Sir Tom Part 8

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Sir Tom laughed, and a slight suffusion of colour appeared on his face.

He was pleased with this unexpected applause. At five-and-forty, after knocking about the world for years, and "never opening a book," as people say, to have given a good "construe" is a feather in one's cap.

"To be second to your tutor is all a man has to hope for," he said, with that mellow laugh which it was so pleasant to hear. "I hope I know my place, Jock. We had no such G.o.dlike beings in my time. Old Puck, as we used to call him, was my tutor. He had a red nose, which was the chief feature in his character. He looked upon us all as his natural enemies, and we paid him back with interest. Did I ever tell of that time when we were going to Ascot in a cab, four of us, and he caught sight of the turn-out?"

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

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

And Sir Tom enjoyed his own joke so much that he did not know that it was from the lips only that his young companion's laugh came. He got up and patted Jock on the shoulders with the utmost benevolence when this pastime was done.

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

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

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly,"

he said to himself; then laughed again, as he took his way upstairs, at the over-significance of the words. He was not going to murder anybody; only when the moment proved favourable, for once and only once, seeing it was inevitable, he had to bring under lawful authority--an easy task--the gentle little feminine creature who was his wife.



Lucy knew nothing of this till the next forenoon after breakfast, and after the many morning occupations which a lady has in her own house.

She looked wistfully at both her brother and her husband when they met at table, and it was a great consolation to her, and lightening of her heart, when she perceived that they were quite at ease with each other; but still she was burning with curiosity to know what had pa.s.sed. Sir Tom had not said a word. He had been just as usual, not even looking a consciousness of the unexplained question between them. She was glad and yet half sorry that all was about to blow over, and to be as if it had not been. After going so far, perhaps it would have been better that it had gone farther and that the matter had been settled. This she said to herself in the security of a respite, believing that it had pa.s.sed away from Sir Tom's mind. She wanted to know, and yet she was afraid to ask, for her heart revolted against asking questions of Jock which might betray to him the fear of a possible quarrel. After she had superintended little Tom's toilet, and watched him go out for his walk (for the weather was very mild for the time of the year), and seen Mrs.

Freshwater, the housekeeper, and settled about the dinner, always with a little quiver of anxiety in her heart, she met Jock by a happy chance, just as she was about to join Lady Randolph in the drawing-room. She seized his arm with energy, and drew him within the door of the library; but after she had done this with an eagerness not to be disguised, Lucy suddenly remembered all that it was inexpedient for her to betray to Jock. Accordingly she stopped short, as it were, on the threshold, and instead of saying as she had intended, "What did he say to you?" dropped down into the routine question, "Where are you going--were you going out?"

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

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

"Stuff, Lucy!" said Jock.

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

"That's all bosh," said the boy. "And if you want to know what he said to me last night, he just said nothing at all, but told me old stories of school that I've heard a hundred times. These old d---- fellows,"

(Jock did not swear; he was going to say duffers, that was all) "always talk like that. One would think they had not had much fun in their life when they are always turning back upon school," Jock added, with fine sarcasm.

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

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

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

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

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

Then Lucy pursued her way to the drawing-room: but she had not gone many steps before she met her husband, who stopped and asked her a question or two. Had the boy gone out? It was so fine it would do him good, poor little beggar; and where was her ladys.h.i.+p going? When he heard she was going to join the Dowager, Sir Tom smilingly took her hand and drew it within his own. "Then come here with me for a minute first," he said.

And strange to say, Lucy had no fear. She allowed him to have his way, thinking it was to show her something, perhaps to ask her advice on some small matter. He took her into a little room he had, full of trophies of his travels, a place more distinctively his own than any other in the house. When he had closed the door a faint little thrill of alarm came over her. She looked up at him wondering, inquiring. Sir Tom took her by her arms and drew her towards him in the full light of the window. "Come and let me look at you, Lucy," he said. "I want to see in your eyes what it is that makes you afraid of me."

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

"Then have you ceased to trust me, Lucy? How is it that you discuss the most important matters with Jock, who is only a boy, and leave me out?

You do not think that can be agreeable to me."

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

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

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

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

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

"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 s.e.x 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 s.e.x.

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 fas.h.i.+on, 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!"

Sir Tom Part 8

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Sir Tom Part 8 summary

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