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

"My darling," said Sir Tom, "it makes me happier to think that it was not me you were afraid of, but only of putting yourself in opposition to me; but still, Lucy, even that is not right, you know. Don't you think that it would be better that we should talk it over, and that I should show you my objections to this strange scheme you have in your head, and convince you——"

"Oh!" cried Lucy, stepping back a little and putting up her hands as if in self-defence, "that was what I was most frightened for."

"What, to be convinced?" he laughed: but his laugh jarred upon her in her excited state. "Well, that is not at all uncommon; but few people avow it so frankly," he said.

She looked up at him with appealing eyes. "Oh, Tom," she cried, "I fear you will not understand me now. I am not afraid to be convinced. I am afraid of what you will think when you know that I cannot be convinced. Now," she said, with a certain calm of despair, "I have said it all."

To her astonishment her husband replied by a sudden hug and a laugh. "Whether you are accessible to reason or not, you are always my dear little woman," he said. "I like best to have it out. Do you know, Lucy, that it is supposed your sex are all of that mind? You believe what you like, and the reason for your faith does not trouble you. You must not suppose that you are singular in that respect."

To this she listened without any response at all either in words or look, except, perhaps, a little lifting of her eyelids in faint surprise; for Lucy was not concerned about what was common to her sex. Nor did she take such questions at all into consideration. Therefore, this speech sounded to her irrelevant; and so quick was Sir Tom's intelligence that, though he made it as a sort of conventional necessity, he saw that it was irrelevant too. It might have been all very well to address a clever woman who could have given him back his reply in such words. But to Lucy's straightforward, simple, limited intellect such dialectics were altogether out of place. Her very want of capacity to understand them made them a disrespect to her which she had done nothing to deserve. He coloured in his quick sense of this, and sudden perception that his wife in the limitation of her intellect and fine perfection of her moral nature was such an antagonist as a man might well be alarmed to meet, more alarmed even than she generously was to displease him.

"I beg your pardon, Lucy," he said, "I was talking to you as if you were one of the ordinary people. All this must be treated between you and me on a different footing. I have a great deal more experience than you have, and I ought to know better. You must let me show you how it appears to me. You see I don't pretend not to know what the point was. I have felt for a long time that it was one that must be cleared up between you and me. I never thought of Jock coming in," he said with a laugh. "That is quite a new and unlooked-for feature; but begging his pardon, though he is a clever fellow, we will leave Jock out of the question. He can't be supposed to have much knowledge of the world."

"No," said Lucy, with a little suspicion. She did not quite see what this had to do with it, nor what course her husband was going to adopt, nor indeed at all what was to follow.

"Your father's will was a very absurd one," he said.

At this Lucy was slightly startled, but she said after a moment, "He did not think what hard things he was leaving me to do."

"He did not think at all, it seems to me," said Sir Tom; "so far as I can see he merely amused himself by arranging the world after his fashion, and trying how much confusion he could make. I don't mean to say anything unkind of him. I should like to have known him: he must have been a character. But he has left us a great deal of botheration. This particular thing, you know, that you are driving yourself crazy about is sheer absurdity, Lucy. Solomon himself could not do it,—and who are you, a little girl without any knowledge of the world, to see into people's hearts, and decide whom it is safe to trust?"

"You are putting more upon me than poor papa did, Tom," said Lucy, a little more cheerfully. "He never said, as we do in charities, that it was to go to deserving people. I was never intended to see into their hearts. So long as they required it and got the money, that was all he wanted."

"Well, then, my dear," said Sir Tom, "if your father in his great sense and judgment wanted nothing but to get rid of the money, I wonder he did not tell you to stand upon Beachy Head or Dover Cliff on a certain day in every year and throw so much of it into the sea—to be sure," he added with a laugh, "that would come to very much the same thing—for you can't annihilate money, you can only make it change hands—and the London roughs would soon have found out your days for this wise purpose and interrupted it somehow. But it would have been just as sensible. Poor little woman! Here I am beginning to argue, and abusing your poor father, whom, of course, you were fond of, and never so much as offering you a chair! There is something on every one of them, I believe. Here, my love, here is a seat for you," he said, displacing a box of curiosities and clearing a corner for her by the fire. But Lucy resisted quietly.

"Wouldn't it do another time, Tom?" she said with a little anxiety, "for Aunt Randolph is all by herself, and she will wonder what has become of me; and baby will be coming back from his walk." Then she made a little pause, and resumed again, folding her hands, and raising her mild eyes to his face. "I am very sorry to go against you, Tom. I think I would rather lose all the money altogether. But there is just one thing, and oh, do not be angry! I must carry out papa's will if I were to die!"

Her husband, who had begun to enter smilingly upon this discussion, with a certainty of having the best of it, and who had listened to her smilingly in her simple pleas for deferring the conversation, pleas which he was very willing to yield to, was so utterly taken by surprise at this sudden and most earnest statement, that he could do nothing but stare at her, with a loud alarmed exclamation, "Lucy!" and a look of utter bewilderment in his face. But she stood this without flinching, not nervous as many a woman might have been after delivering such a blow, but quite still, clasping her hands in each other, facing him with a desperate quietness. Lucy was not insensible to the tremendous nature of the utterance she had just made.

"This is surprising, indeed, Lucy," cried Sir Tom. He grew quite pale in that sensation of being disobeyed, which is one of the most disagreeable that human nature is subject to. He scarcely knew what to reply to a rebellion so complete and determined. To see her attitude, the look of her soft girlish face (for she looked still younger than her actual years), the firm pose of her little figure, was enough to show that it was no rash utterance, such as many a combatant makes, to withdraw from it one hour after. Sir Tom, in his amazement, felt his very words come back to him; he did not know what to say. "Do you mean to tell me," he said, almost stammering in his consternation, "that whatever I may think or advise, and however mad this proceeding may be, you have made up your mind to carry it out whether I will or not?"

"Tom! in every other thing I will do what you tell me. I have always done what you told me. You know a great deal better than I do, and never more will I go against you; but I knew papa before I knew you. He is dead; I cannot go to him to ask him to let me off, to tell him you don't like it, or to say it is more than I can do. If I could I would do that. But he is dead: all that he can have is just that I should be faithful to him. And it is not only that he put it in his will, but I gave him my promise that I would do it. How could I break my promise to one that is dead, that trusted in me? Oh, no, no! It will kill me if you are angry; but even then, even then, I must do what I promised to papa."

The tears had risen to her eyes as she spoke: they filled her eyelids full, till she saw her husband only through two blinding seas: then they fell slowly one after another upon her dress: her face was raised to him, her features all moving with the earnestness of her plea. The anguish of the struggle against her heart, and desire to please him, was such that Lucy felt what it was to be faithful till death. As for Sir Tom, it was impossible for such a man to remain unmoved by emotion so great. But it had never occurred to him as possible that Lucy could resist his will, or, indeed, stand for a moment against his injunction; he had believed that he had only to say to her, "You must not do it," and that she would have cried, but given way. He felt himself utterly defeated, silenced, put out of consideration. He did nothing but stare and gasp at her in his consternation; and, more still, he was betrayed. Her gentleness had deceived him and made him a fool; his pride was touched, he who was supposed to have no pride. He stood silent for a time, and then he burst out with a sort of roar of astonished and angry dismay.

"Lucy, do you mean to tell me that you will disobey me?" he cried.



CHAPTER XIII.

AN IDLE MORNING.

The Dowager Lady Randolph had never found the Hall so dull. There was nothing going on, nothing even to look forward to: one formal dinner-party was the only thing to represent that large and cordial hospitality which she was glad to think had in her own time characterised the period when the Hall was open. She had never pretended to be fond of the county society. In the late Sir Robert's time she had not concealed the fact that the less time she spent in it the better she was pleased. But when she was there, all the county had known it. She was a woman who loved to live a large and liberal life. It was not so much that she liked gaiety, or what is called pleasure, as that she loved to have people about her, to be the dispenser of enjoyment, to live a life in which there was always something going on. This is a temperament which meets much censure from the world, and is stigmatised as a love of excitement, and by many other unlovely names; but that is hard upon the people who are born with it, and who are in many cases benefactors to mankind. Lady Randolph's desire was that there should always be something doing—"a magic lantern at the least," she had said. Indeed, there can be no doubt that in managing that magic lantern she would have given as much satisfaction to everybody, and perhaps managed to enjoy herself as much, as if it had been the first entertainment in Mayfair. She could not stagnate comfortably, she said; and as so much of an ordinary woman's life must be stagnation more or less gracefully veiled, it may be supposed that Lady Randolph had learned the useful lesson of putting up with what she could get when what she liked was not procurable. And it was seldom that she had been set down to so languid a feast as the present. On former occasions a great deal more had been going on, except the last year, which was that of the baby's birth, on which occasion Lucy was, of course, out of the way of entertainment altogether. Lady Randolph had, indeed, found her visits to the Hall amusing, which was delightful, seeing they were duty visits as well. She had stayed only a day or two at that time—just long enough to kiss the baby and talk for half an hour at a time, on two or three distinct opportunities, to the young mother in very subdued and caressing tones. And she had been glad to get away again when she had performed this duty, but yet did not grudge in the least the sacrifice she had made for her family. The case, however, was quite different now: there was no reason in the world why they should be quiet. The baby was delicate!—could there be a more absurd reason for closing your house to your friends, putting off your Christmas visits, entertaining not at all, ignoring altogether the natural expectations of the county, which did not elect a man to be its member in order that he might shut himself up and superintend his nursery? It was ridiculous, his aunt felt; it went to her nerves, and made her quite uncomfortable, to see all the resources of the house, with which she was so well acquainted, wasted upon four people. It was preposterous—an excellent cook, the best cook almost she had ever come across, and only four to dine! People have different ideas of what waste is—there are some who consider all large expenditure, especially in the entertainment of guests, to be subject to this censure. But Lady Randolph took a completely different view. The wickedness of having such a cook and only a family party of four persons to dine was that which offended her. It was scandalous, it was wicked. If Lucy meant to live in this way let her return to her bourgeois existence, and the small vulgar life in Farafield. It was ridiculous living the life of a nobody here, and in Sir Tom's case was plainly suicidal. How was he to hold up his face at another election, with the consciousness that he had done nothing at all for his county, not even given them a ball, nor so much as a magic lantern, she repeated, bursting with a reprobation which could scarcely find words?

