Read CHAPTER LV of Orley Farm , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

WHAT TOOK PLACE IN HARLEY STREET

“Tom, I’ve come back again,” said Mrs. Furnival, as soon as the dining-room door was closed behind her back.

“I’m very glad to see you; I am indeed,” said he, getting up and putting out his hand to her.  “But I really never knew why you went away.”

“Oh yes, you know.  I’m sure you know why I went.  But ­”

“I’ll be shot if I did then.”

“I went away because I did not like Lady Mason going to your chambers.”

“Psha!”

“Yes; I know I was wrong, Tom.  That is I was wrong ­about that.”

“Of course you were, Kitty.”

“Well; don’t I say I was?  And I’ve come back again, and I beg your pardon; ­that is about the lady.”

“Very well.  Then there’s an end of it.”

“But Tom; you know I’ve been provoked.  Haven’t I now?  How often have you been home to dinner since you have been member of parliament for that place?”

“I shall be more at home now, Kitty.”

“Shall you indeed?  Then I’ll not say another word to vex you.  What on earth can I want, Tom, except just that you should sit at home with me sometimes on evenings, as you used to do always in the old days?  And as for Martha Biggs ­”

“Is she come back too?”

“Oh dear no.  She’s in Red Lion Square.  And I’m sure, Tom, I never had her here except when you wouldn’t dine at home.  I wonder whether you know how lonely it is to sit down to dinner all by oneself!”

“Why; I do it every other day of my life.  And I never think of sending for Martha Biggs; I promise you that.”

“She isn’t very nice, I know,” said Mrs. Furnival ­“that is, for gentlemen.”

“I should say not,” said Mr. Furnival.  Then the reconciliation had been effected, and Mrs. Furnival went up stairs to prepare for dinner, knowing that her husband would be present, and that Martha Biggs would not.  And just as she was taking her accustomed place at the head of the table, almost ashamed to look up lest she should catch Spooner’s eye who was standing behind his master, Rachel went off in a cab to Orange Street, commissioned to pay what might be due for the lodgings, to bring back her mistress’s boxes, and to convey the necessary tidings to Miss Biggs.

“Well I never!” said Martha, as she listened to Rachel’s story.

“And they’re quite loving I can assure you,” said Rachel.

“It’ll never last,” said Miss Biggs triumphantly ­“never.  It’s been done too sudden to last.”

“So I’ll say good-night if you please, Miss Biggs,” said Rachel, who was in a hurry to get back to Harley Street.

“I think she might have come here before she went there; especially as it wasn’t anything out of her way.  She couldn’t have gone shorter than Bloomsbury Square, and Russell Square, and over Tottenham Court Road.”

“Missus didn’t think of that, I dare say.”

“She used to know the way about these parts well enough.  But give her my love, Rachel.”  Then Martha Biggs was again alone, and she sighed deeply.

It was well that Mrs. Furnival came back so quickly to her own house, as it saved the scandal of any domestic quarrel before her daughter.  On the following day Sophia returned, and as harmony was at that time reigning in Harley Street, there was no necessity that she should be presumed to know anything of what had occurred.  That she did know, ­know exactly what her mother had done, and why she had done it, and how she had come back, leaving Martha Biggs dumfounded by her return, is very probable, for Sophia Furnival was a clever girl, and one who professed to understand the inns and outs of her own family, ­and perhaps of some other families.  But she behaved very prettily to her papa and mamma on the occasion, never dropping a word which could lead either of them to suppose that she had interrogated Rachel, been confidential with the housemaid, conversed on the subject ­even with Spooner, and made a morning call on Martha Biggs herself.

There arose not unnaturally some conversation between the mother and daughter as to Lady Mason; ­not as to Lady Mason’s visits to Lincoln’s Inn and their impropriety as formerly presumed; ­not at all as to that; but in respect to her present lamentable position and that engagement which had for a time existed between her and Sir Peregrine Orme.  On this latter subject Mrs. Furnival had of course heard nothing during her interview with Mrs. Orme at Noningsby.  At that time Lady Mason had formed the sole subject of conversation; but in explaining to Mrs. Furnival that there certainly could be no unhallowed feeling between her husband and the lady, Mrs. Orme had not thought it necessary to allude to Sir Peregrine’s past intentions.  Mrs. Furnival, however, had heard the whole matter discussed in the railway carriage, had since interrogated her husband, ­learning, however, not very much from him, ­and now inquired into all the details from her daughter.

