Sir Tom Part 7
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"Oh, your French will do very well; and you will take your own way, my dear," said the elder lady, getting up. "You all do, you young people.
The opinion of others never does any good; and as Tom does not seem to be coming, I think I shall take my way to bed. Good-night, Lucy.
Remember what I said, at all events, about the magic lantern. And if you are wise you will have as little to do as possible with La Forno-Populo as you can--and there you have my two pieces of advice."
Lucy was disturbed a little by her elder's counsel, both in respect to the foreign lady, whom, however, she simply supposed Lady Randolph did not like--and in regard to her own nursery tastes and avoidance of society;--could that be why Tom sat so much longer in the dining-room and did not come in to talk to his aunt? She began to think with a little ache in her heart, and to remember that in her great preoccupation with the child he had been left to spend many evenings alone, and that he no longer complained of this. She stood up in front of the fire and pressed her hot forehead to the mantel-shelf. How was a woman to know what to do? Was not he that was most helpless and had most need of her the one to devote her time to? There was not a thought in her that was disloyal to Sir Tom. But what if he were to form the habit of doing without her society? This was an idea that filled her with a vague dread. Some one came in through the great drawing-room as she stood thinking, and she turned round eagerly, supposing that it was her husband; but it was only Jock, who had been on the watch to hear Lady Randolph go upstairs.
"I never see you at all now, Lucy," cried Jock. "I never have a chance but in the holidays, and now they're half over, and we have not had one good talk. And what about poor Mr. Churchill, Lucy? I thought he was the very man for you. He has got about a dozen children and no money.
Somebody else pays for Churchill, that's the fellow I told you of that's on the foundation. I shouldn't have found out all that, and gone and asked questions and got myself thought an inquisitive beggar, if it hadn't been for your sake."
"Oh, Jock, I'm sure I am much obliged to you," said Lucy, dolefully; "and I am so sorry for the poor gentleman. It must be dreadful to have so many children and not to be able to give them everything they require."
At this speech, which was uttered with something between impatience and despair, and which made no promise of any help or succour, her brother regarded her with a mixture of anger and disappointment.
"Is that all about it, Lucy?" he said.
"Oh, no, Jock! I am sure you are right, dear. I know I ought to bestir myself and do something, but only---- How much do you think it would take to make them comfortable? Oh, Jock, I wish that papa had put it all into somebody's hands, to be done like business--somebody that had nothing else to think of!"
"What have you to think of, Lucy?" said the boy, seriously, in the superiority of his youth. "I suppose, you know, you are just too well off. You can't understand what it is to be like that. You get angry at people for not being happy, you don't want to be disturbed." He paused remorsefully, and cast a glance at her, melting in spite of himself, for Lucy did not look too well off. Her soft brow was contracted a little; there was a faint quiver upon her lip. "If you really want to know,"
Jock said, "people can live and get along when they have about five hundred a year. That is, as far as I can make out. If you gave them that, they would think it awful luck."
"I wish I could give them all of it, and be done with it!"
"I don't see much good that would do. It would be two rich people in place of one, and the two would not be so grand as you. That would not have done for father at all. He liked you to be a great heiress, and everybody to wonder at you, and then to give your money away like a queen. I like it too," said Jock, throwing up his head; "it satisfies the imagination: it is a kind of a fairy tale."
Lucy shook her head.
"He never thought how hard it would be upon me. A woman is never so well off as a man. Oh, if it had been you, Jock, and I only just your sister."
"Talking does not bring us any nearer a settlement," said Jock, with some impatience. "When will you do it, Lucy? Have you got to speak to old Rushton, or write to old Chervil, or what? or can't you just draw them a cheque? I suppose about ten thousand or so would be enough. And it is as easy to do it at one time as another. Why not to-morrow, Lucy?
and then you would have it off your mind."
This proposal took away Lucy's breath. She thought with a gasp of Sir Tom and the look with which he would regard her--the laugh, the amused incredulity. He would not be unkind, and her right to do it was quite well established and certain. But she shrank within herself when she thought how he would look at her, and her heart jumped into her throat as she realised that perhaps he might not laugh only. How could she stand before him and carry her own war in opposition to his? Her whole being trembled even with the idea of conflict. "Oh, Jock, it is not just so easily managed as that," she said faltering; "there are several things to think of. I will have to let the trustees know, and it must all be calculated."
"There is not much need for calculation," said Jock, "that is just about it. Five per cent is what you get for money. You had better send the cheque for it, Lucy, and then let the old duffers know of it afterwards.
