"No, mamma," she said in a low tone, pausing before she told the falsehood.
"I think it will be arranged that you shall go down to Yoxham. The people there even are beginning to know that we are right, and are willing to acknowledge us. The Earl, whom I cannot but love already for his gracious goodness, has himself declared that he will not carry on the suit. Mr. Goffe has told me that they are anxious to see you there. Of course you must go,—and will go as Lady Anna Lovel. Mr. Goffe says that some money can now be allowed from the estate, and you shall go as becomes the daughter of Earl Lovel when visiting among her cousins. You will see this young man there. If he means to love you and to be true to you, he will be much there. I do not doubt but that you will continue to like him. And remember this, Anna;—that even though your name be acknowledged,—even though all the wealth be adjudged to be your own,—even though some judge on the bench shall say that I am the widowed Countess Lovel, it may be all undone some day,—unless you become this young man's wife. That woman in Italy may be bolstered up at last, if you refuse him. But when you are once the wife of young Lord Lovel, no one then can harm us. There can be no going back after that." This the Countess said rather to promote the marriage, than from any fear of the consequences which she described. Daniel Thwaite was the enemy that now she dreaded, and not the Italian woman, or the Lovel family.
Lady Anna could only say that she would go to Yoxham, if she were invited there by Mrs. Lovel.
HAVE THEY SURRENDERED?
As all the world heard of what was going on, so did Daniel Thwaite hear it among others. He was a hard-working, conscientious, moody man, given much to silence among his fellow workmen;—one to whom life was serious enough; not a happy man, though he had before him a prospect of prosperity which would make most men happy. But he was essentially a tender-hearted, affectionate man, who could make a sacrifice of himself if he thought it needed for the happiness of one he loved. When he heard of this proposed marriage, he asked himself many questions as to his duty and as to the welfare of the girl. He did love her with all his heart, and he believed thoroughly in her affection for himself. He had, as yet, no sufficient reason to doubt that she would be true to him;—but he knew well that an earl's coronet must be tempting to a girl so circumstanced as was Lady Anna. There were moments in which he thought that it was almost his duty to give her up, and bid her go and live among those of her own rank. But then he did not believe in rank. He utterly disbelieved in it; and in his heart of hearts he felt that he would make a better and a fitter husband to this girl than would an earl, with all an earl's temptation to vice. He was ever thinking of some better world to which he might take her, which had not been contaminated by empty names and an impudent assumption of hereditary, and therefore false, dignity. As regarded the money, it would be hers whether she married him or the Earl. And if she loved him, as she had sworn that she did, why should he be false to her? Or why, as yet, should he think that she would prefer an empty, gilded lordling to the friend who had been her friend as far back as her memory could carry her? If she asked to be released, then indeed he would release her,—but not without explaining to her, with such eloquence as he might be able to use,—what it was she proposed to abandon, and what to take in place of that which she lost. He was a man, silent and under self-control, but self-confident also; and he did believe himself to be a better man than young Earl Lovel.
In making this resolution,—that he would give her back her troth if she asked for it, but not without expressing to her his thoughts as he did so,—he ignored the masterfulness of his own character. There are men who exercise dominion, from the nature of their disposition, and who do so from their youth upwards, without knowing, till advanced life comes upon them, that any power of dominion belongs to them. Men are persuasive, and imperious withal, who are unconscious that they use burning words to others, whose words to them are never even warm. So it was with this man when he spoke to himself in his solitude of his purpose of resigning the titled heiress. To the arguments, the entreaties, or the threats of others he would pay no heed. The Countess might bluster about her rank, and he would heed her not at all. He cared nothing for the whole tribe of Lovels. If Lady Anna asked for release, she should be released. But not till she had heard his words. How scalding these words might be, how powerful to prevent the girl from really choosing her own fate, he did not know himself.
Though he lived in the same house with her he seldom saw her,—unless when he would knock at the door of an evening, and say a few words to her mother rather than to her. Since Thomas Thwaite had left London for the last time the Countess had become almost cold to the young man. She would not have been so if she could have helped it; but she had begun to fear him, and she could not bring herself to be cordial to him either in word or manner. He perceived it at once, and became, himself, cold and constrained.
Once, and once only, he met Lady Anna alone, after his father's departure, and before her interview with Lord Lovel. Then he met her on the stairs of the house while her mother was absent at the lawyer's chambers.
"Are you here, Daniel, at this hour?" she asked, going back to the sitting-room, whither he followed her.
"I wanted to see you, and I knew that your mother would be out. It is not often that I do a thing in secret, even though it be to see the girl that I love."
"No, indeed. I do not see you often now."
"Does that matter much to you, Lady Anna?"
"I have been instructed, you know, that I am to call you so."
"Not by me, Daniel."
"No;—not by you; not as yet. Your mother's manners are much altered to me. Is it not so?"
"How can I tell? Mine are not."
"It is no question of manners, sweetheart, between you and me. It has not come to that, I hope. Do you wish for any change,—as regards me?"
"As to my love, there can be no change in that. If it suits your mother to be disdainful to me, I can bear it. I always thought that it would come to be so some day."
There was but little more said then. He asked her no further question;—none at least that it was difficult for her to answer,—and he soon took his leave. He was a passionate rather than a tender lover, and having once held her in his arms, and kissed her lips, and demanded from her a return of his caress, he was patient now to wait till he could claim them as his own. But, two days after the interview between Lord Lovel and his love, he a second time contrived to find her alone.
"I have come again," he said, "because I knew your mother is out. I would not trouble you with secret meetings but that just now I have much to say to you. And then, you may be gone from hence before I had even heard that you were going."
"I am always glad to see you, Daniel."
"Are you, my sweetheart? Is that true?"
"Indeed, indeed it is."
"I should be a traitor to doubt you,—and I do not doubt. I will never doubt you if you tell me that you love me."
"You know I love you."
"Tell me, Anna—; or shall I say Lady Anna?"
"Lady Anna,—if you wish to scorn me."
"Then never will I call you so, till it shall come to pass that I do wish to scorn you. But tell me. Is it true that Earl Lovel was with you the other day?"
"He was here the day before yesterday."
"And why did he come."
"Why did he come? you know that as far as I have yet heard he is still your mother's enemy and yours, and is persecuting you to rob you of your name and of your property. Did he come as a friend?"
"Oh, yes! certainly as a friend."
"But he still makes his claim."
"No;—he says that he will make it no longer, that he acknowledges mamma as my father's widow, and me as my father's heir."
"That is generous,—if that is all."
"And he does this without condition? There is nothing to be given to him to pay him for this surrender."
"There is nothing to give," she said, in that low, sweet, melancholy voice which was common to her always when she spoke of herself.
"You do not mean to deceive me, dear, I know; but there is a something to be given; and I am told that he has asked for it, or certainly will ask. And, indeed, I do not think that an earl, noble, but poverty-stricken, would surrender everything without making some counter claim which would lead him by another path to all that he has been seeking. Anna, you know what I mean."
"Yes; I know."
"Has he made no such claim."
"I cannot tell."
"You cannot tell whether or no he has asked you to be his wife?"
"No; I cannot tell. Do not look at me like that, Daniel. He came here, and mamma left us together, and he was kind to me. Oh! so kind. He said that he would be a cousin to me, and a brother."
"That was what he said."
"And he meant nothing more than that,—simply to be your brother?"
"I think he did mean more. I think he meant that he would try to love me so that he might be my husband."
"And what said you to that?"
"I told him that it could not be so."
"Why then again he said that we were cousins; that I had no nearer cousin anywhere, and that he would be good to me and help me, and that the lawsuit should not go on. Oh, Daniel, he was so good!"
"Was that all?"
"He kissed me, saying that cousins might kiss?"
"No, Anna;—cousins such as you and he may not kiss. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, I hear you."
"If you mean to be true to me, there must be no more of that. Do you not know that all this means that he is to win you to be his wife? Did he not come to you with that object?"
"I think he did, Daniel."
"I think so too, my dear. Surrender! I'll tell you what that surrender means. They perceive at last that they have not a shadow of justice, or even a shadow of a chance of unjust success in their claim. That with all their command of money, which is to be spent, however, out of your property, they can do nothing; that their false witnesses will not come to aid them; that they have not another inch of ground on which to stand. Their great lawyer, Sir William Patterson, dares not show himself in court with a case so false and fraudulent. At last your mother's rights and yours are to be owned. Then they turn themselves about, and think in what other way the prize may be won. It is not likely that such a prize should be surrendered by a noble lord. The young man is made to understand that he cannot have it all without a burden, and that he must combine his wealth with you. That is it, and at once he comes to you, asking you to be his wife, so that in that way he may lay his hands on the wealth of which he has striven to rob you."
