Sir Tom Part 6
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"Well, Tom, I must say I am very glad of that," Lady Randolph said gravely--and then there was a pause. "I doubt whether Lucy would have liked her," she added, after a moment. Then with another interval, "I think, Lucy, my love, after that nice cup of tea, and my first sight of you, that I will go to my own room. I like a little rest before dinner--you know my lazy way."
"And it's getting ridiculously dark in this room," Sir Tom said, kicking a footstool out of the way. This little impatient movement was like one of those expletives that seem to relieve a man's mind, and both the ladies understood it as such, and knew that he was angry. Lucy, as she rose from her tea-table to attend upon her visitor, herself in a confused and painful mood, and vexed with what had been said to her, thought her husband was irritated by his aunt, and felt much sympathy with him, and anxiety to conduct Lady Randolph to her room before it should go any farther. But the elder lady understood it very differently. She went away, followed by Lucy through the great drawing-room, where a solitary lamp had been placed on a table to show the way. It had been the Dowager's own house in her day, and she did not require any guidance to her room. Nor did she detain Lucy after the conventional visit to see that all was comfortable.
"That I haven't the least doubt of," Lady Randolph said, "and I am at home, you know, and will ask for anything I want; but I must have my nap before dinner; and do you go and talk to your husband."
Lucy could not resist one glance into the nursery, where little Tom, a little languid but so much better, was sitting on his nurse's knee before the fire, amused by those little fables about his fingers and toes which are the earliest of all dramatic performances. The sight of him thus content, and the sound of his laugh, was sweet to her in her anxiety. She ran downstairs again without disturbing him, closing so carefully the double doors that shut him out from all draughts, not without a wondering doubt as she did so, whether it was true, perhaps, that she was "coddling" him, and if there was such a thing as wholesome neglect. She went quickly through the dim drawing-room to the warm ruddy flush of firelight that shone between the curtains from the smaller room, thinking nothing less than to find her husband, who was fond of an hour's repose in that kindly light before dinner. She had got to her old place in front of the fire before she perceived that Sir Tom's tall shadow was no longer there. Lucy uttered a little exclamation of disappointment, and then she perceived remorsefully another shadow, not like Sir Tom's, the long weedy boyish figure of her brother against the warm light.
"But you are here, Jock," she said, advancing to him. Jock took hold of her arm, as he was so fond of doing.
"I shall never have you, now _she_ has come," Jock said.
"Why not, dear? You were never fond of Lady Randolph--you don't know how good and kind she is. It is only when you like people that you know how nice they are," Lucy said, all unconscious that a deeper voice than hers had announced that truth.
"Then I shall never know, for I don't like her," said Jock uncompromising. "You'll have to sit and gossip with her when you're not in the nursery, and I shall have no time to tell you, for the holidays last only a month."
"But you can tell me everything in a month, you silly boy; and if we can't have our walks, Jock (for it's cold), there is one place where she will never come," said Lucy, upon which Jock turned away with an exclamation of impatience.
His sister put her hand on his shoulder and looked reproachfully in his face.
"You too! You used to like it. You used to come and toss him up and make him laugh----"
"Oh, don't, Lucy! can't you see? So I would again, if he were like that.
How you can bear it!" said the boy, bursting away from her. And then Jock returned very much ashamed and horror-stricken, and took the hand that dropped by her side, and clumsily patted and kissed it, and held it between his own, looking penitently, wistfully, in her face all the while: but not knowing what to say.
Lucy stood looking down into the glowing fire, with her head drooping and an air of utter dejection in her little gentle figure. "Do you think he looks so bad as that?" she said, in a broken voice.
"Oh, no, no; that is not what I mean," the boy cried. "It's--the little chap is not so jolly; he's--a little cross; or else he's forgotten me. I suppose it's that. He wouldn't look at me when I ran up. He's so little one oughtn't to mind, but it made me----your baby, Lucy! and the little beggar cried and wouldn't look at me."
"Is that all?" said Lucy. She only half believed him, but she pretended to be deceived. She gave a little trembling laugh, and laid her head for a moment upon Jock's boyish breast, where his heart was beating high with a pa.s.sion of sorrow and tender love. "Sometimes," she said, leaning against him, "sometimes I think I shall die. I can't live to see anything happen to him: and sometimes---- But he is ever so much better; don't you think he looks almost himself?" she said, raising her head hurriedly, and interrogating the scarcely visible face with her eyes.