All this went through her mind with double force when she found herself left alone in Lucy's morning-room, which was a bright room opening out upon the flower garden, getting all the morning sun, and the full advantage of the flowers when there were any. There were none, it is true, at this moment, except a few snow-drops forcing their way through the smooth turf under a tree which stood at the corner of a little bit of lawn. Lady Randolph was not very fond of flowers, except in their proper place, which meant when employed in the decoration of rooms in the proper artistic way, and after the most approved fashion. Thus she liked sunflowers when they were approved by society, and modest violets and pansies in other developments of popular taste, but did not for her own individual part care much which she had, so long as they looked well in her vases, and "came well" against her draperies and furniture. She had come down on this bright morning with her work, as it is the proper thing for a lady to do, but she had no more idea of being left here calmly and undisturbed to do that work than she had of attempting a flight into the inviting and brilliant, if cold and frosty, skies. She sat down with it between the fire and the sunny window, enjoying both without being quite within the range of either. It was an ideal picture of a lady no longer young or capable of much out-door life, or personal emotion; a pretty room; a sunny, soft winter morning, almost as warm as summer, the sunshine pouring in, a cheerful fire in the background to make up what was lacking in respect of warmth; the softest of easiest chairs, yet not too low or demoralising; a subdued sound breaking in now and then from a distance, which pleasantly betrayed the existence of a household; and in the midst of all, in a velvet gown, which was very pretty to look at, and very comfortable to wear, and with a lace cap on her head that had the same characteristics, a lady of sixty, in perfect health, rich enough for all her requirements, without even the thought of a dentist to trouble her. She had a piece of very pretty work in her hand, the newspapers on the table, books within reach. And yet she was not content! What a delightful ideal sketch might not be made of such a moment! How she might have been thinking of her past, sweetly, with a sigh, yet with a thankful thought of all the good things that had been hers; of those whom she had loved, and who were gone from earth, as only awaiting her a little farther on, and of those about her, with such a tender commendation of them to God's blessing, and cordial desire for their happiness, as would have reached the height of a prayer. And she might have been feeling a tranquil pleasure in the material things about her: the stillness, the warmth, the dreamy quiet, even the pretty work, and the exemption from care which she had arrived at in the peaceful concluding chapter of existence. This is what we all like to think of as the condition of mind and circumstances in which age is best met. But we are grieved to say that this was not in the least Lady Randolph's pose. Anything more distasteful to her than this quiet could not be. It was her principle and philosophy to live in the present. She drew many experiences from the past, and a vast knowledge of the constitutions and changes of society; but personally it did not amuse her to think of it, and the future she declined to contemplate. It had disagreeable things in it, of that there could be no doubt; and why go out and meet the disagreeable? It was time enough when it arrived. There was probably illness, and certainly dying, in it; things which she was brave enough to face when they came, and no doubt would encounter in quite a collected and courageous way. But why anticipate them? She lived philosophically in the day as it came. After all whatever you do or think, you cannot do much more. Your one day, your hour, is your world. Acquit yourself fitly in that, and you will be able to encounter whatever occurs.

This was the conviction on which Lady Randolph acted. But her pursuit for the moment was not entertaining; she very quickly tired of her work. Work is, on the whole, tiresome when there is no particular use in it, when it is done solely for the sake of occupation, as ladies' work so often is. It wants a meaning and a necessity to give it interest, and Lady Randolph's had neither. She worked about ten minutes, and then she paused and wondered what could have become of Lucy. Lucy was not a very amusing companion, but she was somebody; and then Sir Tom would come in occasionally to consult her, to give her some little piece of information, and for a few minutes would talk and give his relative a real pleasure. But even Lucy did not come; and soon Lady Randolph became tired of looking out of the window and then walking to the fire, of taking up the newspaper and throwing it down again, of doing a few stitches, then letting the work fall on her lap; and above all, of thinking, as she was forced to do, from sheer want of occupation. She listened, and nobody came. Two or three times she thought she heard steps approaching, but nobody came. She had thought of perhaps going out since the morning was so fine, walking down to the village, which was quite within her powers, and of planning several calls which might be made in the afternoon to take advantage of the fine day. But she became really fretted and annoyed as the morning crept along. Lucy was losing even her politeness, the Dowager thought. This is what comes of what people call happiness! They get so absorbed in themselves, there is no possibility of paying ordinary attention to other people. At last, after completely tiring herself out, Lady Randolph got up and put down her work altogether, throwing it away with anger. She had not lived so long in its sole company for years, and there is no describing how tired she was of it. She got up and went out into the other rooms in search of something to amuse her. Little Tom had just come in, but she did not go to the nursery. She took care not to expose herself to that. She was willing to allow that she did not understand babies; and then to see such a pale little thing the heir of the Randolphs worried her. He ought to have been a little Hercules; it wounded her that he was so puny and pale. She went through the great drawing-room, and looked at all the additions to the furniture and decorations that Tom and Lucy had made. They had kept a number of the old things; but naturally they had added a good deal of bric-a-brac, of old things that here were new. Then Lady Randolph turned into the library. She had gone up to one of the bookcases, and was leisurely contemplating the books, with a keen eye, too, to the additions which had been made, when she heard a sound near her, the unmistakable sound of turning over the leaves of a book. Lady Randolph turned round with a start, and there was Jock, sunk into the depths of a large chair with a tall folio supported on the arms of it. She had not seen him when she came in, and, indeed, many people might have come and gone without perceiving him, buried in his corner. Lady Randolph was thankful for anybody to talk to, even a boy.

"Is it you?" she said. "I might have known it could be nobody but you. Do you never do anything but read?"

"Sometimes," said Jock, who had done nothing but watch her since she came into the room. She gave him a sort of half smile.

"It is more reasonable now than when you were a child," she said; "for I hear you are doing extremely well at school, and gaining golden opinions. That is quite as it should be. It is the only way you can repay Lucy for all she has done for you."

"I don't think," said Jock, looking at her over his book, "that Lucy wants to be repaid."

"Probably not," said Lady Randolph. Then she made a pause, and looked from him to the book he held, and then to him again. "Perhaps you don't think," she said, "there is anything to be repaid."

They were old antagonists; when he was a child and Lucy had insisted on carrying him with her wherever she went, Lady Randolph had made no objections, but she had not looked upon Jock with a friendly eye. And afterwards, when he had interposed with his precocious wisdom, and worsted her now and then, she had come to have a holy dread of him. But now things had righted themselves, and Jock had attained an age of which nobody could be afraid. The Dowager thought, as people are so apt to think, that Jock was not grateful enough. He was very fond of Lucy, but he took things as a matter of course, seldom or never remembering that whereas Lucy was rich, he was poor, and all his luxuries and well-being came from her. She was glad to take an opportunity of reminding him of it, all the more as she was of opinion that Sir Tom did not sufficiently impress this upon the boy, to whom she thought he was unnecessarily kind. "I suppose," she resumed, after a pause, "that you come here always in the holidays, and quite consider it as your home?"

Jock still sat and looked at her across his great folio. He made her no reply. He was not so ready in the small interchanges of talk as he had been at eight, and, besides, it was new to him to have the subject introduced in this way. It is not amusing to plant arrows of this sort in any one's flesh if they show no sign of any wound, and accordingly Lady Randolph grew angry as Jock made no reply. "Is it considered good manners," she said, "at school—when a lady speaks to you that you should make no answer?"

"I was thinking," Jock said. "A fellow, whether he is at school, or not, can't answer all that at once."

"I hope you do not mean to be impertinent. In that case I should be obliged to speak to my nephew," said Lady Randolph. She had not intended to quarrel with Jock. It was only the vacancy of the morning, and her desire for movement of some sort, that had brought her to this; and now she grew angry with Lucy as well as with Jock, having gone so much farther than she had intended to go. She turned from him to the books which she had been languidly examining, and began to take them out one after another, impatiently, as if searching for something. Jock sat and looked at her for some time, with the same sort of deliberate observation with which he used to regard her when he was a child, seeing (as she had always felt) through and through her. But presently another impulse swayed him. He got himself out behind his book, and suddenly appeared by her side, startling her nerves, which were usually so firm.

"If you will tell me what you want," he said, "I'll get it for you. I know where they all are. If it is French you want, they are up there. I like going up the ladder," he added, half to himself.

Perhaps it was this confession of childishness, perhaps the unlooked-for civility, that touched her. She turned round with a subdued half frightened air, feeling that there was no telling how to take this strange creature, and said, half apologetically, "I think I should like a French—novel. They are not—so—long, you know, as the English," and sat down in the chair he rolled towards her. Jock was at the top of the ladder in a moment. She watched him, making a little comment in her own mind about Tom's motive in placing books of this description in such a place—in order to keep them out of Lucy's way, she said to herself. Jock brought her down half a dozen to choose from, and even the eye of Jock, who doubtless knew nothing about them, made Lady Randolph a little more scrupulous than usual in choosing her book. She was one of those women who like the piquancy and freedom of French fiction. She would say to persons of like tastes that the English proprieties were tame beside the other, and she thought herself old enough to be altogether beyond any risk of harm. Perhaps this was why she divined Sir Tom's motive in placing them at the top of the shelves; divined and approved, for though she read all that came in her way, she would not have liked Lucy to share that privilege. She said to Jock as he brought them to her,

"They are shorter than the English. I can't carry three volumes about, you know; all these are in one; but I should not advise you to take to this sort of reading, Jock."