"Daniel, I do not think that he is like that!"
"I tell you he is not only like it,—but that itself. Is it not clear as noon-day? He comes here to talk of love who had never seen you before. Is it thus that men love?"
"But, Daniel, he did not talk so."
"I wonder that he was so crafty, believing him as I do to be a fool. He talked of cousinship and brotherhood, and yet gave you to know that he meant you to be his wife. Was it not so?"
"I think it was so, in very truth."
"Of course it was so. Do brothers marry their sisters? Were it not for the money, which must be yours, and which he is kind enough to surrender, would he come to you then with his brotherhood, and his cousinship, and his mock love? Tell me that, my lady! Can it be real love,—to which there has been no forerunning acquaintance?"
"I think not, indeed."
"And must it not be lust of wealth? That may come by hearsay well enough. It is a love which requires no great foreknowledge to burn with real strength. He is a gay looking lad, no doubt."
"I do not know as to gay, but he is beautiful."
"Like enough, my girl; with soft hands, and curled hair, and a sweet smell, and a bright colour, and a false heart. I have never seen the lad; but for the false heart I can answer."
"I do not think that he is false."
"Not false! and yet he comes to you asking you to be his wife, just at that nick of time in which he finds that you,—the right owner,—are to have the fortune of which he has vainly endeavoured to defraud you! Is it not so?"
"He cannot be wrong to wish to keep up the glory of the family."
"The glory of the family;—yes, the fame of the late lord, who lived as though he were a fiend let loose from hell to devastate mankind. The glory of the family! And how will he maintain it? At racecourses, in betting-clubs, among loose women, with luscious wines, never doing one stroke of work for man or God, consuming and never producing, either idle altogether or working the work of the devil. That will be the glory of the family. Anna Lovel, you shall give him his choice." Then he took her hand in his. "Ask him whether he will have that empty, or take all the wealth of the Lovels. You have my leave."
"And if he took the empty hand what should I do?" she asked.
"My brave girl, no; though the chance be but one in a thousand against me, I would not run the risk. But I am putting it to yourself, to your reason, to judge of his motives. Can it be that his mind in this matter is not sordid and dishonest? As to you, the choice is open to you."
"No, Daniel; it is open no longer."
"The choice is open to you. If you will tell me that your heart is so set upon being the bride of a lord, that truth and honesty and love, and all decent feeling from woman to man can be thrown to the wind, to make way for such an ambition,—I will say not a word against it. You are free."
"Have I asked for freedom?"
"No, indeed! Had you done so, I should have made all this much shorter."
"Then why do you harass me by saying it?"
"Because it is my duty. Can I know that he comes here seeking you for his wife; can I hear it said on all sides that this family feud is to be settled by a happy family marriage; can I find that you yourself are willing to love him as a cousin or a brother,—without finding myself compelled to speak? There are two men seeking you as their wife. One can make you a countess; the other simply an honest man's wife, and, so far as that can be low, lower than that title of your own which they will not allow you to put before your name. If I am still your choice, give me your hand." Of course she gave it him. "So be it; and now I shall fear nothing." Then she told him that it was intended that she should go to Yoxham as a visitor; but still he declared that he would fear nothing.
Early on the next morning he called on Mr. Goffe, the attorney, with the object of making some inquiry as to the condition of the lawsuit. Mr. Goffe did not much love the elder tailor, but he specially disliked the younger. He was not able to be altogether uncivil to them, because he knew all that they had done to succour his client; but he avoided them when it was possible, and was chary of giving them information. On this occasion Daniel asked whether it was true that the other side had abandoned their claim.
"Really Mr. Thwaite, I cannot say that they have," said Mr. Goffe.
"Can you say that they have not?"
"No; nor that either."
"Had anything of that kind been decided, I suppose you would have known it, Mr. Goffe?"
"Really, sir, I cannot say. There are questions, Mr. Thwaite, which a professional gentleman cannot answer, even to such friends as you and your father have been. When any real settlement is to be made, the Countess Lovel will, as a matter of course, be informed."
"She should be informed at once," said Daniel Thwaite sternly: "and so should they who have been concerned with her in this matter."
"You, I know, have heavy claims on the Countess."
"My father has claims, which will never vex her, whether paid or not paid; but it is right that he should know the truth. I do not believe that the Countess herself knows, though she has been led to think that the claim has been surrendered."
Mr. Goffe was very sorry, but really he had nothing further to tell.
The introduction to Yoxham followed quickly upon the Earl's visit to Wyndham Street. There was a great consultation at the rectory before a decision could be made as to the manner in which the invitation should be given. The Earl thought that it should be sent to the mother. The rector combated this view very strongly, still hoping that though he might be driven to call the girl Lady Anna, he might postpone the necessity of acknowledging the countess-ship of the mother till the marriage should have been definitely acknowledged. Mrs. Lovel thought that if the girl were Lady Anna, then the mother must be the Countess Lovel, and that it would be as well to be hung for a sheep as a lamb. But the wisdom of Aunt Julia sided with her brother, though she did not share her brother's feelings of animosity to the two women. "It is understood that the girl is to be invited, and not the mother," said Miss Lovel; "and as it is quite possible that the thing should fail,—in which case the lawsuit might possibly go on,—the less we acknowledge the better." The Earl declared that the lawsuit couldn't go on,—that he would not carry it on. "My dear Frederic, you are not the only person concerned. The lady in Italy, who still calls herself Countess Lovel, may renew the suit on her own behalf as soon as you have abandoned it. Should she succeed, you would have to make what best compromise you could with her respecting the property. That is the way I understand it." This exposition of the case by Miss Lovel was so clear that it carried the day, and accordingly a letter was written by Mrs. Lovel, addressed to Lady Anna Lovel, asking her to come and spend a few days at Yoxham. She could bring her maid with her or not as she liked; but she could have the service of Mrs. Lovel's lady's maid if she chose to come unattended. The letter sounded cold when it was read, but the writer signed herself, "Yours affectionately, Jane Lovel." It was addressed to "The Lady Anna Lovel, to the care of Messrs. Goffe and Goffe, solicitors, Raymond's Buildings, Gray's Inn."
Lady Anna was allowed to read it first; but she read it in the presence of her mother, to whom she handed it at once, as a matter of course. A black frown came across the Countess's brow, and a look of displeasure, almost of anger, rested on her countenance. "Is it wrong, mamma?" asked the girl.
"It is a part of the whole;—but, my dear, it shall not signify. Conquerors cannot be conquerors all at once, nor can the vanquished be expected to submit themselves with a grace. But it will come. And though they should ignore me utterly, that will be as nothing. I have not clung to this for years past to win their loves."
"I will not go, mamma, if they are unkind to you."
"You must go, my dear. It is only that they are weak enough to think that they can acknowledge you, and yet continue to deny to me my rights. But it matters nothing. Of course you shall go,—and you shall go as the daughter of the Countess Lovel."
That mention of the lady's-maid had been unfortunate. Mrs. Lovel had simply desired to make it easy for the young lady to come without a servant to wait upon her, and had treated her husband's far-away cousin as elder ladies often do treat those who are younger when the question of the maid may become a difficulty. But the Countess, who would hardly herself have thought of it, now declared that her girl should go attended as her rank demanded. Lady Anna, therefore, under her mother's dictation, wrote the following reply:—
Wyndham Street, 3rd August, 183—.
DEAR MRS. LOVEL,
I shall be happy to accept your kind invitation to Yoxham, but can hardly do so before the 10th. On that day I will leave London for York inside the mail-coach. Perhaps you can be kind enough to have me met where the coach stops. As you are so good as to say you can take her in, I will bring my own maid.
"But, mamma, I don't want a maid," said the girl, who had never been waited on in her life, and who had more often than not made her mother's bed and her own till they had come up to London.
"Nevertheless you shall take one. You will have to make other changes besides that; and the sooner that you begin to make them the easier they will be to you."