“And she and Sir Peregrine were really to be married?” Mrs. Furnival, as she asked the question, thought with confusion of her own unjust accusations against the poor woman.  Under such circumstances as those Lady Mason must of course have been innocent as touching Mr. Furnival.

“Yes,” said Sophia.  “There is no doubt whatsoever that they were engaged.  Sir Peregrine told Lady Staveley so himself.”

“And now it’s all broken off again?”

“Oh yes; it is all broken off now.  I believe the fact to be this.  Lord Alston, who lives near Noningsby, is a very old friend of Sir Peregrine’s.  When he heard of it he went to The Cleeve ­I know that for certain; ­and I think he talked Sir Peregrine out of it.”

“But, my conscience, Sophia ­after he had made her the offer!”

“I fancy that Mrs. Orme arranged it all.  Whether Lord Alston saw her or not I don’t know.  My belief is that Lady Mason behaved very well all through, though they say very bitter things against her at Noningsby.”

“Poor thing!” said Mrs. Furnival, the feelings of whose heart were quite changed as regarded Lady Mason.

“I never knew a woman so badly treated.”  Sophia had her own reasons for wishing to make the best of Lady Mason’s case.  “And for myself I do not see why Sir Peregrine should not have married her if he pleased.”

“He is rather old, my dear.”

“People don’t think so much about that now-a-days as they used.  If he liked it, and she too, who had a right to say anything?  My idea is that a man with any spirit would have turned Lord Alston out of the house.  What business had he to interfere?”

“But about the trial, Sophia?”

“That will go on.  There’s no doubt about that.  But they all say that it’s the most unjust thing in the world, and that she must be proved innocent.  I heard the judge say so myself.”

“But why are they allowed to try her then?”

“Oh, papa will tell you that.”

“I never like to bother your papa about law business.”  Particularly not, Mrs. Furnival, when he has a pretty woman for his client!

“My wonder is that she should make herself so unhappy about it,” continued Sophia.  “It seems that she is quite broken down.”

“But won’t she have to go and sit in the court, ­with all the people staring at her?”

“That won’t kill her,” said Sophia, who felt that she herself would not perish under any such process.  “If I was sure that I was in the right, I think that I could hold up my head against all that.  But they say that she is crushed to the earth.”

“Poor thing!” said Mrs. Furnival.  “I wish that I could do anything for her.”  And in this way they talked the matter over very comfortably.

Two or three days after this Sophia Furnival was sitting alone in the drawing-room in Harley Street, when Spooner answered a double knock at the door, and Lucius Mason was shown up stairs.  Mrs. Furnival had gone to make her peace in Red Lion Square, and there may perhaps be ground for supposing that Lucius had cause to expect that Miss Furnival might be seen at this hour without interruption.  Be that as it may, she was found alone, and he was permitted to declare his purpose unmolested by father, mother, or family friends.

“You remember how we parted at Noningsby,” said he, when their first greetings were well over.

“Oh, yes; I remember it very well.  I do not easily forget words such as were spoken then.”

“You said that you would never turn away from me.”

“Nor will I; ­that is with reference to the matter as to which we were speaking.”

“Is our friendship then to be confined to one subject?”

“By no means.  Friendship cannot be so confined, Mr. Mason.  Friendship between true friends must extend to all the affairs of life.  What I meant to say was this ­ But I am quite sure that you understand me without any explanation.”

He did understand her.  She meant to say that she had promised to him her sympathy and friendship, but nothing more.  But then he had asked for nothing more.  The matter of doubt within his own heart was this.  Should he or should he not ask for more; and if he resolved on answering this question in the affirmative, should he ask for it now?  He had determined that morning that he would come to some fixed purpose on this matter before he reached Harley Street.  As he crossed out of Oxford Street from the omnibus he had determined that the present was no time for love-making; ­walking up Regent Street, he had told himself that if he had one faithful heart to bear him company he could bear his troubles better; ­as he made his way along the north side of Cavendish Square he pictured to himself what would be the wound to his pride if he were rejected; ­and in passing the ten or twelve houses which intervened in Harley Street between the corner of the square and the abode of his mistress, he told himself that the question must be answered by circumstances.