"I don't want to," said Jock, briefly; then he added more gravely, "I can't construe French like you. I suppose you just open it and go straight on?"

"I do," said Lady Randolph, with a smile.

She was mollified, for her French was excellent, and she liked a little compliment, of whatever kind.

"You should give your mind to it; it is the most useful of all languages," she said.

"And Lucy is not great at it either," said Jock.

"That is true, and it is a pity," said Lady Randolph, quite restored to good-humour. "I would take her in hand myself, but I have so many things to do. Do you know where she is, for I have not seen her all this morning?"

"No more have I," said Jock. "I think they have just gone off somewhere together. Lucy never minds. She ought to pay a little attention when there are people in the house."

"That is just what I have been thinking," Lady Randolph said. "I am at home, of course, here; it does not matter for me, and you are her brother—but she really ought; I think I must speak seriously to her."

"To whom are you going to speak seriously? I hope not to me, my dear aunt," said Sir Tom, coming in. He did not look quite his usual self. He was a little pale, and he had an air about him as of some disagreeable surprise. He had the post-bag in his hand—for there was a post twice a day—and opened it as he spoke. Lady Randolph, with her quick perception, saw at once that something had happened, and jumped at the idea of a first quarrel. It was generally the butler Williams who opened the letter-bag; but he was out of the way, and Sir Tom had taken the office on himself. He took out the contents with a little impatience, throwing across to her her share of the correspondence. "Hallo," he said. "Here is a letter for Lucy from your tutor, Jock. What have you been doing, my young man?"

"Oh, I know what it's about," Jock said in a tone of satisfaction. Sir Tom turned round and looked at him with the letter in his hand, as if he would have liked to throw it at his head.



CHAPTER XIV.

AN UNWILLING MARTYR.

Lucy came into the morning-room shortly after, a little paler than usual, but with none of the agitation about her which Lady Randolph expected from Sir Tom's aspect to see. Lucy was not one to bear any outward traces of emotion. When she wept her eyes recovered rapidly, and after half an hour were no longer red. She had a quiet respect for other people, and a determination not to betray anything which she could not explain, which had the effect of that "proper pride" which is inculcated upon every woman, and yet was something different. Lucy would have died rather than give Lady Randolph ground to suppose that she had quarrelled with her husband, and as she could not explain the matter to her, it was necessary to efface all signs of perturbation as far as that was possible. The elder lady was reading her letters when Lucy came in, but she raised her eyes at once with the keenest watchfulness. Young Lady Randolph was pale—but at no time had she much colour. She came in quite simply, without any explanation or giving of reasons, and sat down in her usual place near the window, from which the sunshine, as it was now afternoon, was beginning to die away. Then Lucy gave a slight start to see a letter placed for her on the little table beside her work. She had few correspondents at any time, and when Jock and Lady Randolph were both at the Hall received scarcely any letters. She took it up and looked at its outside with a little surprise.

"I forgot to tell you, Lucy," the Dowager said at this point, "that there was a letter for you. Tom placed it there. He said it was from Jock's tutor, and I hope sincerely, my dear, it does not mean that Jock has got into any scrape——"

"A scrape," said Lucy, "why should he have got into a scrape?" in unbounded surprise; for this was a thing that never had happened throughout Jock's career.

"Oh, boys are so often in trouble," Lady Randolph said, while Lucy opened her letter in some trepidation. But the first words of the letter disturbed her more than any story about Jock was likely to do. It brought the crisis nearer, and made immediate action almost indispensable. It ran as follows:—

"Dear Lady Randolph—In accordance with Jock's request, which he assured me was also yours, I have made all the inquiries you wished about the Churchill family. It was not very difficult to do, as there is but one voice in respect to them. Mr. Churchill himself is represented to me as a model of all that a clergyman ought to be. Whatever we may think of his functions, that he should have all the virtues supposed to be attached to them is desirable in every point of view; and he is a gentleman of good sense and intelligence besides, which is not always implied even in the character of a saint. It seems that the failure of an inheritance, which he had every reason to expect, was the cause of his first disadvantage in the world; and since then, in consonance with that curious natural law which seems so contrary to justice, yet constantly consonant with fact, this evil has been cumulative, and he has had nothing but disappointments ever since. He has a very small living now, and is never likely to get a better, for he is getting old, and patrons, I am told, scarcely venture to give a cure to a man of his age lest it should be said they were gratifying their personal likings at the expense of the people. This seems contrary to abstract justice in such a case; but it is a doctrine of our time to which we must all bow.

"The young people, so far as I know, are all promising and good. Young Churchill, whom Jock knows, is a boy for whom I have the greatest regard. He is one whom Goethe would have described as a beautiful soul. His sisters are engaged in educational work, and are, I am told, in their way equally high-minded and interesting; but naturally I know little of the female portion of the family.

"It is extremely kind of you and Sir Thomas to repeat your invitation. I hope, perhaps at Easter, if convenient, to be able to take advantage of it. I hear with the greatest pleasure from Jock how much he enjoys his renewed intercourse with his home circle. It will do him good, for his mind is full of the ideal, and it will be of endless advantage to him to be brought back to the more ordinary and practical interests. There are very few boys of whom it can be said that their intellectual aspirations over-balance their material impulses. As usual he has not only done his work this half entirely to my satisfaction, but has more than repaid any services I can render him by the precious companionship of a fresh and elevated spirit.

"Believe me, dear Lady Randolph, "Most faithfully yours, "MAXIMUS D. DERWENTWATER."

A long-drawn breath, which sounded like a sigh, burst from Lucy's breast as she closed this letter. She had, with humility and shrinking, yet with a certain resolution, disclosed to her husband that when the occasion occurred she must do her duty according to her father's will, whether it pleased him or not. She had steeled herself to do this; but she had prayed that the occasion might be slow to come. Nobody but Jock knew anything about these Churchills, and Jock was going back to school, and he was young and perhaps he might forget! But here was another who would not forget. She read all the recommendations of the family and their excellences with a sort of despair. Money, it was evident, could not be better bestowed than in this way. There seemed no opening by which she could escape; no way of thrusting this act away from her. She felt a panic seize her. How was she to disobey Tom, how to do a thing of so much importance, contrary to his will, against his advice? The whole world around her, the solid walls, and the sky that shone in through the great window, swam in Lucy's eyes. She drew her breath hard like a hunted creature; there was a singing in her ears, and a dimness in her sight. Lady Randolph's voice asking with a certain satisfaction, yet sympathy, "What is the matter? I hope it is not anything very bad," seemed to come to her from a distance as from a different world; and when she added, after a moment, soothingly, "You must not vex yourself about it, Lucy, if it is just a piece of folly. Boys are constantly in that way coming to grief:" it was with difficulty that Lucy remembered to what she could refer. Jock! Ah, if it had been but a boyish folly, Sir Tom would have been the first to forgive that; he would have opened his kind heart and taken the offender in, and laughed and persuaded him out of his folly. He would have been like a father to the boy. To feel all that, and how good he was; and yet determinedly to contradict his will and go against him! Oh, how could she do it? and yet what else was there to do?

"It is not about Jock," she answered with a faint voice.

"I beg your pardon, my dear. I was not aware that you knew Jock's tutor well enough for general correspondence. These gentlemen seem to make a great deal of themselves now-a-days, but in my time, Lucy——"

"I do not know him very well, Aunt Randolph. He is only sending me some information. I wish I might ask you a question," she cried suddenly, looking into the Dowager's face with earnest eyes. This lady had perhaps not all the qualities that make a perfect woman, but she had always been very kind to Lucy. She was not unkind to anybody, although there were persons, of whom Jock was one, whom she did not like. And in all circumstances to Lucy, even when there was no immediate prospect that the Randolph family would be any the better for her, she had always been kind.

"As many as you like, my love," she answered, cordially.

"Yes," said Lucy; "but, dear Aunt Randolph, what I want is that you should let me ask, without asking anything in return. I want to know what you think, but I don't want to explain——"

"It is a strange condition," said Lady Randolph; but then she thought in her superior experience that she was very sure to find out what this simple girl meant without explanations. "But I am not inquisitive," she added, with a smile, "and I am quite willing, dear, to tell you anything I know——"

"It is this," said Lucy, leaning forward in her great earnestness; "do you think a woman is ever justified in doing anything which her husband disapproves?"

"Lucy!" cried Lady Randolph, in great dismay, "when her husband is my Tom, and the thing she wants to do is connected with Jock's tutor——"

Lucy's gaze of astonishment, and her wondering repetition of the words, "connected with Jock's tutor!" brought Lady Randolph to herself. In society, such a suspicion being fostered by all the gossips, comes naturally; but though she was a society-woman, and had not much faith in holy ignorance, she paused here, horrified by her own suggestion, and blushed at herself.

"No, no," she said, "that was not what I meant; but perhaps I could not quite advise, Lucy, where I am so closely concerned."

At which Lucy looked at her somewhat wistfully. "I thought you would perhaps remember," she said, "when you were like me, Aunt Randolph, and perhaps did not know so well as you know now——"

This touched the elder lady's heart. "Lucy," she said, "my dear, if you were not as innocent as I know you are, you would not ask your husband's nearest relation such a question. But I will answer you as one woman to another, and let Tom take care of himself. I never was one that was very strong upon a husband's rights. I always thought that to obey meant something different from the common meaning of the word. A child must obey; but even a grown-up child's obedience is very different from what is natural and proper in youth; and a full-grown woman, you know, never could be supposed to obey like a child. No wise man, for that matter, would ever ask it or think of it."