Then at once the Countess made a pilgrimage to Mr. Goffe in search of funds wherewith to equip her girl properly for her new associations. She was to go, as Lady Anna Lovel, to stay with Mrs. Lovel and Miss Lovel and the little Lovels. And she was to go as one who was to be the chosen bride of Earl Lovel. Of course she must be duly caparisoned. Mr. Goffe made difficulties,—as lawyers always do,—but the needful money was at last forthcoming. Representations had been made in high legal quarters,—to the custodians for the moment of the property which was to go to the established heir of the late Earl. They had been made conjointly by Goffe and Goffe, and Norton and Flick, and the money was forthcoming. Mr. Goffe suggested that a great deal could not be wanted all at once for the young lady's dress. The Countess smiled as she answered, "You hardly know, Mr. Goffe, the straits to which we have been reduced. If I tell you that this dress which I have on is the only one in which I can fitly appear even in your chambers, perhaps you will think that I demean myself." Mr. Goffe was touched, and signed a sufficient cheque. They were going to succeed, and then everything would be easy. Even if they did not succeed, he could get it passed in the accounts. And if not that—well, he had run greater risks than this for clients whose causes were of much less interest than this of the Countess and her daughter.
The Countess had mentioned her own gown, and had spoken strict truth in what she had said of it;—but not a shilling of Mr. Goffe's money went to the establishment of a wardrobe for herself. That her daughter should go down to Yoxham Rectory in a manner befitting the daughter of Earl Lovel was at this moment her chief object. Things were purchased by which the poor girl, unaccustomed to such finery, was astounded and almost stupefied. Two needlewomen were taken in at the lodgings in Wyndham Street; parcels from Swan and Edgar's,—Marshall and Snellgrove were not then, or at least had not loomed to the grandeur of an entire block of houses,—addressed to Lady Anna Lovel, were frequent at the door, somewhat to the disgust of the shopmen, who did not like to send goods to Lady Anna Lovel in Wyndham Street. But ready money was paid, and the parcels came home. Lady Anna, poor girl, was dismayed much by the parcels, but she was at her wits' end when the lady's-maid came,—a young lady, herself so sweetly attired that Lady Anna would have envied her in the old Cumberland days. "I shall not know what to say to her, mamma," said Lady Anna.
"It will all come in two days, if you will only be equal to the occasion," said the Countess, who in providing her child with this expensive adjunct, had made some calculation that the more her daughter was made to feel the luxuries of aristocratic life, the less prone would she be to adapt herself to the roughnesses of Daniel Thwaite the tailor.
The Countess put her daughter into the mail-coach, and gave her much parting advice. "Hold up your head when you are with them. That is all that you have to do. Among them all your blood will be the best." This theory of blood was one of which Lady Anna had never been able even to realise the meaning. "And remember this too;—that you are in truth the most wealthy. It is they that should honour you. Of course you will be courteous and gentle with them,—it is your nature; but do not for a moment allow yourself to be conscious that you are their inferior." Lady Anna,—who could think but little of her birth,—to whom it had been throughout her life a thing plaguesome rather than profitable,—could remember only what she had been in Cumberland, and her binding obligation to the tailor's son. She could remember but that and the unutterable sweetness of the young man who had once appeared before her,—to whom she knew that she must be inferior. "Hold up your head among them, and claim your own always," said the Countess.
The rectory carriage was waiting for her at the inn yard in York, and in it was Miss Lovel. When the hour had come it was thought better that the wise woman of the family should go than any other. For the ladies of Yoxham were quite as anxious as to the Lady Anna as was she in respect of them. What sort of a girl was this that they were to welcome among them as the Lady Anna,—who had lived all her life with tailors, and with a mother of whom up to quite a late date they had thought all manner of evil? The young lord had reported well of her, saying that she was not only beautiful, but feminine, of soft modest manners, and in all respects like a lady. The Earl, however, was but a young man, likely to be taken by mere beauty; and it might be that the girl had been clever enough to hoodwink him. So much evil had been believed that a report stating that all was good could not be accepted at once as true. Miss Lovel would be sure to find out, even in the space of an hour's drive, and Miss Lovel went to meet her. She did not leave the carriage, but sent the footman to help Lady Anna Lovel from the coach. "My dear," said Miss Lovel, "I am very glad to see you. Oh, you have brought a maid! We didn't think you would. There is a seat behind which she can occupy."
"Mamma thought it best. I hope it is not wrong, Mrs. Lovel."
"I ought to have introduced myself. I am Miss Lovel, and the rector of Yoxham is my brother. It does not signify about the maid in the least. We can do very well with her. I suppose she has been with you a long time."
"No, indeed;—she only came the day before yesterday." And so Miss Lovel learned the whole story of the lady's-maid.
Lady Anna said very little, but Miss Lovel explained a good many things during the journey. The young lord was not at Yoxham. He was with a friend in Scotland, but would be home about the 20th. The two boys were at home for the holidays, but would go back to school in a fortnight. Minnie Lovel, the daughter, had a governess. The rectory, for a parsonage, was a tolerably large house, and convenient. It had been Lord Lovel's early home, but at present he was not much there. "He thinks it right to go to Lovel Grange during a part of the autumn. I suppose you have seen Lovel Grange."
"Oh, indeed. But you lived near it;—did you not?"
"No, not near;—about fifteen miles, I think. I was born there, but have never been there since I was a baby."
"Oh!—you were born there. Of course you know that it is Lord Lovel's seat now. I do not know that he likes it, though the scenery is magnificent. But a landlord has to live, at least for some period of the year, upon his property. You saw my nephew."
"Yes; he came to us once."
"I hope you liked him. We think him very nice. But then he is almost the same as a son here. Do you care about visiting the poor?"
"I have never tried," said Lady Anna.
"We have been so poor ourselves;—we were just one of them." Then Miss Lovel perceived that she had made a mistake. But she was generous enough to recognize the unaffected simplicity of the girl, and almost began to think well of her.
"I hope you will come round the parish with us. We shall be very glad. Yoxham is a large parish, with scattered hamlets, and there is plenty to do. The manufactories are creeping up to us, and we have already a large mill at Yoxham Lock. My brother has to keep two curates now. Here we are, my dear, and I hope we shall be able to make you happy."
Mrs. Lovel did not like the maid, and Mr. Lovel did not like it at all. "And yet we heard when we were up in town that they literally had not anything to live on," said the parson. "I hope that, after all, we may not be making fools of ourselves." But there was no help for it, and the maid was of course taken in.
The children had been instructed to call their cousin Lady Anna,—unless they heard their mother drop the title, and then they were to drop it also. They were not so young but what they had all heard the indiscreet vigour with which their father had ridiculed the claim to the title, and had been something at a loss to know whence the change had come. "Perhaps they are as they call themselves," the rector had said, "and, if so, heaven forbid that we should not give them their due." After this the three young ones, discussing the matter among themselves, had made up their minds that Lady Anna was no cousin of theirs,—but "a humbug." When, however, they saw her their hearts relented, and the girl became soft, and the boys became civil. "Papa," said Minnie Lovel, on the second day, "I hope she is our cousin."
"I hope so too, my dear."
"I think she is. She looks as if she ought to be because she is so pretty."
"Being pretty, my dear, is not enough. You should love people because they are good."
"But I would not like all the good people to be my cousins;—would you, papa? Old widow Grimes is a very good old woman; but I don't want to have her for a cousin."
"My dear, you are talking about what you don't understand."
But Minnie did in truth understand the matter better than her father. Before three or four days had passed she knew that their guest was lovable,—whether cousin or no cousin; and she knew also that the newcomer was of such nature and breeding as made her fit to be a cousin. All the family had as yet called her Lady Anna, but Minnie thought that the time had come in which she might break through the law. "I think I should like to call you just Anna, if you will let me," she said. They two were in the guest's bedroom, and Minnie was leaning against her new friend's shoulder.
"Oh, I do so wish you would. I do so hate to be called Lady."
"But you are Lady Anna,—arn't you?"
"And you are Miss Mary Lovel, but you wouldn't like everybody in the house to call you so. And then there has been so much said about it all my life, that it makes me quite unhappy. I do so wish your mamma wouldn't call me Lady Anna." Whereupon Minnie very demurely explained that she could not answer for her mamma, but that she would always call her friend Anna,—when papa wasn't by.
But Minnie was better than her promise. "Mamma," she said the next day, "do you know that she hates to be called Lady Anna."
"What makes you think so?"
"I am sure of it. She told me so. Everybody has always been talking about it ever since she was born, and she says she is so sick of it."
