Sir Tom Part 9

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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 att.i.tude, 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 n.o.body 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 fas.h.i.+on. 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 suns.h.i.+ne 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 G.o.d'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 circ.u.mstances 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 const.i.tutions 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 antic.i.p.ate 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 st.i.tches, 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 n.o.body came. Two or three times she thought she heard steps approaching, but n.o.body 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 n.o.body 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 n.o.body 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 suns.h.i.+ne, 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 sc.r.a.pe----"

"A sc.r.a.pe," said Lucy, "why should he have got into a sc.r.a.pe?" 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 a.s.sured 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 c.u.mulative, 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.

Sir Tom Part 9

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Sir Tom Part 9 summary

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