“Yes, I understand you,” he said.  “And believe me in this ­I would not for worlds encroach on your kindness.  I knew that when I pressed your hand that night, I pressed the hand of a friend, ­and nothing more.”

“Quite so,” said Sophia.  Sophia’s wit was usually ready enough, but at that moment she could not resolve with what words she might make the most appropriate reply to her ­friend.  What she did say was rather lame, but it was not dangerous.

“Since that I have suffered a great deal,” said Lucius.  “Of course you know that my mother has been staying at The Cleeve?”

“Oh yes.  I believe she left it only a day or two since.”

“And you heard perhaps of her .  I hardly know how to tell you, if you have not heard it.”

“If you mean about Sir Peregrine, I have heard of that.”

“Of course you have.  All the world has heard of it.”  And Lucius Mason got up and walked about the room holding his hand to his brow.  “All the world are talking about it.  Miss Furnival, you have never known what it is to blush for a parent.”

Miss Furnival at the moment felt a sincere hope that Mr. Mason might never hear of Mrs. Furnival’s visit to the neighbourhood of Orange Street and of the causes which led to it, and by no means thought it necessary to ask for her friend’s sympathy on that subject.  “No,” said she, “I never have; nor need you do so for yours.  Why should not Lady Mason have married Sir Peregrine Orme, if they both thought such a marriage fitting?”

“What; at such a time as this; with these dreadful accusations running in her ears?  Surely this was no time for marrying!  And what has come of it?  People now say that he has rejected her and sent her away.”

“Oh no.  They cannot say that.”

“But they do.  It is reported that Sir Peregrine has sent her away because he thinks her to be guilty.  That I do not believe.  No honest man, no gentleman, could think her guilty.  But is it not dreadful that such things should be said?”

“Will not the trial take place very shortly now?  When that is once over all these troubles will be at an end.”

“Miss Furnival, I sometimes think that my mother will hardly have strength to sustain the trial.  She is so depressed that I almost fear her mind will give way; and the worst of it is that I am altogether unable to comfort her.”

“Surely that at present should specially be your task.”

“I cannot do it.  What should I say to her?  I think that she is wrong in what she is doing; thoroughly, absolutely wrong.  She has got about her a parcel of lawyers.  I beg your pardon, Miss Furnival, but you know I do not mean such as your father.”

“But has not he advised it?”

“If so I cannot but think he is wrong.  They are the very scum of the gaols; men who live by rescuing felons from the punishment they deserve.  What can my mother require of such services as theirs?  It is they that frighten her and make her dread all manner of evils.  Why should a woman who knows herself to be good and just fear anything that the law can do to her?”

“I can easily understand that such a position as hers must be very dreadful.  You must not be hard upon her, Mr. Mason, because she is not as strong as you might be.”

“Hard upon her!  Ah, Miss Furnival, you do not know me.  If she would only accept my love I would wait upon her as a mother does upon her infant.  No labour would be too much for me; no care would be too close.  But her desire is that this affair should never be mentioned between us.  We are living now in the same house, and though I see that this is killing her yet I may not speak of it.”  Then he got up from his chair, and as he walked about the room he took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes.

“I wish I could comfort you,” said she.  And in saying so she spoke the truth.  By nature she was not tender hearted, but now she did sympathise with him.  By nature, too, she was not given to any deep affection, but she did feel some spark of love for Lucius Mason.  “I wish I could comfort you.”  And as she spoke she also got up from her chair.

“And you can,” said he, suddenly stopping himself and coming close to her.  “You can comfort me, ­in some degree.  You and you only can do so.  I know this is no time for declarations of love.  Were it not that we are already so much to each other, I would not indulge myself at such a moment with such a wish.  But I have no one whom I can love; and ­it is very hard to bear.”  And then he stood, waiting for her answer, as though he conceived that he had offered her his hand.