"But, my dear, people must be called by their names. If it is her proper name she ought not to hate it. I can understand that people should hate an assumed name."
"I am Miss Mary Lovel, but I should not at all like it if everybody called me Miss Mary. The servants call me Miss Mary, but if papa and aunt Julia did so, I should think they were scolding me."
"But Lady Anna is not papa's daughter."
"She is his cousin. Isn't she his cousin, mamma? I don't think people ought to call their cousins Lady Anna. I have promised that I won't. Cousin Frederic said that she was his cousin. What will he call her?"
"I cannot tell, my dear. We shall all know her better by that time." Mrs. Lovel, however, followed her daughter's lead, and from that time the poor girl was Anna to all of them,—except to the rector. He listened, and thought that he would try it; but his heart failed him. He would have preferred that she should be an impostor, were that still possible. He would so much have preferred that she should not exist at all! He did not care for her beauty. He did not feel the charm of her simplicity. It was one of the hardships of the world that he should be forced to have her there in his rectory. The Lovel wealth was indispensable to the true heir of the Lovels, and on behalf of his nephew and his family he had been induced to consent; but he could not love the interloper. He still dreamed of coming surprises that would set the matter right in a manner that would be much preferable to a marriage. The girl might be innocent,—as his wife and sister told him; but he was sure that the mother was an intriguing woman. It would be such a pity that they should have entertained the girl, if,—after all,—the woman should at last be but a pseudo-countess! As others had ceased to call her Lady Anna, he could not continue to do so; but he managed to live on with her without calling her by any name.
In the meantime Cousin Anna went about among the poor with Minnie and Aunt Julia, and won golden opinions. She was soft, feminine, almost humble,—but still with a dash of humour in her, when she was sufficiently at her ease with them to be happy. There was very much in the life which she thoroughly enjoyed. The green fields, and the air which was so pleasant to her after the close heat of the narrow London streets, and the bright parsonage garden, and the pleasant services of the country church,—and doubtless also the luxuries of a rich, well-ordered household. Those calculations of her mother had not been made without a true basis. The softness, the niceness, the ease, the grace of the people around her, won upon her day by day, and hour by hour. The pleasant idleness of the drawing-room, with its books and music, and unstrained chatter of family voices, grew upon her as so many new charms. To come down with bright ribbons and clean unruffled muslin to breakfast, with nothing to do which need ruffle them unbecomingly, and then to dress for dinner with silk and gauds, before ten days were over, had made life beautiful to her. She seemed to live among roses and perfumes. There was no stern hardness in the life, as there had of necessity been in that which she had ever lived with her mother. The caresses of Minnie Lovel soothed and warmed her heart;—and every now and again, when the eyes of Aunt Julia were not upon her, she was tempted to romp with the boys. Oh! that they had really been her brothers!
But in the midst of all there was ever present to her the prospect of some coming wretchedness. The life which she was leading could not be her life. That Earl was coming,—that young Apollo,—and he would again ask her to be his wife. She knew that she could not be his wife. She was there, as she understood well, that she might give all this wealth that was to be hers to the Lovel family; and when she refused to give herself,—as the only way in which that wealth could be conveyed,—they would turn her out from their pleasant home. Then she must go back to the other life, and be the wife of Daniel Thwaite; and soft things must be at an end with her.
THE EARL ARRIVES.
At the end of a fortnight the boys had gone back to school, and Lord Lovel was to reach the rectory in time for dinner that evening. There was a little stir throughout the rectory, as an earl is an earl though he be in his uncle's house, and rank will sway even aunts and cousins. The parson at present was a much richer man than the peer;—but the peer was at the head of all the Lovels, and then it was expected that his poverty would quickly be made to disappear. All that Lovel money which had been invested in bank shares, Indian railways, Russian funds, Devon consols, and coal mines, was to become his,—if not in one way, then in another. The Earl was to be a topping man, and the rectory cook was ordered to do her best. The big bedroom had been made ready, and the parson looked at his '99 port and his '16 Margaux. In those days men drank port, and champagne at country houses was not yet a necessity. To give the rector of Yoxham his due it must be said of him that he would have done his very best for the head of his family had there been no large fortune within the young lord's grasp. The Lovels had ever been true to the Lovels, with the exception of that late wretched Earl,—the Lady Anna's father.
But if the rector and his wife were alive to the importance of the expected arrival, what must have been the state of Lady Anna! They had met but once before, and during that meeting they had been alone together. There had grown up, she knew not how, during those few minutes, a heavenly sweetness between them. He had talked to her with a voice that had been to her ears as the voice of a god,—it had been so sweet and full of music! He had caressed her,—but with a caress so gentle and pure that it had been to her void of all taint of evil. It had perplexed her for a moment,—but had left no sense of wrong behind it. He had told her that he loved her,—that he would love her dearly; but had not scared her in so telling her, though she knew she could never give him back such love as that of which he spoke to her. There had been a charm in it, of which she delighted to dream,—fancying that she could remember it for ever, as a green island in her life; but could so best remember it if she were assured that she should never see him more. But now she was to see him again, and the charm must be renewed,—or else the dream dispelled for ever. Alas! it must be the latter. She knew that the charm must be dispelled.
But there was a doubt on her own mind whether it would not be dispelled without any effort on her part. It would vanish at once if he were to greet her as the Lovels had greeted her on her first coming. She could partly understand that the manner of their meeting in London had thrust upon him a necessity for flattering tenderness with which he might well dispense when he met her among his family. Had he really loved her,—had he meant to love her,—he would hardly have been absent so long after her coming. She had been glad that he had been absent,—so she assured herself,—because there could never be any love between them. Daniel Thwaite had told her that the brotherly love which had been offered was false love,—must be false,—was no love at all. Do brothers marry sisters; and had not this man already told her that he wished to make her his wife? And then there must never be another kiss. Daniel Thwaite had told her that; and he was, not only her lover, but her master also. This was the rule by which she would certainly hold. She would be true to Daniel Thwaite. And yet she looked for the lord's coming, as one looks for the rising of the sun of an early morning,—watching for that which shall make all the day beautiful.
And he came. The rector and his wife, and Aunt Julia and Minnie, all went out into the hall to meet him, and Anna was left alone in the library, where they were wont to congregate before dinner. It was already past seven, and every one was dressed. A quarter of an hour was to be allowed to the lord, and he was to be hurried up at once to his bedroom. She would not see him till he came down ready, and all hurried, to lead his aunt to the dining-room. She heard the scuffle in the hall. There were kisses;—and a big kiss from Minnie to her much-prized Cousin Fred; and a loud welcome from the full-mouthed rector. "And where is Anna?"—the lord asked. They were the first words he spoke, and she heard them, ah! so plainly. It was the same voice,—sweet, genial, and manly; sweet to her beyond all sweetness that she could conceive.
"You shall see her when you come down from dressing," said Mrs. Lovel,—in a low voice, but still audible to the solitary girl.
"I will see her before I go up to dress," said the lord, walking through them, and in through the open door to the library. "So, here you are. I am so glad to see you! I had sworn to go into Scotland before the time was fixed for your coming,—before I had met you,—and I could not escape. Have you thought ill of me because I have not been here to welcome you sooner?"
"There are horrible penalties for anybody who calls me lord in this house;—are there not, Aunt Jane? But I see my uncle wants his dinner."
"I'll take you up-stairs, Fred," said Minnie, who was still holding her cousin's hand.
"I am coming. I will only say that I would sooner see you here than in any house in England."
Then he went, and during the few minutes that he spent in dressing little or nothing was spoke in the library. The parson in his heart was not pleased by the enthusiasm with which the young man greeted this new cousin; and yet, why should he not be enthusiastic if it was intended that they should be man and wife?
"Now, Lady Anna," said the rector, as he offered her his arm to lead her out to dinner. It was but a mild corrective to the warmth of his nephew. The lord lingered a moment with his aunt in the library.
"Have you not got beyond that with her yet?" he asked.
"Your uncle is more old fashioned than you are, Fred. Things did not go so quick when he was young."
In the evening he came and lounged on a double-seated ottoman behind her, and she soon found herself answering a string of questions. Had she been happy at Yoxham? Did she like the place? What had she been doing? "Then you know Mrs. Grimes already?" She laughed as she said that she did know Mrs. Grimes. "The lion of Yoxham is Mrs. Grimes. She is supposed to have all the misfortunes and all the virtues to which humanity is subject. And how do you and Minnie get on? Minnie is my prime minister. The boys, I suppose, teased you out of your life?"
