The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER LV.


At this time Grace Crawley was at Framley Parsonage. Old Lady Lufton’s strategy had been quite intelligible, but some people said that in point of etiquette and judgment and moral conduct, it was indefensible. Her vicar, Mr. Robarts, had been selected to be one of the clergymen who was to sit in ecclesiastical judgment upon Mr. Crawley, and while he was so sitting Mr. Crawley’s daughter was staying in Mr. Robarts’ house as a visitor with his wife! It might be that there was no harm in this. Lady Lufton, when the apparent impropriety was pointed out to her by no less a person than Archdeacon Grantly, ridiculed the idea. “My dear archdeacon,” Lady Lufton had said, “we all know the bishop to be such a fool and the bishop’s wife to be such a knave, that we cannot allow ourselves to be governed in this matter by ordinary rules. Do you not think that it is expedient to show how utterly we disregard his judgment and her malice?” The archdeacon had hesitated much before he spoke to Lady Lufton, whether he should address himself to her or to Mr. Robarts,—or indeed to Mrs. Robarts. But he had become aware that the proposition as to the visit had originated with Lady Lufton, and he had therefore decided on speaking to her. He had not condescended to say a word as to his son, nor would he so condescend. Nor could he go from Lady Lufton to Mr. Robarts, having once failed with her ladyship. Indeed, in giving him his due, we must acknowledge that his disapprobation of Lady Lufton’s strategy arose rather from his true conviction as to its impropriety, than from any fear lest this attention paid to Miss Crawley should tend to bring about her marriage with his son. By this time he hated the very name of Crawley. He hated it the more because in hating it he had to put himself for the time on the same side with Mrs. Proudie. But for all that he would not condescend to any unworthy mode of fighting. He thought it wrong that the young lady should be invited to Framley Parsonage at this moment, and he said so to the person who had, as he thought, in truth, given the invitation; but he would not allow his own personal motives to induce him to carry on the argument with Lady Lufton. “The bishop is a fool,” he said, “and the bishop’s wife is a knave. Nevertheless I would not have had the young lady over to Framley at this moment. If, however, you think it right and Robarts thinks it right, there is an end of it.”

“Upon my word we do,” said Lady Lufton.

I am induced to think that Mr. Robarts was not quite confident of the expediency of what he was doing by the way in which he mentioned to Mr. Oriel the fact of Miss Crawley’s presence at the parsonage as he drove that gentleman home in his gig. They had been talking about Mr. Crawley when he suddenly turned himself round, so that he could look at his companion, and said, “Miss Crawley is staying with us at the parsonage at the present moment.”

“What! Mr. Crawley’s daughter?” said Mr. Oriel, showing plainly by his voice that the tidings had much surprised him.

“Yes; Mr. Crawley’s daughter.”

“Oh, indeed. I did not know that you were on those terms with the family.”

“We have known them for the last seven or eight years,” said Mark; “and though I should be giving you a false notion if I were to say that I myself have known them intimately,—for Crawley is a man whom it is quite impossible to know intimately,—yet the womankind at Framley have known them. My sister stayed with them over at Hogglestock for some time.”

“What; Lady Lufton?”

“Yes; my sister Lucy. It was just before her marriage. There was a lot of trouble, and the Crawleys were all ill, and she went to nurse them. And then the old lady took them up, and altogether there came to be a sort of feeling that they were to be regarded as friends. They are always in trouble, and now in this special trouble the women between them have thought it best to have the girl over at Framley. Of course I had a kind of feeling about this commission; but as I knew that it would make no difference with me I did not think it necessary to put my veto upon the visit.” Mr. Oriel said nothing further, but Mark Robarts was aware that Mr. Oriel did not quite approve of the visit.