This did not give Lucy any help. She was very willing, for her part, to accept his light yoke without any restriction, except in the great and momentous exception which she did not want to specify.

"I think," Lady Randolph went on, "that to obey means rather—keep in harmony with your husband, pay attention to his opinions, don't take up an opposite course, or thwart him, be united—instead of the obedience of a servant, you know: still less of a slave."

She was a great deal cleverer than Lucy, who was not thinking of the general question at all. And this answer did the perplexed mind little good. Lucy followed every word with curious attention, but at the end slowly shook her head.

"It is not that. Lady Randolph, if there was something that was your duty before you were married, and that is still and always your duty, a sacred promise you had made; and your husband said no, you must not do it—tell me what you would have done? The rest is all so easy," cried Lucy, "one likes what he likes, one prefers to please him. But this is difficult. What would you have done?"

Here Lady Randolph all at once, after giving forth the philosophical view which was so much above her companion, found herself beyond her depth altogether, and incapable of the fathom of that simple soul.

"I don't understand you, Lucy. Lucy, for heaven's sake, take care what you are doing! If it is anything about Jock, I implore of you give way to your husband. You may be sure in dealing with a boy that he knows best."

Lucy sighed. "It is nothing about Jock," she said; but she did not repeat her demand. Lady Randolph gave her a lecture upon the subject of relations which was very wide of the question; and, with a sigh, owning to herself that there was no light to be got from this, Lucy listened very patiently to the irrelevant discourse. The clever dowager cut it short when it was but half over, perceiving the same, and asked herself not without excitement what it was possible Lucy's difficulty could be? If it was not Jock (and a young brother hanging on to her, with no home but hers, an inquisitive young intelligence, always in the way, was a difficulty which anybody could perceive at a glance) what was it? But Lucy baffled altogether this much experienced woman of the world.

And Jock watched all the day for an opportunity to get possession of her, and assail her on the other side of the question. She avoided him as persistently as he sought her, and with a panic which was very different from her usual happy confidence in him. But the moment came when she could elude him no longer. Lady Randolph had gone to her own room after her cup of tea, for that little nap before dinner which was essential to her good looks and pleasantness in the evening. Sir Tom, who was too much disturbed for the usual rules of domestic life, had not come in for that twilight talk which he usually enjoyed; and as Lucy found herself thus plunged into the danger she dreaded, she was hurrying after Lady Randolph, declaring that she heard baby cry, when Jock stepped into her way, and detained her, if not by physical, at least by moral force—

"Lucy," he said, "are you not going to tell me anything? I know you have got the letter, but you won't look at me, or speak a word."

"Oh, Jock, how silly! why shouldn't I look at you? but I have so many things to do, and baby—I am sure I heard baby cry."

"He is no more crying than I am. I saw him, and he was as jolly as possible. I want awfully to know about the Churchills, and what MTutor says."

"Jock, I think Mr. Derwentwater is rather grand in his writing. It looks as if he thought a great deal of himself."

"No, he doesn't," said Jock, hotly, "not half enough. He's the best man we've got, and yet he can't see it. You needn't give me any information about MTutor," added the young gentleman, "for naturally I know all that much better than you. But I want to know about the Churchills. Lucy, is it all right?"

Lucy gave a little shiver though she was in front of the fire. She said, reluctantly, "I think they seem very nice people, Jock."

"I know they are," said Jock, exultantly. "Churchill in college is the nicest fellow I know. He read such a paper at the Poetical Society. It was on the Method of Sophocles; but of course you would not understand that."

"No, dear," said Lucy, mildly; and again she murmured something about the baby crying, "I think indeed, Jock, I must go."

"Just a moment," said the boy, "Now you are satisfied couldn't we drive into Farafield to-morrow and settle about it? I want to go with you, you and I together, and if old Rushton makes a row you can just call me."

"But I can't leave Lady Randolph, Jock," cried Lucy, driven to her wits' end. "It would be unkind to leave her, and a few days cannot do much harm. When she has gone away——"

"I shall be back at school. Let Sir Tom take her out for once. He might as well drive her in his new phaeton that he is so proud of. If it is fine she'll like that, and we can say we have some business."

"Oh! Jock, don't press me so; a few days can't make much difference."

"Lucy," said Jock, sternly, "do you think it makes no difference to keep a set of good people unhappy, just to save you a little trouble? I thought you had more heart than that."

"Oh, let me go, Jock; let me go—that is little Tom, and he wants me," Lucy cried. She had no answer to make him—the only thing she could do was to fly.



CHAPTER XV.

ON BUSINESS.

Ten thousand pounds! These words have very different meanings to different people. Many of us can form little idea of what those simple syllables contain. They enclose as in a golden casket, rest, freedom from care, bounty, kindness, an easy existence, and an ending free of anxiety to many. To others they are nothing more than a cipher on paper, a symbol without any connection with themselves. To some it is great fortune, to others a drop in the ocean. A merchant will risk it any day, and think but little if the speculation is a failure. A prodigal will throw it away in a month, perhaps in a night. But the proportion of people to whom its possession would make all the difference between poverty and wealth far transcends the number of those who are careless of it. It is a pleasure to deal with such a sum of money even on paper. To be concerned in giving it away, makes even the historian, who has nothing to do with it, feel magnificent and all-bounteous. Jock, who had as little experience to back him as any other boy of his age, felt a vague elation as he drove in by Lucy's side to Farafield. To confer a great benefit is always sweet. Perhaps if we analyse it, as is the fashion of the day, we will find that the pleasure of giving has a fond of gratified vanity and self-consideration in it; but this weakness is at least supposed to be generous, and Jock was generous to his own consciousness, and full of delight at what was going to be done, and satisfaction with his own share in it. But Lucy's sensations were very different. She went with him with no goodwill of her own, like a culprit being dragged to execution. Duty is not always willing, even when we see it most clearly. Young Lady Randolph had a clear conviction of what she was bound to do, but she had no wish to do it, though she was so thoroughly convinced that it was incumbent upon her. Could she have pushed it out of her own recollection, banished it from her mind, she would have gladly done so. She had succeeded for a long time in doing this—excluding the consideration of it, and forgetting the burden bound upon her shoulders. But now she could forget it no longer—the thongs which secured it seemed to cut into her flesh. Her heart was sick with thoughts of the thing she must do, yet revolted against doing. "Oh, papa, papa!" she said to herself, shaking her head at the grim, respectable house in which her early days had been passed, as they drove past it to Mr. Rushton's office. Why had the old man put such a burden upon her? Why had not he distributed his money himself and left her poor if he pleased, with at least no unnatural charge upon her heart and life?

"Why do you shake your head?" said Jock, who was full of the keenest observation, and lost nothing.

He had an instinctive feeling that she was by no means so much interested in her duty as he was, and that it was his business to keep her up to the mark.

"Don't you remember the old house?" Lucy said, "where we used to live when you were a child? Where poor papa died—where——"

"Of course I remember it. I always look at it when I pass, and think what a little ass I used to be. But why did you shake your head? That's what I want to know."

"Oh, Jock!" Lucy cried; and said no more.

"That throws very little light on the question," said Jock. "You are thinking of the difference, I suppose. Well, there is no doubt it's a great difference. I was a little idiot in those days. I recollect I thought the circus boy was a sort of little prince, and that it was grand to ride along like that with all the people staring—the grandest thing in the world——"

"Poor little circus boy! What a pretty child he was," said Lucy. And then she sighed to relieve the oppression on her breast, and said, "Do you ever wonder, Jock, why people should have such different lots? You and I driving along here in what we once would have thought such state, and look, these people that are crossing the road in the mud are just as good as we are——"

Jock looked at his sister with a philosophical eye, in which for the moment there was some contempt. "It is as easy as a, b, c," said Jock; "it's your money. You might set me a much harder one. Of course, in the way of horses and carriages and so forth, there is nothing that money cannot buy."

This matter-of-fact reply silenced Lucy. She would have asked, perhaps, why did I have all this money? being in a questioning frame of mind; but she knew that he would answer shortly because her father made it, and this was not any more satisfactory. So she only looked at him with wistful eyes that set many much harder ones, and was silent. Jock himself was too philosophical to be satisfied with his own reply.

"You see," he said condescendingly, "Money is the easiest explanation. If you were to ask me why Sir Tom should be Sir Tom, and that man sweep a crossing, I could not tell you."

"Oh," cried Lucy, "I don't see any difficulty about that at all, for Tom was born to it. You might as well say why should baby be born to be the heir."

Jock did not know whether to be indignant or to laugh at this feminine begging of the question. He stared at her for a moment uncertain, and then went on as if she had not spoken. "But money is always intelligible. That's political economy. If you have money, as a matter of course you have everything that money can buy; and I suppose it can buy almost everything?" Jock said, reflectively.

"It cannot buy a moment's happiness," cried Lucy, "nor one of those things one wishes most for. Oh Jock, at your age don't be deceived like that. For my part," she cried, "I think it is just the trouble of life. If it was not for this horrible money——"

She stopped short, the tears were in her eyes, but she would not betray to Jock how great was the difficulty in which she found herself. She turned her head away and was glad to wave her hand to a well known face that was passing, an acquaintance of old times, who was greatly elated to find that Lady Randolph in her grandeur still remembered her. Jock looked on upon all this with a partial comprehension, mingled with disapproval. He did not quite understand what she meant, but he disapproved of her for meaning it all the same.

"Money can't be horrible," he said, "unless it's badly spent: and to say you can't buy happiness with it is nonsense. If it don't make you happy to save people from poverty it will make them happy, so somebody will always get the advantage. What are you so silly about, Lucy? I don't say money is so very fine a thing. I only say it's intelligible. If you ask me why a man should be a great deal better than you or me, only because he took the trouble to be born——"

"I am not so silly, though you think me so silly, as to ask that," said Lucy; "that is so easy to understand. Of course you can only be who you are. You can't make yourself into another person; I hope I understand that."