"I did like them so much! I never knew a boy till I saw them, Lord Lovel."
"They take care to make themselves known, at any rate. But they are nice, good-humoured lads,—taking after their mother. Don't tell their father I said so. Do you think it pretty about here?"
"Just about Yoxham,—because there is so much wood. But this is not the beautiful part of Yorkshire, you know. I wonder whether we could make an expedition to Wharfedale and Bolton Abbey. You would say that the Wharfe was pretty. We'll try and plan it. We should have to sleep out one night; but that would make it all the jollier. There isn't a better inn in England than the Devonshire arms;—and I don't think a pleasanter spot. Aunt Jane,—couldn't we go for one night to Bolton Abbey?"
"It is very far, Frederic."
"Thirty miles or so;—that ought to be nothing in Yorkshire. We'll manage it. We could get post-horses from York, and the carriage would take us all. My uncle, you must know, is very chary about the carriage horses, thinking that the corn of idleness,—which is destructive to young men and women,—is very good for cattle. But we'll manage it, and you shall jump over the Stryd." Then he told her the story how the youth was drowned—and how the monks moaned; and he got away to other legends, to the white doe of Rylston, and Landseer's picture of the abbey in olden times. She had heard nothing before of these things,—or indeed of such things, and the hearing them was very sweet to her. The parson, who was still displeased, went to sleep. Minnie had been sent to bed, and Aunt Julia and Aunt Jane every now and again put in a word. It was resolved before the evening was over that the visit should be made to Bolton Abbey. Of course, their nephew ought to have opportunities of making love to the girl he was doomed to marry. "Good night, dearest," he said when she went to bed. She was sure that the last word had been so spoken, and that no ear but her own had heard it. She could not tell him that such word should not be spoken; and yet she felt that the word would be almost as offensive as the kiss to Daniel Thwaite. She must contrive some means of telling him that she could not, would not, must not be his dearest.
She had now received two letters from her mother since she had been at Yoxham, and in each of them there were laid down for her plain instructions as to her conduct. It was now the middle of August, and it was incumbent upon her to allow matters so to arrange themselves, that the marriage might be declared to be a settled thing when the case should come on in November. Mr. Goffe and Mr. Flick had met each other, and everything was now understood by the two parties of lawyers. If the Earl and Lady Anna were then engaged with the mutual consent of all interested,—and so engaged that a day could be fixed for the wedding,—then, when the case was opened in court, would the Solicitor-General declare that it was the intention of Lord Lovel to make no further opposition to the claims of the Countess and her daughter, and it would only remain for Serjeant Bluestone to put in the necessary proofs of the Cumberland marriage and of the baptism of Lady Anna. The Solicitor-General would at the same time state to the court that an alliance had been arranged between these distant cousins, and that in that way everything would be settled. But,—and in this clause of her instructions the Countess was most urgent,—this could not be done unless the marriage were positively settled. Mr. Flick had been very urgent in pointing out to Mr. Goffe that in truth their evidence was very strong to prove that when the Earl married the now so-called Countess, his first wife was still living, though they gave no credit to the woman who now called herself the Countess. But, in either case,—whether the Italian countess were now alive or now dead,—the daughter would be illegitimate, and the second marriage void, if their surmise on this head should prove to be well founded. But the Italian party could of itself do nothing, and the proposed marriage would set everything right. But the evidence must be brought into court and further sifted, unless the marriage were a settled thing by November. All this the Countess explained at great length in her letters, calling upon her daughter to save herself, her mother, and the family.
Lady Anna answered the first epistle,—or rather, wrote another in return to it;—but she said nothing of her noble lover, except that Lord Lovel had not as yet come to Yoxham. She confined herself to simple details of her daily life, and a prayer that her dear mother might be happy. The second letter from the Countess was severe in its tone,—asking why no promise had been made, no assurance given,—no allusion made to the only subject that could now be of interest. She implored her child to tell her that she was disposed to listen to the Earl's suit. This letter was in her pocket when the Earl arrived, and she took it out and read it again after the Earl had whispered in her ear that word so painfully sweet.
She proposed to answer it before breakfast on the following morning. At Yoxham rectory they breakfasted at ten, and she was always up at least before eight. She determined as she laid herself down that she would think of it all night. It might be best, she believed, to tell her mother the whole truth,—that she had already promised everything to Daniel Thwaite, and that she could not go back from her word. Then she began to build castles in the air,—castles which she declared to herself must ever be in the air,—of which Lord Lovel, and not Daniel Thwaite, was the hero, owner, and master. She assured herself that she was not picturing to herself any prospect of a really possible life, but was simply dreaming of an impossible Elysium. How many people would she make happy, were she able to let that young Phoebus know in one half-uttered word,—or with a single silent glance,—that she would in truth be his dearest. It could not be so. She was well aware of that. But surely she might dream of it. All the cares of that careful, careworn mother would then be at an end. How delightful would it be to her to welcome that sorrowful one to her own bright home, and to give joy where joy had never yet been known! How all the lawyers would praise her, and tell her that she had saved a noble family from ruin. She already began to have feelings about the family to which she had been a stranger before she had come among the Lovels. And if it really would make him happy, this Phoebus, how glorious would that be! How fit he was to be made happy! Daniel had said that he was sordid, false, fraudulent, and a fool;—but Daniel did not, could not, understand the nature of the Lovels. And then she herself;—how would it be with her? She had given her heart to Daniel Thwaite, and she had but one heart to give. Had it not been for that, it would have been very sweet to love that young curled darling. There were two sorts of life, and now she had had an insight into each. Daniel had told her that this soft, luxurious life was thoroughly bad. He could not have known when saying so, how much was done for their poor neighbours by such as even these Lovels. It could not be wrong to be soft, and peaceful, and pretty, to enjoy sweet smells, to sit softly, and eat off delicately painted china plates,—as long as no one was defrauded, and many were comforted. Daniel Thwaite, she believed, never went to church. Here at Yoxham there were always morning prayers, and they went to church twice every Sunday. She had found it very pleasant to go to church, and to be led along in the easy path of self-indulgent piety on which they all walked at Yoxham. The church seats at Yoxham were broad, with soft cushions, and the hassocks were well stuffed. Surely, Daniel Thwaite did not know everything. As she thus built her castles in the air,—castles so impossible to be inhabited,—she fell asleep before she had resolved what letter she should write.
But in the morning she did write her letter. It must be written,—and when the family were about the house, she would be too disturbed for so great an effort. It ran as follows:—
I am much obliged for your letter, which I got the day before yesterday. Lord Lovel came here yesterday, or perhaps I might have answered it then. Everybody here seems to worship him almost, and he is so good to everybody! We are all to go on a visit to Bolton Abbey, and sleep at an inn somewhere, and I am sure I shall like it very much, for they say it is most beautiful. If you look at the map, it is nearly in a straight line between here and Kendal, but only much nearer to York. The day is not fixed yet, but I believe it will be very soon.
I shall be so glad if the lawsuit can be got over, for your sake, dearest mamma. I wish they could let you have your title and your share of the money, and let Lord Lovel have the rest, because he is head of the family. That would be fairest, and I can't see why it should not be so. Your share would be quite enough for you and me. I can't say anything about what you speak of. He has said nothing, and I'm sure I hope he won't. I don't think I could do it; and I don't think the lawyers ought to want me to. I think it is very wrong of them to say so. We are strangers, and I feel almost sure that I could never be what he would want. I don't think people ought to marry for money.
Dearest mamma, pray do not be angry with me. If you are, you will kill me. I am very happy here, and nobody has said anything about my going away. Couldn't you ask Serjeant Bluestone whether something couldn't be done to divide the money, so that there might be no more law? I am sure he could if he liked, with Mr. Goffe and the other men.
Dearest mamma, I am, Your most affectionate Daughter,
When the moment came, and the pen was in her hand, she had not the courage to mention the name of Daniel Thwaite. She knew that the fearful story must be told, but at this moment she comforted herself,—or tried to comfort herself,—by remembering that Daniel himself had enjoined that their engagement must yet for a while be kept secret.
The visit to Wharfedale was fixed for Monday and Tuesday, and on the Monday morning they started, after an early breakfast. The party consisted of Aunt Jane, Aunt Julia, Lady Anna, Minnie, and Mr. Cross, one of the rector's curates. The rector would not accompany them, excusing himself to the others generally on the ground that he could not be absent from his parish on those two days. To his wife and sister he explained that he was not able, as yet, to take pleasure in such a party as this with Lady Anna. There was no knowing, he said, what might happen. It was evident that he did not mean to open his heart to Lady Anna, at any rate till the marriage should be settled.