One would think you were afraid!"
"Oh, no," said Lucy, with a slight s.h.i.+ver, "I am not afraid." And then she added, with growing hesitation, "I must--speak to---- Oh! Is it you, Tom?" She made a sudden start from Jock's side, who was standing close by her, argumentative and eager, and whose bewildered spectators.h.i.+p of her guilty surprise and embarra.s.sment she was conscious of through all.
"Yes, it is I," said Sir Tom, putting his hand upon her shoulders; "you must have been up to some mischief, Jock and you, or you would not look so frightened. What is the secret?" he said, with his genial laugh. But when he looked from Jock, astonished but resentful and lowering, to Lucy, all trembling and pale with guilt, even Sir Tom, who was not suspicious, was startled. His little Lucy! What had she been plotting that made her look so scared at his appearance? Or was it something that had been told to her, some secret accusation against himself? This startled Sir Tom also a little, and it was with a sudden gravity, not unmingled with resentment, that he added, "Come! I mean to know what it is."
AN INNOCENT CONSPIRACY.
"It was only something that Jock was saying," said Lucy, "but, Tom, I will tell you another time. I wish you had come in before Lady Randolph went upstairs. I think she was a little disappointed to have only me."
"Did she share Jock's secret?" Sir Tom said with a keen look of inquiry.
It is perhaps one advantage in the dim light which fas.h.i.+on delights in, that it is less easy to scrutinise the secrets of a face.
"We are all a little put wrong when you do not come in," said Lucy. The cunning which weakness finds refuge in when it has to defend itself came to her aid. "Jock is shy when you are not here. He thinks he bores Lady Randolph; and so we ladies are left to our own devices."
"Jock must not be so sensitive," Sir Tom said; but he was not satisfied.
It occurred to him suddenly (for schoolboys are terrible gossips) that the boy might have heard something which he had been repeating to Lucy.
Nothing could have been more unlikely, had he thought of it, than that Jock should carry tales on such a subject. But we do not stop to argue out matters when our own self-regard is in question. He looked at the two with a doubtful and suspicious eye.
"He will get over it as he grows older," said Lucy; but she gave her brother a look which to Sir Tom seemed one of warning, and he was irritated by it; he looked from one to another and he laughed; but not with the genial laugh which was his best known utterance.
"You are prodigiously on your guard," he said. "I suppose you have your reasons for it. Have you been confiding the Masons' secret or something of that awful character to her, Jock?"
"Why shouldn't I tell him?" cried Jock with great impatience. "What is the use of making all those signs? It's nothing of the sort. It's only I've heard of somebody that is poor--somebody she ought to know of--the sort of thing that is meant in father's will."
"Oh!" said Sir Tom. It was the simplest of exclamations, but it meant much. He was partially relieved that it was not gossip, but yet more gravely annoyed than if it had been.
Lucy made haste to interpose.
"I will tell you afterwards," she said. "If I made signs, as Jock said, it was only that I might tell it you, Tom, myself, when there was more time."
"I am at no loss for time," said Sir Tom, placing himself in the vacant chair. The others were both standing, as became this accidental moment before bed-time. And Lucy had been on thorns to get away, even before her husband appeared. She had wanted to escape from the discussion even with Jock. She had wanted to steal into the nursery, and see that her boy was asleep, to feel his little forehead with her soft hand, and make sure there was no fever. To be betrayed into a prolonged and agitating discussion now was very provoking, very undesirable; and Lucy had grown rather cowardly and anxious to push away from her, as far as she could, everything that did not belong to the moment.
"Tom," she said, a little tremulously, "I wish you would put it off till to-morrow. I am--rather sleepy; it is nearly eleven o'clock, and I always run in to see how little Tom is going on. Besides," she added, with a little anxiety which was quite fict.i.tious, "it is keeping Fletcher up----"
"I am not afraid of Fletcher, Lucy."
"Oh! but I am," she said. "I will tell you about it to-morrow. There is nothing in the least settled, only Jock thought----"
"Settled!" Sir Tom said, with a curious look. "No, I hope not."
"Oh! nothing at all settled," said Lucy. She stood restlessly, now on one foot now on the other, eager for flight. She did not even observe the implied authority in this remark, at which Jock p.r.i.c.ked up his ears with incipient offence. "And Jock ought to be in bed--oh, yes, Jock, you ought. I am sure you are not allowed to sit up so late at school. Come now, there's a good boy--and I will just run and see how baby is."