She looked him so sweetly and seriously in the face as she spoke, and was so completely unaware of any flaw in her reply, that Jock, argumentative as he was, only gasped and said nothing more. And it was in this pause of their conversation that they swept up to Mr. Rushton's door. Mr. Rushton was the town-clerk of Farafield, the most important representative of legal knowledge in the place. He had been the late Mr. Trevor's man of business, and had still the greater part of Lucy's affairs in his hands. He had known her from her childhood, and in the disturbed chapter of her life before her marriage, his wife had taken a great deal of notice, as she expressed it, of Lucy: and young Raymond, who had now settled down in the office as his father's partner (but never half such a man as his father, in the opinion of the community), had done her the honour of paying her his addresses. But all that had passed from everybody's mind. Mrs. Rushton, never very resentful, was delighted now to receive Lady Randolph's invitation, and proud of the character of an old friend. And if Raymond occasionally showed a little embarrassment in Lucy's presence, that was only because he was by nature awkward in the society of ladies, and according to his own description never knew what to say.

"And what can I do for your ladyship this morning?" Mr. Rushton said, rising from his chair. His private room was very warm and comfortable, too warm, the visitors thought, as an office always is to people going in from the fresh air. The fire burned with concentrated heat, and Lucy, in her furs and suppressed agitation, felt her very brain confused. As for Jock, he lounged in the background with his hands in his pockets, reading the names upon the boxes that lined the walls, and now that it had come to the crisis, feeling truly helpless to aid his sister, and considerably in the way.

"It is a very serious business," said Lucy, drawing her breath hard. "It is a thing you have never liked or approved of, Mr. Rushton, nor any one," she added, in a faint voice.

"Dear me, that is very unfortunate," said the lawyer, cheerfully; "but I don't think you have ever been much disapproved of, Lady Randolph. Come, there is nothing you can't talk to me about—an old friend. I was in all your good father's secrets, and I never saw a better head for business. Why, this is Jock, I believe, grown into a man almost! I wonder if he has any of his father's talent? Is it about him you want to consult me? Why, that's perfectly natural, now he's coming to an age to look to the future," Mr. Rushton said.

"Oh, no! it is not about Jock. He is only sixteen, and, besides, it is something that is much more difficult," said Lucy. And then she paused, and cleared her throat, and put down her muff among Mr. Rushton's papers, that she might have her hands free for this tremendous piece of business. Then she said, with a sort of desperation, looking him in the face: "I have come to get you to—settle some money for me in obedience to papa's will."

Mr. Rushton started as if he had been shot. "You don't mean——" he cried, "You don't mean—— Come, I dare say I am making a mountain out of a mole-hill, and that what you are thinking of is quite innocent. If not about our young friend here, some of your charities or improvements? You are a most extravagant little lady in your improvements, Lady Randolph. Those last cottages you know—but I don't doubt the estate will reap the advantage, and it's an outlay that pays; oh, yes, I don't deny it's an outlay that pays."

Lucy's countenance betrayed the futility of this supposition long before he had finished speaking. He had been standing with his back to the fire, in a cheerful and easy way. Now his countenance grew grave. He drew his chair to the table and sat down facing her. "If it is not that, what is it?" he said.

"Mr. Rushton," said Lucy, and she cleared her throat. She looked back to Jock for support, but he had his back turned to her, and was still reading the names on the lawyer's boxes. She turned round again with a little sigh. "Mr. Rushton, I want to carry out papa's will. You know all about it. It is codicil F. I have heard of some one who is the right kind of person. I want you to transfer ten thousand pounds——"

The lawyer gave a sort of shriek; he bolted out of his chair, pushing it so far from him that the substantial mahogany shivered and tottered upon its four legs.

"Nonsense!" he said, "Nonsense!" increasing the firmness of his tone until the word thundered forth in capitals, "NONSENSE!—you are going out of your senses; you don't know what you are saying. I made sure we had done with all this folly——"

When it had happened to Lucy to propose such an operation as she now proposed, for the first time, to her other trustee, she had been spoken to in a way which young ladies rarely experience. That excellent man of business had tried to put this young lady—then a very young lady—down, and he had not succeeded. It may be supposed that at her present age of twenty-three, a wife, a mother, and with a modest consciousness of her own place and position, she was not a less difficult antagonist. She was still a little frightened, and grew somewhat pale, but she looked steadfastly at Mr. Rushton with a nervous smile.

"I think you must not speak to me so," she said. "I am not a child, and I know my father's will and what it meant. It is not nonsense, nor folly—it may perhaps have been," she said with a little sigh—"not wise."

"I beg your pardon, Lady Randolph," Mr. Rushton said precipitately, with a blush upon his middle-aged countenance, for to be sure, when you think of it, to tell a gracious young lady with a title, one of your chief clients, that she is talking nonsense, even if you have known her all her life, is going perhaps a little too far. "I am sure you will understand that is what I meant," he cried, "unwise—the very word I meant. In the heat of the moment other words slip out, but no offence was intended."

She made him a little bow; she was trembling, though she would not have him see it. "We are not here," she said, "to criticise my father." Lucy was scarcely half aware how much she had gained in composure and the art of self-command. "I think he would have been more wise and more kind to have done himself what he thought to be his duty; but what does that matter? You must not try to convince me, please, but take the directions, which are very simple. I have written them all down in this paper. If you think you ought to make independent inquiries, you have the right to do that; but you will spare the poor gentleman's feelings, Mr. Rushton. It is all put down here."

Mr. Rushton took the paper from her hand. He smiled inwardly to himself, subduing his fret of impatience. "You will not object to let me talk it over," he said, "first with Sir Tom?"

Lucy coloured, and then she grew pale. "You will remember," she said, "that it has nothing to do with my husband, Mr. Rushton."

"My dear lady," said the lawyer, "I never expected to hear you, who I have always known as the best of wives, say of anything that it has nothing to do with your husband. Surely that is not how ladies speak of their lords?"

Lucy heard a sound behind her which seemed to imply to her quick ear that Jock was losing patience. She had brought him with her, with the idea of deriving some support from his presence; but if Sir Tom had nothing to do with it, clearly on much stronger grounds neither had her brother. She turned round and cast a hurried warning glance at him. She had herself no words ready to reply to the lawyer's gibe. She would neither defend herself as from a grave accusation, nor reply in the same tone. "Mr. Rushton," she said faltering, "I don't think we need argue, need we? I have put down all the particulars. You know about it as well as I do. It is not for pleasure. If you think it is right, you will inquire about the gentleman—otherwise—I don't think there need be any more to say."

"I will talk it over with Sir Tom," said Mr. Rushton, feeling that he had found the only argument by which to manage this young woman. He even chuckled a little to himself at the thought. "Evidently," he said to himself, "she is afraid of Sir Tom, and he knows nothing about this. He will soon put a stop to it." He added aloud, "My dear Lady Randolph, this is far too serious a matter to be dismissed so summarily. You are young and very inexperienced. Of course I know all about it, and so does Sir Thomas. We will talk it over between us, and no doubt we will manage to decide upon some course that will harmonise everything."

Lucy looked at him with grave suspicion. "I don't know," she said, "what there is to be harmonised, Mr. Rushton. There is a thing which I have to do, and I have shrunk from it for a long time; but I cannot do so any longer."

"Look here," said Jock, "it's Lucy's affair, it's nobody else's. Just you look at her paper and do what she says."

"My young friend," said the lawyer blandly, "that is capital advice for yourself: I hope you always do what your sister says."

"Most times I do," said Jock; "not that it's your business to tell me. But you know very well you'll have to do it. No one has got any right to interfere with her. She has more sense than a dozen. She has got the right on her side. You may do what you please, but you know very well you can't stop her—neither you, nor Sir Tom, nor the old lady, nor one single living creature; and you know it," said Jock. He confronted Mr. Rushton with lowering brows, and with an angry sparkle in his deep-set eyes. Lucy was half proud of and half alarmed by her champion.

"Oh hush, Jock!" she cried. "You must not speak; you are only a boy. You must beg Mr. Rushton's pardon for speaking to him so. But, indeed, what he says is quite true; it is no one's duty but mine. My husband will not interfere with what he knows I must do," she said, with a little chill of apprehension. Would he indeed be so considerate for her? It made her heart sick to think that she was not on this point quite certain about Sir Tom.

"In that case there will be no harm in talking it over with him," said the lawyer briefly. "I thought you were far too sensible not to see that was the right way. Oh, never mind about his asking my pardon. I forgive him without that. He has a high idea of his sister's authority, which is quite right; and so have I—and so have all of us. Certainly, certainly, Master Jock, she has the right; and she will arrange it judiciously, of that there is no fear. But first, as a couple of business men, more experienced in the world than you young philanthropists, I will just, the first time I see him, talk it over with Sir Tom. My dear Lady Randolph, no trouble at all. Is that all I can do for you? Then I will not detain you any longer this fine morning," the lawyer said.



CHAPTER XVI.

AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL.

They drove away again with scarcely a word to each other. It was a bright, breezy, wintry day. The roads about Farafield were wet with recent rains, and gleamed in the sunshine. The river was as blue as steel, and gave forth a dazzling reflection; the bare trees stood up against the sky without a pretence of affording any shadow. The cold to these two young people, warmly dressed and prosperous, was nothing to object to—indeed, it was not very cold. But they both had a slight sense of discomfiture—a feeling of having suffered in their own opinion. Jock, who was much regarded at school as a fellow high up, and a great friend of his tutor, was not used to such unceremonious treatment, and he was wroth to see that even Lucy was supposed to require the sanction of Sir Tom for what it was clearly her own business to do. He said nothing, however, until they had quite cleared the town, and were skimming along the more open country roads; then he said suddenly—

"That old Rushton has a great deal of cheek. I should have another fellow to manage my affairs, Lucy, if I were you."