An open carriage, which would take them all, was ordered,—with four post horses, and two antiquated postboys, with white hats and blue jackets, and yellow breeches. Minnie and the curate sat on the box, and there was a servant in the rumble. Rooms at the inn had been ordered, and everything was done in proper lordly manner. The sun shone brightly above their heads, and Anna, having as yet received no further letter from her mother, was determined to be happy. Four horses took them to Bolton Bridge, and then, having eaten lunch and ordered dinner, they started for their ramble in the woods.
The first thing to be seen at Bolton Abbey is, of course, the Abbey. The Abbey itself, as a ruin,—a ruin not so ruinous but that a part of it is used for a modern church,—is very well; but the glory of Bolton Abbey is in the river which runs round it and in the wooded banks which overhang it. No more luxuriant pasture, no richer foliage, no brighter water, no more picturesque arrangement of the freaks of nature, aided by the art and taste of man, is to be found, perhaps, in England. Lady Anna, who had been used to wilder scenery in her native county, was delighted. Nothing had ever been so beautiful as the Abbey;—nothing so lovely as the running Wharfe! Might they not climb up among those woods on the opposite bank? Lord Lovel declared that, of course they would climb up among the woods,—it was for that purpose they had come. That was the way to the Stryd,—over which he was determined that Lady Anna should be made to jump.
But the river below the Abbey is to be traversed by stepping-stones, which, to the female uninitiated foot, appear to be full of danger. The Wharfe here is no insignificant brook, to be overcome by a long stride and a jump. There is a causeway, of perhaps forty stones, across it, each some eighteen inches distant from the other, which, flat and excellent though they be, are perilous from their number. Mrs. Lovel, who knew the place of old, had begun by declaring that no consideration should induce her to cross the water. Aunt Julia had proposed that they should go along the other bank, on the Abbey side of the river, and thence cross by the bridge half a mile up. But the Earl was resolved that he would take his cousin over the stepping-stones; and Minnie and the curate were equally determined. Minnie, indeed, had crossed the river, and was back again, while the matter was still being discussed. Aunt Julia, who was strong-limbed, as well as strong-minded, at last assented, the curate having promised all necessary aid. Mrs. Lovel seated herself at a distance to see the exploit; and then Lord Lovel started, with Lady Anna, turning at every stone to give a hand to his cousin.
"Oh, they are very dreadful!" said Lady Anna, when about a dozen had been passed.
The black water was flowing fast, fast beneath her feet; the stones became smaller and smaller to her imagination, and the apertures between them broader and broader.
"Don't look at the water, dear," said the lord, "but come on quick."
"I can't come on quick. I shall never get over. Oh, Frederic!" That morning she had promised that she would call him Frederic. Even Daniel could not think it wrong that she should call her cousin by his Christian name. "It's no good, I can't do that one,—it's crooked. Mayn't I go back again?"
"You can't go back, dear. It is only up to your knees, if you do go in. But take my hand. There,—all the others are straight,—you must come on, or Aunt Julia will catch us. After two or three times, you'll hop over like a milkmaid. There are only half-a-dozen more. Here we are. Isn't that pretty?"
"I thought I never should have got over. I wouldn't go back for anything. But it is lovely; and I am so much obliged to you for bringing me here. We can go back another way?"
"Oh, yes;—but now we'll get up the bank. Give me your hand." Then he took her along the narrow, twisting, steep paths, to the top of the wooded bank, and they were soon beyond the reach of Aunt Julia, Minnie, and the curate.
It was very pleasant, very lovely, and very joyous; but there was still present to her mind some great fear. The man was there with her as an acknowledged lover,—a lover, acknowledged to be so by all but herself; but she could not lawfully have any lover but him who was now slaving at his trade in London. She must tell this gallant lord that he must not be her lover; and, as they went along, she was always meditating how she might best tell him, when the moment for telling him should come. But on that morning, during the entire walk, he said no word to her which seemed quite to justify the telling. He called her by sweet, petting names,—Anna, my girl, pretty coz, and such like. He would hold her hand twice longer than he would have held that of either aunt in helping her over this or that little difficulty,—and would help her when no help was needed. He talked to her, of small things, as though he and she must needs have kindred interests. He spoke to her of his uncle as though, near as his uncle was, the connection were not nigh so close as that between him and her. She understood it with a half understanding,—feeling that in all this he was in truth making love to her, and yet telling herself that he said no more than cousinship might warrant. But the autumn colours were bright, and the river rippled, and the light breeze came down from the mountains, and the last of the wild flowers were still sweet in the woods. After a while she was able to forget her difficulties, to cease to think of Daniel, and to find in her cousin, not a lover, but simply the pleasantest friend that fortune had ever sent her.
And so they came, all alone,—for Aunt Julia, though both limbs and mind were strong, had not been able to keep up with them,—all alone to the Stryd. The Stryd is a narrow gully or passage, which the waters have cut for themselves in the rocks, perhaps five or six feet broad, where the river passes, but narrowed at the top by an overhanging mass which in old days withstood the wearing of the stream, till the softer stone below was cut away, and then was left bridging over a part of the chasm below. There goes a story that a mountain chieftain's son, hunting the stag across the valley when the floods were out, in leaping the stream, from rock to rock, failed to make good his footing, was carried down by the rushing waters, and dashed to pieces among the rocks. Lord Lovel told her the tale, as they sat looking at the now innocent brook, and then bade her follow him as he leaped from edge to edge.
"I couldn't do it;—indeed, I couldn't," said the shivering girl.
"It is barely a step," said the Earl, jumping over, and back again. "Going from this side, you couldn't miss to do it, if you tried."
"I'm sure I should tumble in. It makes me sick to look at you while you are leaping."
"You'd jump over twice the distance on dry ground."
"Then let me jump on dry ground."
"I've set my heart upon it. Do you think I'd ask you if I wasn't sure?"
"You want to make another legend of me."
"I want to leave Aunt Julia behind, which we shall certainly do."
"Oh, but I can't afford to drown myself just that you may run away from Aunt Julia. You can run by yourself, and I will wait for Aunt Julia."
"That is not exactly my plan. Be a brave girl, now, and stand up, and do as I bid you."
Then she stood up on the edge of the rock, holding tight by his arm. How pleasant it was to be thus frightened, with such a protector near her to insure her safety! And yet the chasm yawned, and the water ran rapid and was very black. But if he asked her to make the spring, of course she must make it. What would she not have done at his bidding?
"I can almost touch you, you see," he said, as he stood opposite, with his arm out ready to catch her hand.
"Oh, Frederic, I don't think I can."
"You can very well, if you will only jump."
"It is ever so many yards."
"It is three feet. I'll back Aunt Julia to do it for a promise of ten shillings to the infirmary."
"I'll give the ten shillings, if you'll only let me off."
"I won't let you off,—so you might as well come at once."
Then she stood and shuddered for a moment, looking with beseeching eyes up into his face. Of course she meant to jump. Of course she would have been disappointed had Aunt Julia come and interrupted her jumping. Yes,—she would jump into his arms. She knew that he would catch her. At that moment her memory of Daniel Thwaite had become faint as the last shaded glimmer of twilight. She shut her eyes for half a moment, then opened them, looked into his face, and made her spring. As she did so, she struck her foot against a rising ledge of the rock, and, though she covered more than the distance in her leap, she stumbled as she came to the ground, and fell into his arms. She had sprained her ankle, in her effort to recover herself.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, holding her close to his side.
"No;—I think not;—only a little, that is. I was so awkward."
"I shall never forgive myself if you are hurt."
"There is nothing to forgive. I'll sit down for a moment. It was my own fault because I was so stupid,—and it does not in the least signify. I know what it is now; I've sprained my ankle."
"There is nothing so painful as that."
"It hurts a little, but it will go off. It wasn't the jump, but I twisted my foot somehow. If you look so unhappy, I'll get up and jump back again."
"I am unhappy, dearest."