That morning old Lady Lufton herself had come across to the parsonage with the express view of bidding all the parsonage party to come across to the hall to dine. “You can tell Mr. Oriel, Fanny, with Lucy’s compliments, how delighted she will be to see him.” Old Lady Lufton always spoke of her daughter-in-law as the mistress of the house. “If you think he is particular, you know, we will send a note across.” Mrs. Robarts said that she supposed Mr. Oriel would not be particular, but, looking at Grace, made some faint excuse. “You must come, my dear,” said Lady Lufton. “Lucy wishes it particularly.” Mrs. Robarts did not know how to say that she would not come; and so the matter stood,—when Mrs. Robarts was called upon to leave the room for a moment, and Lady Lufton and Grace were left alone.

“Dear Lady Lufton,” said Grace, getting up suddenly from her chair; “will you do me a favour,—a great favour?” She spoke with an energy which quite surprised the old lady, and caused her almost to start from her seat.

“I don’t like making promises,” said Lady Lufton; “but anything I can do with propriety I will.”

“You can do this. Pray let me stay here to-day. You don’t understand how I feel about going out while papa is in this way. I know how kind and how good you all are; and when dear Mrs. Robarts asked me here, and mamma said that I had better come, I could not refuse. But indeed, indeed, I had rather not go out to a dinner-party.”

“It is not a party, my dear girl,” said Lady Lufton, with the kindest voice which she knew how to assume. “And you must remember that my daughter-in-law regards you as so very old a friend! You remember, of course, when she was staying over at Hogglestock?”

“Indeed I do. I remember it well.”

“And therefore you should not regard it as going out. There will be nobody there but ourselves and the people from this house.”

“But it will be going out, Lady Lufton; and I do hope you will let me stay here. You cannot think how I feel it. Of course I cannot go without something like dressing, and—and—and— In poor papa’s state I feel that I ought not to do anything that looks like gaiety. I ought never to forget it;—not for a moment.”

There was a tear in Lady Lufton’s eye as she said,—”My dear, you shan’t come. You and Fanny shall stop and dine here by yourselves. The gentlemen shall come.”

“Do let Mrs. Robarts go, please,” said Grace.

“I won’t do anything of the kind,” said Lady Lufton. Then, when Mrs. Robarts returned to the room, her ladyship explained it all in two words. “Whilst you have been away, my dear, Grace has begged off, and therefore we have decided that Mr. Oriel and Mr. Robarts shall come without you.”

“I am so sorry, Mrs. Robarts,” said Grace.

“Pooh, pooh,” said Lady Lufton. “Fanny and I have known each other quite long enough not to stand on any compliments,—haven’t we, my dear? I must get home now, as all the morning has gone by. Fanny my dear, I want to speak to you.” Then she expressed her opinion of Grace Crawley as she walked across the parsonage garden with Mrs. Robarts. “She is a very nice girl, and a very good girl I am sure; and she shows excellent feeling. Whatever happens we must take care of her. And, Fanny, have you observed how handsome she is?”

“We think her very pretty.”

“She is more than pretty when she has a little fire in her eyes. She is downright handsome,—or will be when she fills out a little. I tell you what, my dear; she’ll make havoc with somebody yet; you see if she doesn’t. By—by. Tell the two gentlemen to be up by seven punctually.” And then Lady Lufton went home.

Grace so contrived that Mr. Oriel came and went without seeing her. There was a separate nursery breakfast at the parsonage, and by special permission Grace was allowed to have her tea and bread-and-butter on the next morning with the children. “I thought you told me Miss Crawley was here,” said Mr. Oriel, as the two clergymen stood waiting for the gig that was to take the visitor away to Barchester.

“So she is,” said Robarts; “but she likes to hide herself, because of her father’s trouble. You can’t blame her.”

“No, indeed,” said Mr. Oriel.

“Poor girl. If you knew her you would not only pity her, but like her.”

“Is she,—what you call—?”

“You mean, is she a lady?”

“Of course she is by birth, and all that,” said Mr. Oriel, apologizing for his inquiry.

“I don’t think there is another girl in the county so well educated,” said Mr. Robarts.

“Indeed! I had no idea of that.”

“And we think her a great beauty. As for manners, I never saw a girl with a prettier way of her own.”