"Don't you know, Jock, that I can't? Papa appointed him. He is my trustee; he has always to be consulted. Papa did not mind," said Lucy with a little sigh. "He said it would be good for me to be contradicted, and not to have my own way."

"Don't you have your own way?" said Jock, opening his eyes. "Lucy, who contradicts you? I should like to know who it was, and tell him my mind a bit. I thought you did whatever you pleased. Do you mean to say there is any truth in all that about Sir Tom?"

"In what about Sir Tom?" cried Lucy, instantly on her defence; and then she changed her tone with a little laugh. "Of course I do whatever I please. It is not good for anybody, Jock. Don't you know we must be crossed sometimes, or we should never do any good at all?"

"Now I wonder which she means?" said Jock. "If she does have her own way or if she don't? I begin to think you speak something else than English, Lucy. I know it is the thing to say that women must do what their husbands tell them; but do you mean that it's true like that? and that a fellow may order you to do this or not to do that, with what is your own and not his at all?"

"I don't think I understand you, dear," said Lucy sweetly.

"Oh! you can't be such a stupid as that," said the boy; "you understand right enough. What did he mean by talking it over with Sir Tom? He thought Sir Tom would put a stop to it, Lucy."

"If Mr. Rushton forms such false ideas, dear, what does it matter? That is not of any consequence either to you or me."

"I wish you would give me a plain answer," said Jock, impatiently. "I ask you one thing, and you say another; you never give me any satisfaction."

She smiled upon him with a look which, clever as Jock was, he did not understand. "Isn't that conversation?" she said.

"Conversation!" The boy repeated the word almost with a shriek of disdain: "You don't know very much about that, down here in the country, Lucy. You should hear MTutor; when he's got two or three fellows from Cambridge with him, and they go at it! That's something like talk."

"It is very nice for you, Jock, that you get on so well with Mr. Derwentwater," said Lucy, catching with some eagerness at this way of escape from embarrassing questions. "I hope he will come and see us at Easter, as he promised."

"He may," said Jock, with great gravity, "but the thing is, everybody wants to have him; and then, you see, whenever he has an opportunity he likes to go abroad. He says it freshens one up more than anything. After working his brain all the half, as he does, and taking the interest he does in everything, he has got to pay attention, you know, and not to overdo it; he must have change, and he must have rest."

Lucy was much impressed by this, as she was by all she heard of MTutor. She was quite satisfied that such immense intellectual exertions as his did indeed merit compensation. She said, "I am sure he would get rest with us, Jock. There would be nothing to tire him, and whatever I could do for him, dear, or Sir Tom either, we should be glad, as he is so good to you."

"I don't know that he's what you call fond of the country—I mean the English country. Of course it is different abroad," said Jock doubtfully. Then he came back to the original subject with a bound, scattering all Lucy's hopes. "But we didn't begin about MTutor. It was the other business we were talking of. Is it true that Sir Tom——"

"Jock," said Lucy seriously. Her mild eyes got a look he had never seen in them before. It was a sort of dilation of unshed tears, and yet they were not wet. "If you know any time when Sir Tom was ever unkind or untrue, I don't know it. He has always, always been good. I don't think he will change now. I have always done what he told me, and I always will. But he never told me anything. He knows a great deal better than all of us put together. Of course, to obey him, that is my first duty. And I always shall. But he never asks it—he is too good. What is his will, is my will," she said. She fixed her eyes very seriously on Jock, all the time she spoke, and he followed every movement of her lips with a sort of astonished confusion, which it is difficult to describe. When she had ceased Jock drew a long breath, and seemed to come to the surface again, after much tossing in darker waters.

"I think that it must be true," he said slowly, after a pause, "as people say—that women are very queer, Lucy. I didn't understand one word you said."

"Didn't you, then?" she said, with a smile of gentle benignity; "but what does it matter, when it will all come right in the end? Is that our omnibus, Jock, that is going along with all that luggage? How curious that is, for nobody was coming to-day that I know of. Don't you see it just turning in to the avenue? Now that is very strange indeed," said Lucy, raising herself very erect upon her cushions with a little quickened and eager look. An arrival is always exciting in the country, and an arrival which was quite unexpected, and of which she could form no surmise as to who it could be, stirred up all her faculties. "I wonder if Mrs. Freshwater will know what rooms are best?" she said, "and if Sir Tom will be at home to receive them; or perhaps it may be some friends of Aunt Randolph's, or perhaps—I wonder very much who it can be."

Jock's countenance covered itself quickly with a tinge of gloom.

"Whoever it is, I know it will be disgusting," cried the boy. "Just when we have got so much to talk about! and now I shall never see you any more. Lady Randolph was bad enough, and now here's more of them! I should just as soon go back to school at once," he said, with premature indignation. The servants on the box perceived the other carriage in advance with equal curiosity and excitement. They were still more startled, perhaps, for a profound wonder as to what horses had been sent out, and who was driving them, agitated their minds. The horses, solicited by a private token between them and their driver which both understood, quickened their pace with a slight dash, and the carriage swept along as if in pursuit of the larger and heavier vehicle, which, however, had so much the advance of them, that it had deposited its passengers, and turned round to the servants' entrance with the luggage, before Lady Randolph could reach the door. Williams the butler wore a startled look upon his dignified countenance, as he came out on the steps to receive his mistress.

"Some one has arrived," said Lucy with a little eagerness. "We saw the omnibus."

"Yes, my lady. A telegram came for Sir Thomas soon after your ladyship left; there was just time to put in the horses——"

"But who is it, Williams?"

Williams had a curious apologetic air. "I heard say, my lady, that it was some of the party that were invited before Mr. Randolph fell ill. There had been a mistake about the letters, and the lady has come all the same—a lady with a foreign title, my lady——"

"Oh!" said Lucy, with English brevity. She stood startled, in the hall, lingering a little, changing colour, not with any of the deep emotions which Williams from his own superior knowledge suspected, but with shyness and excitement. "It will be the lady from Italy, the Contessa—— Oh, I hope they have attended to her properly! Was Sir Thomas at home when she came?"

"Sir Thomas, my lady, went to meet them at the station," Williams said.

"Oh, that is all right," cried Lucy, relieved. "I am so glad she did not arrive and find nobody. And I hope Mrs. Freshwater——"

"Mrs. Freshwater put the party into the east wing, my lady. There are two ladies besides the man and the maid. We thought it would be the warmest for them, as they came from the South."

"It may be the warmest, but it is not the prettiest," said Lucy. "The lady is a great friend of Sir Thomas', Williams."

The man gave her a curious look.

"Yes, my lady, I was aware of that," he said.

This surprised Lucy a little, but for the moment she took no notice of it. "And therefore," she went on, "the best rooms should have been got ready. Mrs. Freshwater ought to have known that. However, perhaps she will change afterwards. Jock, I will just run upstairs and see that everything is right."

As she turned towards the great staircase, so saying, she ran almost into her husband's arms. Sir Tom had appeared from a side door, where he had been on the watch, and it was certain that his face bore some traces of the new event that had happened. He was not at his ease as usual. He laughed a little uncomfortable laugh, and put his hand on Lucy's shoulder as she brushed against him. "There," he said, "that will do; don't be in such a hurry," arresting her in full career.

"Oh, Tom!" Lucy for her part looked at her husband with the greatest relief and happiness. There had been a cloud between them which had been more grievous to her than anything else in the world. She had felt hourly compelled to stand up before him and tell him that she must do what he desired her not to do. The consternation and pain and wrath that had risen over his face after that painful interview had not passed away through all the intervening time. There had been a sort of desperation in her mind when she went to Mr. Rushton, a feeling that she so hated the duty which had risen like a ghost between her husband and herself, that she must do it at all hazards and without delay. But this cloud had now departed from Sir Tom's countenance. There was a little suffusion of colour upon it which was unusual to him. Had it been anybody but Sir Tom, it would have looked like embarrassment, shyness mingled with a certain self-ridicule and sense of the ludicrous in the position altogether. He caught his wife in his arms and met her eyes with a certain laughing shamefacedness, "Don't," he said, "be in such a hurry, Lucy. Ces dames have gone to their rooms; they have been travelling all night, and they are not fit to be seen. It is only silly little English girls like you that can bear to be looked at at all times and seasons." And with this he stooped over her and gave her a kiss on her forehead, to Lucy's delight, yet horror—before Williams, who looked on approving, and the footman with the traps, and Jock and all! But what a load it took off her breast! He was not any longer vexed or disturbed or angry. He was indeed conciliatory and apologetic, but Lucy only saw that he was kind.

"Poor lady," cried Lucy, "has she been travelling all night? And I am so sorry she has been put into the east wing. If I had been at home I should have said the blue rooms, Tom, which you know are the nicest——"

"I think they are quite comfortable, my dear," said Sir Tom, with his usual laugh, which was half-mocking half-serious, "you may be sure they will ask for anything they want. They are quite accustomed to making themselves at home."

"Oh, I hope so, Tom," said Lucy, "but don't you think it would be more polite, more respectful, if I were to go and ask if they have everything? Mrs. Freshwater is very well you know, Tom, but the mistress of the house——"

He gave her another little hug, and laughed again. "No," he said, "you may be sure Madame Forno-Populo is not going to let you see her till she has repaired all ravages. It was extremely indiscreet of me to go to the station," he continued, still with that chuckle, leading Lucy away. "I had forgotten all these precautions after a few years of you, Lucy. I was received with a shriek of horror and a double veil."

Lucy looked at him with great surprise, asking: "Why? wasn't she glad to see you?" with incipient indignation and a sense of grievance.