"Oh, but you mustn't." The prohibition might be taken as applying to the epithet of endearment, and thereby her conscience be satisfied. Then he bent over her, looking anxiously into her face as she winced with the pain, and he took her hand and kissed it. "Oh, no," she said, gently struggling to withdraw the hand which he held. "Here is Aunt Julia. You had better just move." Not that she would have cared a straw for the eyes of Aunt Julia, had it not been that the image of Daniel Thwaite again rose strong before her mind. Then Aunt Julia, and the curate, and Minnie were standing on the rock within a few paces of them, but on the other side of the stream.
"Is there anything the matter?" asked Miss Lovel.
"She has sprained her ankle in jumping over the Stryd, and she cannot walk. Perhaps Mr. Cross would not mind going back to the inn and getting a carriage. The road is only a quarter of a mile above us, and we could carry her up."
"How could you be so foolish, Frederic, as to let her jump it?" said the aunt.
"Don't mind about my folly now. The thing is to get a carriage for Anna." The curate immediately hurried back, jumping over the Stryd as the nearest way to the inn; and Minnie also sprung across the stream so that she might sit down beside her cousin and offer consolation. Aunt Julia was left alone, and after a while was forced to walk back by herself to the bridge.
"Is she much hurt?" asked Minnie.
"I am afraid she is hurt," said the lord.
"Dear, dear Minnie, it does not signify a bit," said Anna, lavishing on her younger cousin the caresses which fate forbade her to give to the elder. "I know I could walk home in a few minutes. I am better now. It is one of those things which go away almost immediately. I'll try and stand, Frederic, if you'll let me." Then she raised herself, leaning upon him, and declared that she was nearly well,—and then was reseated, still leaning on him.
"Shall we attempt to get her up to the road, Minnie, or wait till Mr. Cross comes to help us?" Lady Anna declared that she did not want any help,—certainly not Mr. Cross's help, and that she could do very well, just with Minnie's arm. They waited there sitting on the rocks for half an hour, saying but little to each other, throwing into the stream the dry bits of stick which the last flood had left upon the stones, and each thinking how pleasant it was to sit there and dream, listening to the running waters. Then Lady Anna hobbled up to the carriage road, helped by a stronger arm than that of her cousin Minnie.
Of course there was some concern and dismay at the inn. Embrocations were used, and doctors were talked of, and heads were shaken, and a couch in the sitting-room was prepared, so that the poor injured one might eat her dinner without being driven to the solitude of her own bedroom.
On the next morning the poor injured one was quite well,—but she was still held to be subject to piteous concern. The two aunts shook their heads when she said that she would walk down to the stepping-stones that morning, before starting for Yoxham; but she was quite sure that the sprain was gone, and the distance was not above half a mile. They were not to start till two o'clock. Would Minnie come down with her, and ramble about among the ruins?
"Minnie, come out on the lawn," said the lord. "Don't you come with me and Anna;—you can go where you like about the place by yourself."
"Why mayn't I come?"
"Never mind, but do as you're bid."
"I know. You are going to make love to cousin Anna."
"You are an impertinent little imp."
"I am so glad, Frederic, because I do like her. I was sure she was a real cousin. Don't you think she is very,—very nice?"
"Is that all?"
"You go away and don't tease,—or else I'll never bring you to the Stryd again." So it happened that Lord Lovel and Lady Anna went across the meadow together, down to the river, and sauntered along the margin till they came to the stepping-stones. He passed over, and she followed him, almost without a word. Her heart was so full, that she did not think now of the water running at her feet. It had hardly seemed to her to make any difficulty as to the passage. She must follow him whither he would lead her, but her mind misgave her,—that they would not return sweet loving friends as they went out. "We won't climb," said he, "because it might try your ankle too much. But we will go in here by the meadow. I always think this is one of the prettiest views there is," he said, throwing himself upon the grass.
"It is all prettiest. It is like fairy land. Does the Duke let people come here always?"
"Yes, I fancy so."
"He must be very good-natured. Do you know the Duke?"
"I never saw him in my life."
"A duke sounds so awful to me."
"You'll get used to them some day. Won't you sit down?" Then she glided down to the ground at a little distance from him, and he at once shifted his place so as to be almost close to her. "Your foot is quite well?"
"I thought for a few minutes that there was going to be some dreadful accident, and I was so mad with myself for having made you jump it. If you had broken your leg, how would you have borne it?"
"Like other people, I suppose."
"Would you have been angry with me?"
"I hope not. I am sure not. You were doing the best you could to give me pleasure. I don't think I should have been angry at all. I don't think we are ever angry with the people we really like."
"Do you really like me?"
"Yes;—I like you."
"Is that all?"
"Is not that enough?"
She answered the question as she might have answered it had it been allowed to her, as to any girl that was free, to toy with his love, knowing that she meant to accept it. It was easier so, than in any other way. But her heart within her was sad, and could she have stopped his further speech by any word rough and somewhat rude, she would have done so. In truth, she did not know how to answer him roughly. He deserved from her that all her words should be soft, and sweet and pleasant. She believed him to be good and generous and kind and loving. The hard things which Daniel Thwaite had said of him had all vanished from her mind. To her thinking, it was no sin in him that he should want her wealth,—he, the Earl, to whom by right the wealth of the Lovels should belong. The sin was rather hers,—in that she kept it from him. And then, if she could receive all that he was willing to give, his heart, his name, his house and home, and sweet belongings of natural gifts and personal advantages, how much more would she take than what she gave! She could not speak to him roughly, though,—alas!—the time had come in which she must speak to him truly. It was not fitting that a girl should have two lovers.
"No, dear,—not enough," he said.
It can hardly be accounted a fault in him that at this time he felt sure of her love. She had been so soft in her ways with him, so gracious, yielding, and pretty in her manners, so manifestly pleased by his company, so prone to lean upon him, that it could hardly be that he should think otherwise. She had told him, when he spoke to her more plainly up in London than he had yet done since they had been together in the country, that she could never, never be his wife. But what else could a girl say at a first meeting with a proposed lover? Would he have wished that she should at once have given herself up without one maidenly scruple, one word of feminine recusancy? If love's course be made to run too smooth it loses all its poetry, and half its sweetness. But now they knew each other;—at least, he thought they did. The scruple might now be put away. The feminine recusancy had done its work. For himself,—he felt that he loved her in very truth. She was not harsh or loud,—vulgar, or given to coarse manners, as might have been expected, and as he had been warned by his friends that he would find her. That she was very beautiful, all her enemies had acknowledged,—and he was quite assured that her enemies had been right. She was the Lady Anna Lovel, and he felt that he could make her his own without one shade of regret to mar his triumph. Of the tailor's son,—though he had been warned of him too,—he made no account whatever. That had been a slander, which only endeared the girl to him the more;—a slander against Lady Anna Lovel which had been an insult to his family. Among all the ladies he knew, daughters of peers and high-bred commoners, there were none,—there was not one less likely so to disgrace herself than Lady Anna Lovel, his sweet cousin.
"Do not think me too hurried, dear, if I speak to you again so soon, of that of which I spoke once before." He had turned himself round upon his arm, so as to be very close to her,—so that he would look full into her face, and, if chance favoured him, could take her hand. He paused, as though for an answer; but she did not speak to him a word. "It is not long yet since we first met."
"Oh, no;—not long."
"And I know not what your feelings are. But, in very truth, I can say that I love you dearly. Had nothing else come in the way to bring us together, I am sure that I should have loved you." She, poor child, believed him as though he were speaking to her the sweetest gospel. And he, too, believed himself. He was easy of heart perhaps, but not deceitful; anxious enough for his position in the world, but not meanly covetous. Had she been distasteful to him as a woman, he would have refused to make himself rich by the means that had been suggested to him. As it was, he desired her as much as her money, and had she given herself to him then would never have remembered,—would never have known that the match had been sordid. "Do you believe me?" he asked.
"And shall it be so?"
Her face had been turned away, but now she slowly moved her neck so that she could look at him. Should she be false to all her vows, and try whether happiness might not be gained in that way? The manner of doing it passed through her mind in that moment. She would write to Daniel, and remind him of his promise to set her free if she so willed it. She would never see him again. She would tell him that she had striven to see things as he would have taught her, and had failed. She would abuse herself, and ask for his pardon;—but having thus judged for herself, she would never go back from such judgment. It might be done,—if only she could persuade herself that it were good to do it! But, as she thought of it, there came upon her a prick of conscience so sharp, that she could not welcome the devil by leaving it unheeded. How could she be foresworn to one who had been so absolutely good,—whose all had been spent for her and for her mother,—whose whole life had been one long struggle of friendship on her behalf,—who had been the only playfellow of her youth, the only man she had ever ventured to kiss,—the man whom she truly loved? He had warned her against these gauds which were captivating her spirit, and now, in the moment of her peril, she would remember his warnings.
"Shall it be so?" Lord Lovel asked again, just stretching out his hand, so that he could touch the fold of her garment.
"It cannot be so," she said.
"It cannot be so, Lord Lovel."
"It cannot now;—or do you mean the word to be for ever?"
"For ever!" she replied.
"I know that I have been hurried and sudden," he said,—purposely passing by her last assurance; "and I do feel that you have a right to resent the seeming assurance of such haste. But in our case, dearest, the interests of so many are concerned, the doubts and fears, the well-being, and even the future conduct of all our friends are so bound up by the result, that I had hoped you would have pardoned that which would otherwise have been unpardonable." Oh heavens;—had it not been for Daniel Thwaite, how full of grace, how becoming, how laden with flattering courtesy would have been every word that he had uttered to her! "But," he continued, "if it really be that you cannot love me—"
"Oh, Lord Lovel, pray ask of me no further question."
"I am bound to ask and to know,—for all our sakes."
Then she rose quickly to her feet, and with altered gait and changed countenance stood over him. "I am engaged," she said, "to be married—to Mr. Daniel Thwaite." She had told it all, and felt that she had told her own disgrace. He rose also, but stood mute before her. This was the very thing of which they had all warned him, but as to which he had been so sure that it was not so! She saw it all in his eyes, reading much more there than he could read in hers. She was degraded in his estimation, and felt that evil worse almost than the loss of his love. For the last three weeks she had been a real Lovel among the Lovels. That was all over now. Let this lawsuit go as it might, let them give to her all the money, and make the title which she hated ever so sure, she never again could be the equal friend of her gentle relative, Earl Lovel. Minnie would never again spring into her arms, swearing that she would do as she pleased with her own cousin. She might be Lady Anna, but never Anna again to the two ladies at the rectory. The perfume of his rank had been just scented, to be dashed away from her for ever. "It is a secret at present," she said, "or I should have told you sooner. If it is right that you should repeat it, of course you must."
"It is true."
"Oh, Anna, for your sake as well as mine this makes me wretched indeed!"
"As for the money, Lord Lovel, if it be mine to give, you shall have it."
"You think then it is that which I have wanted?"
"It is that which the family wants, and I can understand that it should be wanted. As for myself,—for mamma and me,—you can hardly understand how it has been with us when we were young. You despise Mr. Thwaite,—because he is a tailor."
"I am sure he is not fit to be the husband of Lady Anna Lovel."
"When Lady Anna Lovel had no other friend in the world, he sheltered her and gave her a house to live in, and spent his earnings in her defence, and would not yield when all those who might have been her friends strove to wrong her. Where would mamma have been,—and I,—had there been no Mr. Thwaite to comfort us? He was our only friend,—he and his father. They were all we had. In my childhood I had never a kind word from another child,—but only from him. Would it have been right that he should have asked for anything, and that I should have refused it?"
"He should not have asked for this," said Lord Lovel hoarsely.
"Why not he, as well as you? He is as much a man. If I could believe in your love after two days, Lord Lovel, could I not trust his after twenty years of friendship?"
"You knew that he was beneath you."
"He was not beneath me. He was above me. We were poor,—while he and his father had money, which we took. He could give, while we received. He was strong while we were weak,—and was strong to comfort us. And then, Lord Lovel, what knew I of rank, living under his father's wing? They told me I was the Lady Anna, and the children scouted me. My mother was a countess. So she swore, and I at least believed her. But if ever rank and title were a profitless burden, they were to her. Do you think that I had learned then to love my rank?"
"You have learned better now."
"I have learned,—but whether better I may doubt. There are lessons which are quickly learned; and there are they who say that such are the devil's lessons. I have not been strong enough not to learn. But I must forget again, Lord Lovel. And you must forget also." He hardly knew how to speak to her now;—whether it would be fit for him even to wish to persuade her to be his, after she had told him that she had given her troth to a tailor. His uneasy thoughts prompted him with ideas which dismayed him. Could he take to his heart one who had been pressed close in so vile a grasp? Could he accept a heart that had once been promised to a tailor's workman? Would not all the world know and say that he had done it solely for the money,—even should he succeed in doing it? And yet to fail in this enterprise,—to abandon all,—to give up so enticing a road to wealth! Then he remembered what he had said,—how he had pledged himself to abandon the lawsuit,—how convinced he had been that this girl was heiress to the Lovel wealth, who now told him that she had engaged herself to marry a tailor.
There was nothing more that either of them could say to the other at the moment, and they went back in silence to the inn.
THE JOURNEY HOME.
In absolute silence Lord Lovel and Lady Anna walked back to the inn. He had been dumbfoundered,—nearly so by her first abrupt statement, and then altogether by the arguments with which she had defended herself. She had nothing further to say. She had, indeed, said all, and had marvelled at her own eloquence while she was speaking. Nor was there absent from her a certain pride in that she had done the thing that was right, and had dared to defend herself. She was full of regrets,—almost of remorse; but, nevertheless, she was proud. He knew it all now, and one of her great difficulties had been overcome.
And she was fully resolved that as she had dared to tell him, and to face his anger, his reproaches, his scorn, she would not falter before the scorn and the reproaches, or the anger, of the other Lovels,—of any of the Lovels of Yoxham. Her mother's reproaches would be dreadful to her; her mother's anger would well-nigh kill her; her mother's scorn would scorch her very soul. But sufficient for the day was the evil thereof. At the present moment she could be strong with the strength she had assumed. So she walked in at the sitting-room window with a bold front, and the Earl followed her. The two aunts were there, and it was plain to them both that something was astray between the lovers. They had said among themselves that Lady Anna would accept the offer the moment that it was in form made to her. To their eyes the manner of their guest had been the manner of a girl eager to be wooed; but they had both imagined that their delicately nurtured and fastidious nephew might too probably be offended by some solecism in conduct, some falling away from feminine grace, such as might too readily be shown by one whose early life had been subjected to rough associates. Even now it occurred to each of them that it had been so. The Earl seated himself in a chair, and took up a book, which they had brought with them. Lady Anna stood at the open window, looking across at the broad field and the river bank beyond; but neither of them spoke a word. There had certainly been some quarrel. Then aunt Julia, in the cause of wisdom, asked a question;—
"Where is Minnie? Did not Minnie go with you?"
"No," said the Earl. "She went in some other direction at my bidding. Mr. Cross is with her, I suppose." It was evident from the tone of his voice that the displeasure of the head of all the Lovels was very great.
"We start soon, I suppose?" said Lady Anna.
"After lunch, my dear; it is hardly one yet."
"I will go up all the same, and see about my things."
"Shall I help you, my dear?" asked Mrs. Lovel.
"Oh, no! I would sooner do it alone." Then she hurried into her room and burst into a flood of tears, as soon as the door was closed behind her.
"Frederic, what ails her?" asked aunt Julia.
"If anything ails her she must tell you herself," said the lord.
"Something is amiss. You cannot wonder that we should be anxious, knowing that we know how great is the importance of all this."
"I cannot help your anxiety just at present, aunt Julia; but you should always remember that there will be slips between the cup and the lip."
"Then there has been a slip? I knew it would be so. I always said so, and so did my brother."
"I wish you would all remember that about such an affair as this, the less said the better." So saying, the lord walked out through the window and sauntered down to the river side.
"It's all over," said aunt Julia.
"I don't see why we should suppose that at present," said aunt Jane.
"It's all over. I knew it as soon as I saw her face when she came in. She has said something, or done something, and it's all off. It will be a matter of over twenty thousand pounds a year!"
"He'll be sure to marry somebody with money," said aunt Jane. "What with his title and his being so handsome, he is certain to do well, you know."
"Nothing like that will come in his way. I heard Mr. Flick say that it was equal to half a million of money. And then it would have been at once. If he goes up to London, and about, just as he is, he'll be head over ears in debt before anybody knows what he is doing. I wonder what it is. He likes pretty girls, and there's no denying that she's handsome."
"Perhaps she wouldn't have him."
"That's impossible, Jane. She came down here on purpose to have him. She went out with him this morning to be made love to. They were together three times longer yesterday, and he came home as sweet as sugar to her. I wonder whether she can have wanted to make some condition about the money."