Sir Tom Part 10
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"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 companions.h.i.+p of a fresh and elevated spirit.
"Believe me, dear Lady Randolph, "Most faithfully yours, "MAXIMUS D. DERWENt.w.a.tER."
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. n.o.body 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 circ.u.mstances 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 repet.i.tion 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 a.s.sail 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. Derwent.w.a.ter 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 s.h.i.+ver 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.
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 a.n.a.lyse it, as is the fas.h.i.+on 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 inc.u.mbent 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 pa.s.sed, 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 pa.s.s, and think what a little a.s.s I used to be. But why did you shake your head? That's what I want to know."
Sir Tom Part 10
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Sir Tom Part 10 summary
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