“Dear me,” said Mr. Oriel. “I wish she had come down to breakfast.”

It will have been perceived that old Lady Lufton had heard nothing of Major Grantly’s offence; that she had no knowledge that Grace had already made havoc, as she had called it,—had, in truth, made very sad havoc, at Plumstead. She did not, therefore, think much about it when her son told her upon her return home from the parsonage on that afternoon that Major Grantly had come over from Cosby Lodge, and that he was going to dine and sleep at Framley Court. Some slight idea of thankfulness came across her mind that she had not betrayed Grace Crawley into a meeting with a stranger. “I asked him to come some day before we went up to town,” said his lordship; “and I am glad he has come to-day, as two clergymen to one’s self are, at any rate, one too many.” So Major Grantly dined and slept at the Court.

But Mrs. Robarts was in a great flurry when she was told of this by her husband on his return from the dinner. Mrs. Crawley had found an opportunity of telling the story of Major Grantly’s love to Mrs. Robarts before she had sent her daughter to Framley, knowing that the families were intimate, and thinking it right that there should be some precaution.

“I wonder whether he will come up here,” Mrs. Robarts had said.

“Probably not,” said the vicar. “He said he was going home early.”

“I hope he will not come—for Grace’s sake,” said Mrs. Robarts. She hesitated whether she should tell her husband. She always did tell him everything. But on this occasion she thought she had no right to do so, and she kept the secret. “Don’t do anything to bring him up, dear.”

“You needn’t be afraid. He won’t come,” said the vicar. On the following morning, as soon as Mr. Oriel was gone, Mr. Robarts went out,—about his parish he would probably have called it; but in half an hour he might have been seen strolling about the Court stable-yard with Lord Lufton. “Where is Grantly?” asked the vicar. “I don’t know where he is,” said his lordship. “He has sloped off somewhere.” The major had sloped off to the parsonage, well knowing in what nest his dove was lying hid; and he and the vicar had passed each other. The major had gone out at the front gate, and the vicar had gone in at the stable entrance.

The two clergymen had hardly taken their departure when Major Grantly knocked at the parsonage door. He had come so early that Mrs. Robarts had taken no precautions,—even had there been any precautions which she would have thought it right to take. Grace was in the act of coming down the stairs, not having heard the knock at the door, and thus she found her lover in the hall. He had asked, of course, for Mrs. Robarts, and thus they two entered the drawing-room together. They had not had time to speak when the servant opened the drawing-room door to announce the visitor. There had been no word spoken between Mrs. Robarts and Grace about Major Grantly, but the mother had told the daughter of what she had said to Mrs. Robarts.

“Grace,” said the major, “I am so glad to find you!” Then he turned to Mrs. Robarts with his open hand. “You won’t take it uncivil of me if I say that my visit is not entirely to yourself? I think I may take upon myself to say that I and Miss Crawley are old friends. May I not?”

Grace could not answer a word. “Mrs. Crawley told me that you had known her at Silverbridge,” said Mrs. Robarts, driven to say something, but feeling that she was blundering.

“I came over to Framley yesterday because I heard that she was here. Am I wrong to come up here to see her?”

“I think she must answer that for herself, Major Grantly.”

“Am I wrong, Grace?” Grace thought that he was the finest gentleman and the noblest lover that had ever shown his devotion to a woman, and was stirred by a mighty resolve that if it ever should be in her power to reward him after any fashion, she would pour out the reward with a very full hand indeed. But what was she to say on the present moment? “Am I wrong, Grace?” he said, repeating his question with so much emphasis, that she was positively driven to answer it.

“I do not think you are wrong at all. How can I say you are wrong when you are so good? If I could be your servant I would serve you. But I can be nothing to you, because of papa’s disgrace. Dear Mrs. Robarts, I cannot stay. You must answer him for me.” And having thus made her speech she escaped from the room.

“Because of Papa′s disgrace.”

It may suffice to say further now that the major did not see Grace again during that visit at Framley.