"Looks! I don't see much difference in his looks, if he wouldn't be so cross," said Jock, lying boldly, but with a tremor, for he was not used to it. And then he said hurriedly, "But there's that clergyman, the father of the fellow on the foundation. I've found out all about him. I must tell you, Lucy. He is the very man. There is no call to think about it or put off any longer. What a thing it would be if he could have it by Christmas! I have got all the particulars--they look as if they were just made for us," Jock cried.
Lady Randolph found her visit dull. It is true that there had been no guests to speak of on previous Christmases since Sir Tom's marriage; but the house had been more cheerful, and Lucy had been ready to drive, or walk, or call, or go out to the festivities around. But now she was absorbed by the nursing, and never liked to be an hour out of call. The Dowager put up with it as long as she was able. She did not say anything more on the subject for some days. It was not, indeed, until she had been a week at the Hall that, being disturbed by the appeals of Lucy as to whether she did not think baby was looking better than when she came, she burst forth at last. They were sitting by themselves in the hour after dinner when ladies have the drawing-room all to themselves. It is supposed by young persons in novels to be a very dreary interval, but to the great majority of women it is a pleasant moment. The two ladies sat before the pleasant fire; Lucy with some fleecy white wool in her lap with which she was knitting something for her child, Lady Randolph with a screen interposed between her and the fire, doing nothing, an operation which she always performed gracefully and comfortably. It could not be said that the gentlemen were lingering over their wine.
Jock had retired to the library, where he was working through all the long-collected literary stores of the Randolph family, with an instinctive sense that his presence in the drawing-room was not desired.
Sir Tom had business to do, or else he was tired of the domestic calm.
The ladies had been sitting for some time in silence when Lady Randolph suddenly broke forth--
"You know what I said to you the first evening, Lucy? I have not said a word on the subject since--of course I didn't come down here to enjoy your hospitality and then to find fault."
"Oh, Aunt Randolph! don't speak of hospitality; it is your own house."
"My dear, it is very pretty of you to say so. I hope I am not the sort of person to take advantage of it. But I feel a sort of responsibility, seeing it was I that brought you together first. Lucy, I must tell you.
You are not doing what you ought by Tom. Here he is, a middle-aged man, you know, and one of the first in the county. People look to him for a great many things: he is the member: he is a great landowner: he is (thanks to you) very well off. And here is Christmas, and not a visitor in the house but myself. Oh, there's Jock! a schoolboy home for his holidays--that does not count; not a single dinner that I can hear of----"
"Yes, aunt, on the 6th," said Lucy, with humility.
"On the 6th, and it is now the 27th! and no fuss at all made about Christmas. My dear, you needn't tell me it's a bore. I know it is a bore--everywhere wherever one goes; still, everybody does it. It is just a part of one's responsibilities. You don't go to b.a.l.l.s in Lent, and you stand on your heads, so to speak, at Christmas. The country expects it of you; and it is always a mistake to take one's own way in such matters. You should have had, in the first place," said Lady Randolph, counting on her fingers, "your house full; in the second, a ball, to which everybody should have been asked. On these occasions no one that could possibly be imagined to be gentlefolk should be left out. I would even stretch a point--doctors and lawyers, and so forth, go without saying, and those big brewers, you know, I always took in; and some people go as far as the 'vet.,' as they call him. He was a very objectionable person in my day, and that was where I drew the line; then three or four dinners at the least."
"But, Aunt Randolph, how could we when baby is so poorly----"
"What has baby to do with it, Lucy? You don't have the child down to receive your guests. With the door of his nursery shut to keep out the noise (if you think it necessary: I shouldn't think it would matter) what harm would it do him? He would never be a bit the wiser, poor little dear. Yes, I dare say your heart would be with him many a time when you were elsewhere; but you must not think of yourself."
"I did not mean to do so, aunt. I thought little Tom was my first duty."
"Now, I should have thought, my dear," said the Dowager, smiling blandly, "that it would have been big Tom who answered to that description."