"Not at all," cried Sir Tom, "indeed I heard her mutter something about English savagery. The Contessa expresses herself strongly sometimes. Freshwater and the maid, and the excellent breakfast Williams has ordered, knowing her ways——"

"Does Williams know her ways?" asked Lucy, wondering. There was not the faintest gleam of suspicion in her mind; but she was surprised, and her husband bit his lip for a moment, yet laughed still.

"He knows those sort of people," he said. "I was very much about in society at one time you must know, Lucy, though I am such a steady old fellow now. We knew something of most countries in these days. We were bien vu, he and I, in various places. Don't tell Mrs. Williams, my love." He laughed almost violently at this mild joke, and Lucy looked surprised. But still no shadow came upon her simple countenance. Lucy was like Desdemona, and did not believe that there were such women. She thought it was "fun," such fun as she sometimes saw in the newspapers, and considered as vulgar as it was foolish. Such words could not be used in respect to anything Sir Tom said, but even in her husband it was not good taste, Lucy thought. She smiled at the reference to Mrs. Williams with a kind of quiet disdain, but it never occurred to her that she too might require to be kept in the dark.

"I dare say most of what you are talking is nonsense," she said; "but if Madame Forno ——"—Lucy was not very sure of the name, and hesitated—"is really very tired, perhaps it may be kindness not to disturb her. I hope she will go to bed, and get a thorough rest. Did she not get your second letter, Tom? and what a thing it is that dear baby is so much better, and that we can really pay a little attention to her."

"Either she did not get my letter, or I didn't write, I cannot say which it was, Lucy. But now we have got her we must pay attention to her, as you say. You will have to get up a few dinner parties, and ask some people to stay. She will like to see the humours of the wilderness while she is in it."

"The wilderness—but, Tom, everybody says society is so good in the county."

"Everybody does not know the Forno-Populo," cried Sir Tom; and then he burst out into a great laugh. "I wonder what her Grace will say to the Contessa; they have met before now."

"Must we ask the Duchess?" cried Lucy, with awe and alarm, coming a little nearer to her husband's side.

But Sir Tom did nothing but laugh. "I've seen a few passages of arms," he said. "By Jove, you don't know what war is till you see two —— at it tooth and nail. Two—what, Lucy? Oh, I mean fine ladies; they have no mercy. Her Grace will set her claws into the fair countess. And as for the Forno-Populo herself——"

"Dear Tom" said Lucy with gentle gravity, "Is it nice to speak of ladies so? If any one called me the Randolph, I should be, oh, so——"

"You," cried her husband with a hot and angry colour rising to his very hair, and then he perceived that he was betraying himself, and paused. "You see, my love, that's different," he said. "Madame di Forno-Populo is—an old stager: and you are very young, and nobody ever thought of you but with—reverence, my dear. Yes, that's the word, Lucy, though you are only a bit of a girl."

"Tom," said Lucy with great dignity, "I have you to take care of me, and I have never been known in the world. But, dear, if this poor lady has no one—and I suppose she is a widow, is she not, Tom?"

He had been listening to her almost with emotion—with a half-abashed look, full of fondness and admiration. But at this question he drew back a little, with a sort of stagger, and burst into a wild fit of laughter. When he came to himself wiping his eyes, he was, there could be no doubt, ashamed of himself. "I beg you ten thousand pardons," he cried. "Lucy, my darling! Yes, yes—I suppose she is a widow, as you say."

Lucy looked at him while he laughed, with profound gravity, without the slightest inclination to join in his merriment, which is a thing which has a very uncomfortable effect. She waited till he was done, with a mixture of wonder and disapproval in her seriousness, looking at his laughter as if at some phenomenon which she did not understand. "I have often heard gentlemen," she said, "talk about widows as if it were a sort of laughable name, and as if they might make their jokes as they pleased. But I did not think you would have done it, Tom. I should feel all the other way," said Lucy. "I should think I could never do enough to make it up, if that were possible, and to make them forget. Is it their fault that they are left desolate, that a man should laugh?" She turned away from her husband with a soft superiority of innocence and true feeling which struck him dumb.

He begged her pardon in the most abject way; and then he left her for a moment quietly, and had his laugh out. But he was ashamed of himself all the same. "I wonder what she will say when she sees the Forno-Populo," he said to himself.



CHAPTER XVII.

FOREWARNED.

Lucy did not see her visitors till the hour of dinner. She had expected them to appear in the afternoon at the mystic hour of tea, which calls an English household together, but when it was represented to her that afternoon tea was not the same interesting institution in Italy, her surprise ceased, and though her expectations were still more warmly excited by this delay, she bore it with becoming patience. There was no doubt, however, that the arrival had made a great commotion in the house, and Lucy perceived without in the least understanding it, a peculiarity in the looks which various of the people around her cast upon her during the course of the day. Her own maid was one of these people, and Mrs. Freshwater, the housekeeper, who explained in a semi-apologetic tone all the preparations she had made for the comfort of the guests, was another. And Williams, though he was always so dignified, thought Lucy could not help feeling an eye upon her. He was almost compassionately attentive to his young mistress. There was a certain pathos in the way in which he handed her the potatoes at lunch. He pressed a little more claret upon her with a fatherly anxiety, and an air that seemed to say, "It will do you good." Lucy was conscious of all this additional attention without realising the cause of it. But it found its culmination in Lady Randolph, in whom a slightly-injured and aggrieved air towards Sir Tom was enhanced by the extreme tenderness of her aspect to Lucy, for whom she could not do too much. "Williams is quite right in giving you a little more wine. You take nothing," she said, "and I am sure you want support. After your long drive, too, my dear: and how cold it has been this morning!"

"Yes, it was cold; but we did not mind, we rather liked it, Jock and I. Poor Madame di Forno-Populo! She must have felt it travelling all night."

"Bravo, Lucy, that is right! you have tackled the name at last, and got through with it beautifully," said Sir Tom with a laugh.

Lucy was pleased to be praised. "I hope I shan't forget," she said, "it is so long: and oh, Tom, I do hope she can talk English, for you know my French."

"I should think she could talk English!" said Lady Randolph, with a little scorn. And what was very extraordinary was that Williams showed a distinct but suppressed consciousness, putting his lips tight as if to keep in what he knew about the matter. "And I don't think you need be so sorry for the lady, Lucy," said the dowager. "No doubt she didn't mean to travel by night. It arose from some mistake or other in Tom's letter. But she does not mind that, you may be sure, now that she has made out her point."

"What point?" said Sir Tom, with some heat. But Lady Randolph made no reply, and he did not press the question. They were both aware that it is sometimes better to hold one's tongue. And the curious thing to all of those well-informed persons was that Lucy took no notice of all their hints and innuendoes. She was in the greatest spirits, not only interested about her unknown visitors and anxious to secure their comfort, but in herself more gay than she had been for some time past. In fact this arrival was a godsend to Lucy. The cloud had disappeared entirely from her husband's brow. Instead of making any inquiries about her visit to Farafield, or resuming the agitating discussion which had ended in what was really a refusal on her part to do what he wished, he was full of a desire to conciliate and please her. The matter which had brought so stern a look to his face, and occasioned her an anxiety and pain far more severe than anything that had occurred before in her married life, seemed to have dropped out of his mind altogether. Instead of that opposition and disapproval, mingled with angry suspicion, which had been in his manner and looks, he was now on the watch to propitiate Lucy; to show a gratitude for which she knew no reason, and a pride in her which was still less comprehensible. What did it all mean, the compassion on one side, the satisfaction on the other? But Lucy scarcely asked herself the question. In her relief at having no new discussion with her husband, and at his apparent forgetfulness of all displeasure and of any question between them, her heart rose with all the glee of a child's. It seemed to her that she had surmounted the difficulties of her position by an intervention which was providential. It even occurred to her innocent mind to make reflections as to the advantage of doing what was right in the face of all difficulties. God, she said to herself, evidently was protecting her. It was known in heaven what an effort it had cost her to do her duty to fulfil her father's will, and now heavenly succour was coming, and the difficulties disappearing out of her way. Lucy would have been ready in any case with the most unhesitating readiness to receive and do any kindness to her husband's friend. No idea of jealousy had come into her unsuspicious soul. She had taken it as a matter of course that this unknown lady should have the best that the Hall could offer her, and that her old alliance with Sir Tom should throw open his doors and his wife's heart. Perhaps it was because Lucy's warm and simple-minded attachment to her husband had little in it of the character of passion that it was thus entirely without any impulse of jealousy. And what was so natural in common circumstances became still more so in the exhilaration and rebound of her troubled heart. Sir Tom was so kind to her in departing from his opposition, in letting her have her way without a word. It was certain that Lucy would not have relinquished her duty for any opposition he had made. But with what a bleeding heart she would have done it, and how hateful would have been the necessity which separated her from his goodwill and assistance! Now she felt that terrible danger was over. Probably he would not ask her what she had been about. He would not give it his approval, which would have been most sweet of all, but if he did not interfere, if he permitted it to be done without opposition, without even demanding of his wife an account of her action, how much that would be, and how cordially, with what a genuine impulse of the heart would she set to work to carry out his wishes—he who had been so generous, so kind to her! This was how it was that her gaiety, the ease and happiness of her look, startled them all so much. That she should have been amiable to the new comers was comprehensible. She was so amiable by nature, and so ignorant and unsuspicious: but that their coming should give her pleasure, this was the thing that confounded the spectators: they could not understand how any other subject should withdraw her from what is supposed to be a wife's master emotion—nay, they could not understand how it was that mere instinct had not enlightened Lucy, and pointed out to her what elements were coming together that would be obnoxious to her peace. Even Sir Tom felt this, with a deepened tenderness for his pure-minded little wife, and pride in her unconsciousness. Was there another woman in England who would have been so entirely generous, so unaware even of the possibility of evil? He admired her for it, and wondered—if it was a little silly (which he had a kind of undisclosed suspicion that it was), yet what a heavenly silliness. There was nobody else who would have been so magnanimous, so confident in his perfect honour and truth.

The only other element that could have added to Lucy's satisfaction was also present. Little Tom was better than usual. Notwithstanding the cold he had been able to go out, and was all the brighter for it, not chilled and coughing as he sometimes was. His mother had found him careering about his nursery in wild glee, and flinging his toys about, in perfectly boyish, almost mannish, altogether wicked, indifference to the danger of destroying them. It was this that brought her downstairs radiant to the luncheon table, where Lady Randolph and Williams were so anxious to be good to her. Lucy was much surprised by the solicitude which she felt to be so unnecessary. She was disposed to laugh at the care they took of her; feeling in her own mind, more triumphant, more happy and fortunate, than she had ever been before.

As for Jock, he took no notice at all of the incident of the day. He perceived with satisfaction, a point on which for the moment he was unusually observant, that Sir Tom showed no intention of questioning them as to their morning's expedition or opposing Lucy. This being the case, what was it to the boy who went or came? A couple of ladies were quite indifferent to him. He did not expect anything or fear anything. His own doings interested him much more. The conversation about this new subject floated over his head. He did not take the trouble to pay any attention to it. As for Williams' significant looks or Lady Randolph's anxieties, Jock was totally unconscious of their existence. He did not pay any attention. When the party was not interesting he had plenty of other thoughts to retire into, and the coming of new people, except in so far as it might be a bore, did not affect him at all.

Lucy went out dutifully for a drive with Lady Randolph after luncheon. It was still very bright, though it was cold, and after a little demur as to the propriety of going out when it was possible her guests might be coming downstairs, Lucy took her place beside the fur-enveloped Dowager with her hot water footstool and mountain of wrappings. They talked about ordinary matters for a little, about the landscape and the improvements, and about little Tom, whose improvement was the most important of all. But it was not possible to continue long upon indifferent matters in face of the remarkable events which had disturbed the family calm.

"I hope," said Lucy, "that Madame di Forno-Populo" (she was very careful about all the syllables) "may not be more active than you think, and come down while we are away."

"Oh, there is not the least fear," said Lady Randolph, somewhat scornfully. "She was always a candle-light beauty. She is not very fond of the eye of day."

"She is a beauty, then?" said Lucy. "I am very glad. There are so few. You know I have always been—rather—disappointed. There are many pretty people: but to be beautiful is quite different."

"That is because you are so unsophisticated, my dear. You don't understand that beauty in society means a fashion, and not much more. I have seen a quantity of beauties in my day. How they came to be so, nobody knew; but there they were, and we all bowed down to them. This woman, however, was very pretty, there was no doubt about it," said Lady Randolph, with reluctant candour. "I don't know what she may be now. She was enough to turn any man's head when she was young—or even a woman's—who ought to have known better."

"Do you think then, Aunt Randolph, that women don't admire pretty people?" It is to be feared that Lucy asked for the sake of making conversation, which it is sometimes necessary to do.

"I think that men and women see differently—as they always do," said Lady Randolph. She was rather fond of discriminating between the ideas of the sexes, as many ladies of a reasonable age are. "There is a gentleman's beauty, you know, and there is a kind of beauty that women love. I could point out the difference to you better if the specimens were before us; but it is a little difficult to describe. I rather think we admire expression, you know. What men care for is flesh and blood. We like people that are good—that is to say, who have the air of being good, for the reality doesn't by any means follow. Perhaps I am taking too much credit to ourselves," said the old lady, "but that is the best description I can hit upon. We like the interesting kind—the pensive kind—which was the fashion when I was young. Your great, fat, golden-haired, red and white women are gentlemen's beauties; they don't commend themselves to us."

"And is Madame di Forno-Populo," said Lucy, in her usual elaborate way, "of that kind?"

"Oh! my dear, she is just a witch," Lady Randolph said. "It does not matter who it is, she can bring them to her feet if she pleases!" Then she seemed to think she had gone too far, and stopped herself: "I mean when she was young; she is young no longer, and I dare say all that has come to an end."

"It must be sad to grow old when one is like that," said Lucy, with a look of sympathetic regret.

"Oh, you are a great deal too charitable, Lucy!" said the old lady: and then she stopped short, putting a sudden restraint upon herself, as if it were possible that she might have said too much; then after a while she resumed: "As you are in such a heavenly frame of mind, my dear, and disposed to think so well of her, there is just one word of advice I will give you—don't allow yourself to get intimate with this lady. She is quite out of your way. If she liked, she could turn you round her little finger. But it is to be hoped she will not like; and, in any case, you must remember that I have warned you. Don't let her, my dear, make a catspaw of you."

"A catspaw of me!" Lucy was amused by these words—not offended, as so many might have been—perhaps because she felt herself little likely to be so dominated; a fact that the much older and more experienced woman by her side was quite unaware of. "But," she said, "Tom would not have invited her, Aunt Randolph, if he had thought her likely to do that—indeed, how could he have been such great friends with her if she had not been nice as well as pretty? You forget there must always be that in her favour to me."

"Oh, Tom!" cried Lady Randolph with indignation. "My dear Lucy," she added after a pause, with subdued exasperation, "men are the most unaccountable creatures! Knowing him as I do, I should have thought she was the very last person—but how can we tell? I dare say the idea amused him. Tom will do anything that amuses him—or tickles his vanity. I confess it is as you say, very, very difficult to account for it; but he has done it. He wants to show off a little to her, I suppose; or else he—— There is really no telling, Lucy. It is the last thing in the world I should have thought of; and you may be quite sure, my dear," she added with emphasis, "she never would have been invited at all if he had expected me to be here when she came."

Lucy did not make any answer for some time. Her face, which had kept its gaiety and radiance, grew grave, and when they had driven back towards the hall for about ten minutes in silence, she said quietly "You do not mean it, I am sure; but do you know, Aunt Randolph, you are trying to make me think very badly of my husband; and no one has ever done that before."

"Oh, your husband is just like other people's husbands, Lucy," cried the elder lady impatiently. Then, however, she subdued herself, with an anxious look at her companion. "My dear, you know how fond I am of Tom: and I know he is fond of you; he would not do anything to harm you for the world. I suppose it is because he has such a prodigious confidence in you that he thinks it does not matter; and I don't suppose it does matter. The only thing is, don't be over intimate with her, Lucy; don't let her fix herself upon you when you go to town, and talk about young Lady Randolph as her dearest friend. She is quite capable of doing it. And as for Tom—well, he is just a man when all is said."

Lucy did not ask any more questions. That she was greatly perplexed there is no doubt, and her first fervour of affectionate interest in Tom's friend was slightly damped, or at least changed. But she was more curious than ever; and there was in her mind the natural contradiction of youth against the warnings addressed to her. Lucy knew very well that she herself was not one to be twisted round anybody's little finger. She was not afraid of being subjugated; and she had a prejudice in favour of her husband which neither Lady Randolph nor any other witness could impair. The drive home was more silent than the outset. Naturally, the cold increased as the afternoon went on, and the Dowager shrunk into her furs, and declared that she was too much chilled to talk. "Oh how pleasant a cup of tea will be," she said.

Lucy longed for her part to get down from the carriage and walk home through the village, to see all the cottage fires burning, and quicken the blood in her veins, which is a better way than fur for keeping one's self warm. When they got in, it was exciting to think that perhaps the stranger was coming down to tea; though that, as has been already said, was a hope in which Lucy was disappointed. Everything was prepared for her reception, however—a sort of throne had been arranged for her, a special chair near the fire, shaded by a little screen, and with a little table placed close to it to hold her cup of tea. The room was all in a ruddy blaze of firelight, the atmosphere delightful after the cold air outside, and all the little party a little quiet, thinking that every sound that was heard must be the stranger.

"She must have been very tired," Lucy said sympathetically.

"I dare say," said Lady Randolph, "she thinks a dinner dress will make a better effect."

Lucy looked towards her husband almost with indignation, with eyes that asked why he did not defend his friend. But, to be sure, Sir Tom could not judge of their expression in the firelight, and instead of defending her he only laughed. "One general understands another's tactics," he said.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE VISITORS.

Sir Tom paid his wife a visit when she was in the midst of her toilette for dinner. He came in, and looked at her dress with an air of dissatisfaction. It was a white dress, of a kind which suited Lucy very well, and which she was in the habit of wearing for small home parties, at which full dress was unnecessary. He looked at her from head to foot, and gave a little pull to her skirt with a doubtful air. "It doesn't sit, does it?" he said; "can't you pin it, or something, to make it come better?"

This, it need not be said, was a foolish piece of ignorance on Sir Tom's part, and as Miss Fletcher, Lucy's maid, thought, "just like a man." Fletcher was for the moment not well-disposed towards Sir Tom. She said—"Oh no, Sir Thomas, my lady don't hold with pins. Some ladies may that are all for effect; but my lady, that is not her way."

Sir Tom felt that these words inclosed a dart as sharp as any pin, and directed at himself; but he took no notice. He walked round his wife, eyeing her on every side; and then he gave a little pull to her hair as he had done to her dress. "After all," he said, "it is some time since you left school, Lucy. Why this simplicity? I want you to look your best to-night."

"But, dear Tom," said Lucy, "you always say that I am not to be over-dressed."

"I don't want you to be under-dressed; there is plenty of time. Don't you think you might do a little more in the way of toilette? Put on some lace or something; Fletcher will know. Look here, Fletcher, I want Lady Randolph to look very well to-night. Don't you think this get-up would stand improvement? I dare say you could do it with ribbons, or something. We must not have her look like my grandchild, you know."

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