But Miss Furnival well knew that she had received no offer.  “If my warmest sympathy can be of service to you ­”

“It is your love I want,” he said, taking her hand as he spoke.  “Your love, so that I may look on you as my wife; ­your acceptance of my love, so that we may be all in all to each other.  There is my hand.  I stand before you now as sad a man as there is in all London.  But there is my hand ­will you take it and give me yours in pledge of your love.”

I should be unjust to Lucius Mason were I to omit to say that he played his part with a becoming air.  Unhappiness and a melancholy mood suited him perhaps better than the world’s ordinary good-humour.  He was a man who looked his best when under a cloud, and shone the brightest when everything about him was dark.  And Sophia also was not unequal to the occasion.  There was, however, this difference between them.  Lucius was quite honest in all that he said and did upon the occasion; whereas Miss Furnival was only half honest.  Perhaps she was not capable of a higher pitch of honesty than that.

“There is my hand,” said she; and they stood holding each other, palm to palm.

“And with it your heart?” said Lucius.

“And with it my heart,” answered Sophia.  Nor as she spoke did she hesitate for a moment, or become embarrassed, or lose her command of feature.  Had Augustus Staveley gone through the same ceremony at Noningsby in the same way I am inclined to think that she would have made the same answer.  Had neither done so, she would not on that account have been unhappy.  What a blessed woman would Lady Staveley have been had she known what was being done in Harley Street at this moment!

In some short rhapsody of love it may be presumed that Lucius indulged himself when he found that the affair which he had in hand had so far satisfactorily arranged itself.  But he was in truth too wretched at heart for any true enjoyment of the delights of a favoured suitor.  They were soon engaged again on that terrible subject, seated side by side indeed and somewhat close, but the tone of their voices and their very words were hardly different from what they might have been had no troth been plighted between them.  His present plan was that Sophia should visit Orley Farm for a time, and take that place of dear and bosom friend which a woman circumstanced as was his mother must so urgently need.  We, my readers, know well who was now that loving friend, and we know also which was best fitted for such a task, Sophia Furnival or Mrs. Orme.  But we have had, I trust, better means of reading the characters of those ladies than had fallen to the lot of Lucius Mason, and should not be angry with him because his eyes were dark.

Sophia hesitated a moment before she answered this proposition, ­not as though she were slack in her love, or begrudged her services to his mother; but it behoved her to look carefully at the circumstances before she would pledge herself to such an arrangement as that.  If she went to Orley Farm on such a mission would it not be necessary to tell her father and mother, ­nay, to tell all the world that she was engaged to Lucius Mason; and would it be wise to make such a communication at the present moment?  Lucius said a word to her of going into court with his mother, and sitting with her, hand in hand, while that ordeal was passing by.  In the publicity of such sympathy there was something that suited the bearings of Miss Furnival’s mind, The idea that Lady Mason was guilty had never entered her head, and therefore, on this she thought there could be no disgrace in such a proceeding.  But nevertheless ­might it not be prudent to wait till that trial were over?

“If you are my wife you must be her daughter; and how can you better take a daughter’s part?” pleaded Lucius.

“No, no; and I would do it with my whole heart.  But, Lucius, does she know me well enough?  It is of her that we must think.  After all that you have told me, can we think that she would wish me to be there?”

It was his desire that his mother should learn to have such a wish, and this he explained to her.  He himself could do but little at home because he could not yield his opinion on those matters of importance as to which he and his mother differed so vitally; but if she had a woman with her in the house, ­such a woman as his own Sophia, ­then he thought her heart would be softened and part of her sorrow might be assuaged.

Sophia at last said that she would think about it.  It would be improper, she said, to pledge herself to anything rashly.  It might be that as her father was to defend Lady Mason, he might on that account object to his daughter being in the court.  Lucius declared that this would be unreasonable, ­unless indeed Mr. Furnival should object to his daughter’s engagement.  And might he not do so?  Sophia thought it very probable that he might.  It would make no difference in her, she said.  Her engagement would be equally binding, ­as permanently binding, let who would object to it.  And as she made this declaration, there was of course a little love scene.  But, for the present, it might be best that in this matter she should obey her father.  And then she pointed out how fatal it might be to avert her father from the cause while the trial was still pending.  Upon the whole she acted her part very prudently, and when Lucius left her she was pledged to nothing but that one simple fact of a marriage engagement.