"But, Tom----" Lucy paused, not knowing in what shape to put so obvious a truth, "he is like me," she said. "He is far, far more anxious than he lets you see. It is his--duty too."
"A great many other things are his duty as well; besides, there is so much, especially in a social point of view, which the man never sees till his wife points it out. That's one of the uses of a woman. She must keep up her husband's popularity, don't you see? You must never let it be said: 'Oh, Sir Tom! he is all very well in Parliament, but he does nothing for the county.'"
"I never thought of that," said Lucy, with dismay.
"But you must learn to think of it, my love. Never mind, this is the first Christmas since the election. But one dinner, and nothing else done, not so much as a magic lantern in the village! I do a.s.sure you, my dearest girl, you are very much to blame."
"I am very sorry," said Lucy, with a startled look, "but, dear aunt, little Tom----"
"My dear Lucy! I am sure you don't wish everybody to get sick of that poor child's very name."
Lucy sprang up from her chair at this outrage; she could not bear any more. A flush of almost fury came upon her face. She went up to the mantelpiece, which was a very fine one of carved wood, and leant her head upon it. She did not trust herself to reply.
"Now, I know what you are thinking," said Lady Randolph blandly. "You are saying to yourself, that horrid old woman, who never had a child, how can she know?--and I don't suppose I do," said the clever Dowager pathetically. "All that sweetness has been denied to me. I have never had a little creature that was all mine. But when I was your age, Lucy, and far older than you, I would have given anything--almost my life--to have had a child."
Lucy melted in a moment, threw herself down upon the hearth-rug upon her knees, and took Lady Randolph's hands in her own and kissed them.
"Oh, dear aunt, dear aunt!" she cried, "to think I should have gone on so about little Tom and never remembered that you---- But we are all your children," she said, in the innocence and fervour of her heart.
"Yes, my love." Lady Randolph freed one of her hands and put it up with her handkerchief to her cheek. As a matter of fact she did not regret it now, but felt that a woman when she is growing old is really much more able to look after her own comforts when she has no children; and yet, when she remembered how she had been bullied on the subject, and all the reproaches that had been addressed to her as if it were her fault, perhaps there was something like a tear. "That is why I venture to say many things to you that I would not otherwise. Tom, indeed, is too old to have been my son; but I have felt, Lucy, as if I had a daughter in you." Then shaking off this little bit of sentiment with a laugh, the Dowager raised Lucy and kissed her and put her into a chair by her own side.
"Since we are about it," she said, "there is one other thing I should like to talk to you about. Of course your husband knows a great deal more of the world than you do, Lucy; but it is perhaps better that he should not decide altogether who is to be asked. Men have such strange notions. If people are amusing it is all they think of. Well, now, there is that Contessa di Forno-Populo. I would not have her, Lucy, if I were you."
"But it was she who was the special person," said Lucy, in amaze. "The others were to come to meet her. She is an old friend."
"Oh, I know all about the old friends.h.i.+p," said Lady Randolph. "I think Tom should be ashamed of himself. He knows that in other houses where the mistress knows more about the world. Yes, yes, she is an old friend.
All the more reason, my dear, why you should have as little to say to her as possible; they are never to be reckoned upon. Didn't you hear what he called her. _La_ Forno-Populo? Englishmen never talk of a lady like that if they have any great respect for her; but it can't be denied that this lady has a great deal of charm. And I would just keep her at arm's length, Lucy, if I were you."
"Dear Aunt Randolph, why should I do that?" said Lucy, gravely. "If she is Tom's friend, she must always be welcome here. I do not know her, therefore I can only welcome her for my husband's sake; but that is reason enough. You must not ask me to do anything that is against Tom."
"Against Tom! I think you are a little goose, Lucy, though you are so sensible. Is it not all for his sake that I am talking? I want you to see more of the world, not to shut yourself up here in the nursery entirely on his account. If you don't understand that, then words have no meaning."
"I do understand it, aunt," said Lucy meekly. "Don't be angry; but why should I be disagreeable to Tom's friend? The only thing I am afraid of is, should she not speak English. My French is so bad----"
Sir Tom Part 6
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Sir Tom Part 6 summary
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