She put her hand on her brother's arm to take him away with her, but Jock hung back, and Sir Tom interposed, "Now that I have just settled myself for a chat, you had better leave Jock with me at least, Lucy. Run away to your baby, that is all right. Jock and I will entertain each other. I respect his youth, you see, and don't try to seduce him into a cigar--you should be thankful to me for that."
"If I was not in sixth form," said Jock sharply, nettled by this indignity, "I should smoke; but it is bad form when you are high up in school. In the holidays I don't mind," he added, with careless grandeur, upon which Sir Tom, mollified, laughed as Lucy felt like himself.
"Off duty, eh?" he said, "that's a very fine sentiment, Jock. You may be sure it's bad form to do anything you have promised not to do. You will say that sounds like a copy-book. Come now, Lucy, are not you going, little woman? Do you want to have your share in the moralities?"
For this sudden change had somehow quenched Lucy's desire both to inspect the baby and get to bed. But what could she do? She looked very earnestly at Jock as she bade him good-night, but neither could she shake his respect for her husband by giving him any warning, nor offend her husband by any appearance of secret intelligence with Jock. Poor little Lucy went away after this through the stately rooms and up the grand staircase with a great tremor in her heart. There could not be a life more guarded and happy than hers had been--full of wealth, full of love, not a crumpled rose-leaf to disturb her comfort. But as she stole along the dim corridor to the nursery her heart was beating full of all the terrors that make other hearts to ache. She was afraid for the child's life, which was the worst of all, and looked with a suppressed yet terrible panic into the dark future which contained she knew not what for him. And she was afraid of her husband, the kindest man in the world, not knowing how he might take the discovery he had just made, fearing to disclose her mind to him, finding herself guilty in the mere idea of hiding anything from him. And she was afraid of Jock, that he would irritate Sir Tom, or be irritated by him, or that some wretched breach or quarrel might arise between these two. Jock was not an ordinary boy; there was no telling how he might take any reproof that might be addressed to him--perhaps with the utmost reasonableness, perhaps with a rapid defiance. Lady Randolph thus, though no harm had befallen her, had come into the usual heritage of humanity, and was as anxious and troubled as most of us are; though she was so happy and well off. She was on thorns to know what was pa.s.sing in the room she had just left.
This was all that pa.s.sed. Jock, standing up against the mantelpiece, looked down somewhat lowering upon Sir Tom in the easy chair. He expected to be questioned, and had made up his mind, though with great indignation at the idea that any one should find fault with Lucy, to take the whole blame upon himself. That Lucy should not be free to carry out her duty as seemed to her best was to Jock intolerable. He had put his boyish faith in her all his life. Even since the time, a very early one, when Jock had felt himself much cleverer than Lucy; even when he had been obliged to make up his mind that Lucy was not clever at all--he had still believed in her. She had a mission in the world which separated her from other women. n.o.body else had ever had the same thing to do. Many people had dispensed charities and founded hospitals, but Lucy's office in the world was of a different description--and Jock had faith in her power to do it. To see her wavering was trouble to him, and the discovery he had just made of something beneath the surface, a latent opposition in her husband which she plainly shrank from encountering, gave the boy a shock from which it was not easy to recover. He had always liked Sir Tom; but if---- One thing, however, was apparent, if there was any blame, anything to find fault with, it was he, Jock, and not Lucy, that must bear that blame.
"So, Jock, Lucy thinks you should be in bed. When do they put out your lights at school? In my time we were up to all manner of tricks. I remember a certain dark lantern that was my joy; but that was in old Keate's time, you know, who never trusted the fellows. You are under a better rule now."
This took away Jock's breath, who had been prepared for a sterner interrogation. He answered with a sudden blush, but with the rallying of all his forces: "I light them again sometimes. It's hard on a fellow, don't you think, sir, when he's not sleepy and has a lot to do?"
"I never had much experience of that," said Sir Tom. "We were always sleepy, and never did anything in my time. It was for larking, I'm afraid, that we wanted light. And so it is seen on me, Jock. You will be a fellow of your college, whereas I----"
"I don't think so," said Jock generously. "That construe you gave me, don't you remember, last half? MTutor says it is capital. He says he couldn't have done it so well. Of course, that is his modest way," the boy added, "for everybody knows there isn't such another scholar! but that's what he says."
Sir Tom Part 7
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Sir Tom Part 7 summary
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