as it was, was not bright enough to tempt him away from them.

Then Lucy pursued her way to the drawing-room: but she had not gone many steps before she met her husband, who stopped and asked her a question or two. Had the boy gone out? It was so fine it would do him good, poor little beggar; and where was her ladyship going? When he heard she was going to join the Dowager, Sir Tom smilingly took her hand and drew it within his own. "Then come here with me for a minute first," he said. And strange to say, Lucy had no fear. She allowed him to have his way, thinking it was to show her something, perhaps to ask her advice on some small matter. He took her into a little room he had, full of trophies of his travels, a place more distinctively his own than any other in the house. When he had closed the door a faint little thrill of alarm came over her. She looked up at him wondering, inquiring. Sir Tom took her by her arms and drew her towards him in the full light of the window. "Come and let me look at you, Lucy," he said. "I want to see in your eyes what it is that makes you afraid of me."

She met his eyes with great bravery and self-command, but nothing could save her from the nervous quiver which he felt as he held her, or from the tell-tale ebb and flow of the blood from her face. "I—I am not afraid of you, Tom."

"Then have you ceased to trust me, Lucy? How is it that you discuss the most important matters with Jock, who is only a boy, and leave me out? You do not think that can be agreeable to me."

"Tom," she said; then stopped short, her voice being interrupted by the fluttering of her heart.

"I told you: you are afraid. What have I ever done to make my wife afraid of me?" he said.

"Oh, Tom, it is not that! it is only that I felt—there has never been anything said, and you have always done all, and more than all, that I wished; but I have felt that you were opposed to me in one thing. I may be wrong, perhaps," she added, looking up at him suddenly with a catching of her breath.

Sir Tom did not say she was wrong. He was very kind, but very grave. "In that case," he said, "Lucy, my love, don't you think it would have been better to speak to me about it, and ascertain what were my objections, and why I was opposed to you—rather than turn without a word to another instead of me?"

"Oh!" cried Lucy, "I could not. I was a coward. I could not bear to make sure. To stand against you, how could I do it? But if you will hear me out, Tom, I never, never turned to another. Oh! what strange words to say. It was not another. It was Jock, only Jock; but I did not turn even to him. It was he who brought it forward, and I—— Now that we have begun to talk about it, and it cannot be escaped," cried Lucy, with sudden nervous boldness, freeing herself from his hold, "I will own everything to you, Tom. Yes, I was afraid. I would not, I could not do it, for I could feel that you were against it. You never said anything; is it necessary that you should speak for me to understand you? but I knew it all through. And to go against you and do something you did not like was more than I could face. I should have gone on for years, perhaps, and never had courage for it," she cried. She was tingling all over with excitement and desperate daring now.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse