"That she and her mother should have it in their own keeping."
"She doesn't seem to be that sort of a young woman," said aunt Jane.
"There's no knowing what that Mr. Goffe, Serjeant Bluestone, and her mother may have put her up to. Frederic wouldn't stand that kind of thing for a minute, and he would be quite right. Better anything than that a man shouldn't be his own master. I think you'd better go up to her, Jane. She'll be more comfortable with you than with me." Then aunt Jane, obedient as usual, went up to her young cousin's bedroom.
In the meantime the young lord was standing on the river's brink, thinking what he would do. He had, in truth, very much of which to think, and points of most vital importance as to which he must resolve what should be his action. Must this announcement which he had heard from his cousin dissolve for ever the prospect of his marriage with her; or was it open to him still, as a nobleman, a gentleman, and a man of honour, to make use of all those influences which he might command with the view of getting rid of that impediment of a previous engagement? Being very ignorant of the world at large, and altogether ignorant of this man in particular, he did not doubt that the tailor might be bought off. Then he was sure that all who would have access to Lady Anna would help him in such a cause, and that her own mother would be the most forward to do so. The girl would hardly hold to such a purpose if all the world,—all her own world, were against her. She certainly would be beaten from it if a bribe sufficient were offered to the tailor. That this must be done for the sake of the Lovel family, so that Lady Anna Lovel might not be known to have married a tailor, was beyond a doubt; but it was not so clear to him that he could take to himself as his Countess her who with her own lips had told him that she intended to be the bride of a working artisan. As he thought of this, as his imagination went to work on all the abominable circumstances of such a betrothal, he threw from his hand into the stream with all the vehemence of passion a little twig which he held. It was too, too frightful, too disgusting; and then so absolutely unexpected, so unlike her personal demeanour, so contrary to the look of her eyes, to the tone of her voice, to every motion of her body! She had been sweet, and gentle, and gracious, till he had almost come to think that her natural feminine gifts of ladyship were more even than her wealth, of better savour than her rank, were equal even to her beauty, which he had sworn to himself during the past night to be unsurpassed. And this sweet one had told him,—this one so soft and gracious,—not that she was doomed by some hard fate to undergo the degrading thraldom, but that she herself had willingly given herself to a working tailor from love, and gratitude, and free selection! It was a marvel to him that a thing so delicate should have so little sense of her own delicacy! He did not think that he could condescend to take the tailor's place.
But if not,—if he would not take it, or if, as might still be possible, the tailor's place could not be made vacant for him,—what then? He had pledged his belief in the justice of his cousin's claim; and had told her that, believing his own claim to be unjust, in no case would he prosecute it. Was he now bound by that assurance,—bound to it even to the making of the tailor's fortune; or might he absent himself from any further action in the matter, leaving it entirely in the hands of the lawyers? Might it not be best for her happiness that he should do so? He had been told that even though he should not succeed, there might arise almost interminable delay. The tailor would want his money before he married, and thus she might be rescued from her degradation till she should be old enough to understand it. And yet how could he claim that of which he had said, now a score of times, that he knew that it was not his own? Could he cease to call this girl by the name which all his people had acknowledged as her own, because she had refused to be his wife; and declare his conviction that she was base-born only because she had preferred to his own the addresses of a low-born man, reeking with the sweat of a tailor's board? No, he could not do that. Let her marry but the sweeper of a crossing, and he must still call her Lady Anna,—if he called her anything.
Something must be done, however. He had been told by the lawyers how the matter might be made to right itself, if he and the young lady could at once agree to be man and wife; but he had not been told what would follow, should she decline to accept his offer. Mr. Flick and the Solicitor-General must know how to shape their course before November came round,—and would no doubt want all the time to shape it that he could give them. What was he to say to Mr. Flick and to the Solicitor-General? Was he at liberty to tell to them the secret which the girl had told to him? That he was at liberty to say that she had rejected his offer must be a matter of course; but might he go beyond that, and tell them the whole story? It would be most expedient for many reasons that they should know it. On her behalf even it might be most salutary,—with that view of liberating her from the grasp of her humiliating lover. But she had told it him, against her own interests, at her own peril, to her own infinite sorrow,—in order that she might thus allay hopes in which he would otherwise have persevered. He knew enough of the little schemes and by-ways of love, of the generosity and self-sacrifice of lovers, to feel that he was bound to confidence. She had told him that if needs were he might repeat her tale;—but she had told him at the same time that her tale was a secret. He could not go with her secret to a lawyer's chambers, and there divulge in the course of business that which had been extracted from her by the necessity to which she had submitted of setting him free. He could write to Mr. Flick,—if that at last was his resolve,—that a marriage was altogether out of the question, but he could not tell him why it was so.
He wandered slowly on along the river, having decided only on this,—only on this as a certainty,—that he must tell her secret neither to the lawyers, nor to his own people. Then, as he walked, a little hand touched his behind, and when he turned Minnie Lovel took him by the arm. "Why are you all alone, Fred?"
"I am meditating how wicked the world is,—and girls in particular."
"Where is cousin Anna?"
"Up at the house, I suppose."
"Is she wicked?"
"Don't you know that everybody is wicked, because Eve ate the apple?"
"Adam ate it too."
"Who bade him?"
"The devil," said the child whispering.
"But he spoke by a woman's mouth. Why don't you go in and get ready to go?"
"So I will. Tell me one thing, Fred. May I be a bridesmaid when you are married?"
"I don't think you can."
"I have set my heart upon it. Why not?"
"Because you'll be married first."
"That's nonsense, Fred; and you know it's nonsense. Isn't cousin Anna to be your wife?"
"Look here, my darling. I'm awfully fond of you, and think you the prettiest little girl in the world. But if you ask impertinent questions I'll never speak to you again. Do you understand?" She looked up into his face, and did understand that he was in earnest, and, leaving him, walked slowly across the meadow back to the house alone. "Tell them not to wait lunch for me," he hollowed after her;—and she told her aunt Julia that cousin Frederic was very sulky down by the river, and that they were not to wait for him.
When Mrs. Lovel went up-stairs into Lady Anna's room not a word was said about the occurrence of the morning. The elder lady was afraid to ask a question, and the younger was fully determined to tell nothing even had a question been asked her. Lord Lovel might say what he pleased. Her secret was with him, and he could tell it if he chose. She had given him permission to do so, of which no doubt he would avail himself. But, on her own account, she would say nothing; and when questioned she would merely admit the fact. She would neither defend her engagement, nor would she submit to have it censured. If they pleased she would return to her mother in London at any shortest possible notice.
The party lunched almost in silence, and when the horses were ready Lord Lovel came in to help them into the carriage. When he had placed the three ladies he desired Minnie to take the fourth seat, saying that he would sit with Mr. Cross on the box. Minnie looked at his face, but there was still the frown there, and she obeyed him without any remonstrance. During the whole of the long journey home there was hardly a word spoken. Lady Anna knew that she was in disgrace, and was ignorant how much of her story had been told to the two elder ladies. She sat almost motionless looking out upon the fields, and accepting her position as one that was no longer thought worthy of notice. Of course she must go back to London. She could not continue to live at Yoxham, neither spoken to nor speaking. Minnie went to sleep, and Minnie's mother and aunt now and then addressed a few words to each other. Anna felt sure that to the latest day of her existence she would remember that journey. On their arrival at the Rectory door Mr. Cross helped the ladies out of the carriage, while the lord affected to make himself busy with the shawls and luggage. Then he vanished, and was seen no more till he appeared at dinner.
"What sort of a trip have you had?" asked the rector, addressing himself to the three ladies indifferently.
For a moment nobody answered him, and then aunt Julia spoke. "It was very pretty, as it always is at Bolton in summer. We were told that the duke has not been there this year at all. The inn was comfortable, and I think that the young people enjoyed themselves yesterday very much." The subject was too important, too solemn, too great, to allow of even a word to be said about it without proper consideration.
"Did Frederic like it?"
"I think he did yesterday," said Mrs. Lovel. "I think we were all a little tired coming home to-day."
"Anna sprained her ankle, jumping over the Stryd," said Minnie.
"Not seriously, I hope."
"Oh dear no;—nothing at all to signify." It was the only word which Anna spoke till it was suggested that she should go up to her room. The girl obeyed, as a child might have done, and went up-stairs, followed by Mrs. Lovel. "My dear," she said, "we cannot go on like this. What is the matter?"
"You must ask Lord Lovel."
"Have you quarrelled with him?"
"I have not quarrelled, Mrs. Lovel. If he has quarrelled with me, I cannot help it."
"You know what we have all wished."
"It can never be so."
"Have you said so to Frederic?"
"Have you given him any reason, Anna?"
"I have," she said after a pause.
"What reason, dear?"
She thought for a moment before she replied. "I was obliged to tell him the reason, Mrs. Lovel; but I don't think that I need tell anybody else. Of course I must tell mamma."
"Does your mamma know it?"
"And is it a reason that must last for ever?"
"Yes;—for ever. But I do not know why everybody is to be angry with me. Other girls may do as they please. If you are angry with me I had better go back to London at once."
"I do not know that anybody has been angry with you. We may be disappointed without being angry." That was all that was said, and then Lady Anna was left to dress for dinner. At dinner Lord Lovel had so far composed himself as to be able to speak to his cousin, and an effort at courtesy was made by them all,—except by the rector. But the evening passed away in a manner very different from any that had gone before it.
TOO HEAVY FOR SECRETS.
During that night the young lord was still thinking of his future conduct,—of what duty and honour demanded of him, and of the manner in which he might best make duty and honour consort with his interests. In all the emergencies of his short life he had hitherto had some one to advise him,—some elder friend whose counsel he might take even though he would seem to make little use of it when it was offered to him. He had always somewhat disdained aunt Julia, but nevertheless aunt Julia had been very useful to him. In latter days, since the late Earl's death, when there came upon him, as the first of his troubles, the necessity of setting aside that madman's will, Mr. Flick had been his chief counsellor; and yet in all his communications with Mr. Flick he had assumed to be his own guide and master. Now it seemed that he must in truth guide himself, but he knew not how to do it. Of one thing he felt certain. He must get away from Yoxham and hurry up to London.
It behoved him to keep his cousin's secret; but would he not be keeping it with a sanctity sufficiently strict if he imparted it to one sworn friend,—a friend who should be bound not to divulge it further without his consent? If so, the Solicitor-General should be his friend. An intimacy had grown up between the great lawyer and his noble client, not social in its nature, but still sufficiently close, as Lord Lovel thought, to admit of such confidence. He had begun to be aware that without assistance of this nature he would not know how to guide himself. Undoubtedly the wealth of the presumed heiress had become dearer to him,—had become at least more important to him,—since he had learned that it must probably be lost. Sir William Patterson was a gentleman as well as a lawyer;—one who had not simply risen to legal rank by diligence and intellect, but a gentleman born and bred, who had been at a public school, and had lived all his days with people of the right sort. Sir William was his legal adviser, and he would commit Lady Anna's secret to the keeping of Sir William.
There was a coach which started in those days from York at noon, reaching London early on the following day. He would go up by this coach, and would thus avoid the necessity of much further association with his family before he had decided what should be his conduct. But he must see his cousin before he went. He therefore sent a note to her before she had left her room on the following morning;—
I purpose starting for London in an hour or so, and wish to say one word to you before I go. Will you meet me at nine in the drawing-room? Do not mention my going to my uncle or aunts, as it will be better that I should tell them myself.
At ten minutes before nine Lady Anna was in the drawing-room waiting for him, and at ten minutes past nine he joined her.
"I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting." She gave him her hand, and said that it did not signify in the least. She was always early. "I find that I must go up to London at once," he said. To this she made no answer, though he seemed to expect some reply. "In the first place, I could not remain here in comfort after what you told me yesterday."
"I shall be sorry to drive you away. It is your home; and as I must go soon, had I not better go at once?"
"No;—that is, I think not. I shall go at any rate. I have told none of them what you told me yesterday."
"I am glad of that, Lord Lovel."
"It is for you to tell it,—if it must be told."
"I did tell your aunt Jane,—that you and I never can be as—you said you wished."
"I did wish it most heartily. You did not tell it—all."
"You astounded me so, that I could hardly speak to you as I should have spoken. I did not mean to be uncourteous."
"I did not think you uncourteous, Lord Lovel. I am sure you would not be uncourteous to me."
"But you astounded me. It is not that I think much of myself, or of my rank as belonging to me. I know that I have but little to be proud of. I am very poor,—and not clever like some young men who have not large fortunes, but who can become statesmen and all that. But I do think much of my order; I think much of being a gentleman,—and much of ladies being ladies. Do you understand me?"
"Oh, yes;—I understand you."
"If you are Lady Anna Lovel—"
"I am Lady Anna Lovel."
"I believe you are with all my heart. You speak like it, and look like it. You are fit for any position. Everything is in your favour. I do believe it. But if so—"
"Well, Lord Lovel;—if so?"
"Surely you would not choose to—to—to degrade your rank. That is the truth. If I be your cousin, and the head of your family, I have a right to speak as such. What you told me would be degradation."
She thought a moment, and then she replied to him,—"It would be no disgrace."
He too found himself compelled to think before he could speak again. "Do you think that you could like your associates if you were to be married to Mr. Thwaite?"
"I do not know who they would be. He would be my companion, and I like him. I love him dearly. There! you need not tell me, Lord Lovel. I know it all. He is not like you;—and I, when I had become his wife, should not be like your aunt Jane. I should never see people of that sort any more, I suppose. We should not live here in England at all,—so that I should escape the scorn of all my cousins. I know what I am doing, and why I am doing it;—and I do not think you ought to tempt me."
She knew at least that she was open to temptation. He could perceive that, and was thankful for it. "I do not wish to tempt you, but I would save you from unhappiness if I could. Such a marriage would be unnatural. I have not seen Mr. Thwaite."
"Then, my lord, you have not seen a most excellent man, who, next to my mother, is my best friend."
"But he cannot be a gentleman."
"I do not know;—but I do know that I can be his wife. Is that all, Lord Lovel?"
"Not quite all. I fear that this weary lawsuit will come back upon us in some shape. I cannot say whether I have the power to stop it if I would. I must in part be guided by others."
"I cannot do anything. If I could, I would not even ask for the money for myself."
"No, Lady Anna. You and I cannot decide it. I must again see my lawyer. I do not mean the attorney,—but Sir William Patterson, the Solicitor-General. May I tell him what you told me yesterday?"
"I cannot hinder you."
"But you can give me your permission. If he will promise me that it shall go no farther,—then may I tell him? I shall hardly know what to do unless he knows all that I know."
"Everybody will know soon."
"Nobody shall know from me,—but only he. Will you say that I may tell him?"
"I am much indebted to you even for that. I cannot tell you now how much I hoped when I got up yesterday morning at Bolton Bridge that I should have to be indebted to you for making me the happiest man in England. You must forgive me if I say that I still hope at heart that this infatuation may be made to cease. And now, good-bye, Lady Anna."
"Good-bye, Lord Lovel."
She at once went to her room, and sent down her maid to say that she would not appear at prayers or at breakfast. She would not see him again before he went. How probable it was that her eyes had rested on his form for the last time! How beautiful he was, how full of grace, how like a god! How pleasant she had found it to be near him; how full of ineffable sweetness had been everything that he had touched, all things of which he had spoken to her! He had almost overcome her, as though she had eaten of the lotus. And she knew not whether the charm was of God or devil. But she did know that she had struggled against it,—because of her word, and because she owed a debt which falsehood and ingratitude would ill repay. Lord Lovel had called her Lady Anna now. Ah, yes; how good he was! When it became significant to her that he should recognise her rank, he did so at once. He had only dropped the title when, having been recognised, it had become a stumbling-block to her. Now he was gone from her, and, if it was possible, she would cease even to dream of him.
"I suppose, Frederic, that the marriage is not to be?" the rector said to him as he got into the dog-cart at the rectory door.
"I cannot tell. I do not know. I think not. But, uncle, would you oblige me by not speaking of it just at present? You will know all very soon."
The rector stood on the gravel, watching the dog-cart as it disappeared, with his hands in the pockets of his clerical trousers, and with heavy signs of displeasure on his face. It was very well to be uncle to an earl, and out of his wealth to do what he could to assist, and, if possible, to dispel his noble nephew's poverty. But surely something was due to him! It was not for his pleasure that this girl,—whom he was forced to call Lady Anna, though he could never believe her to be so, whom his wife and sister called cousin Anna, though he still thought that she was not, and could not be, cousin to anybody,—it was not for anything that he could get, that he was entertaining her as an honoured guest at his rectory. And now his nephew was gone, and the girl was left behind. And he was not to be told whether there was to be a marriage or not! "I cannot tell. I do not know. I think not." And then he was curtly requested to ask no more questions. What was he to do with the girl? While the young Earl and the lawyers were still pondering the question of her legitimacy, the girl, whether a Lady Anna and a cousin,—or a mere nobody, who was trying to rob the family,—was to be left on his hands! Why,—oh, why had he allowed himself to be talked out of his own opinion? Why had he ever permitted her to be invited to his rectory? Ah, how the title stuck in his throat as he asked her to take the customary glass of wine with him at dinner-time that evening!
On reaching London, towards the end of August, Lord Lovel found that the Solicitor-General was out of town. Sir William had gone down to Somersetshire with the intention of saying some comforting words to his constituents. Mr. Flick knew nothing of his movements; but his clerk was found, and his clerk did not expect him back in London till October. But, in answer to Lord Lovel's letter, Sir William undertook to come up for one day. Sir William was a man who quite recognised the importance of the case he had in hand.
"Engaged to the tailor,—is she?" he said; not, however, with any look of surprise.
"But, Sir William,—you will not repeat this, even to Mr. Flick, or to Mr. Hardy. I have promised Lady Anna that it shall not go beyond you."
"If she sticks to her bargain, it cannot be kept secret very long;—nor would she wish it. It's just what we might have expected, you know."
"You wouldn't say so if you knew her."
"H—m. I'm older than you, Lord Lovel. You see, she had nobody else near her. A girl must cotton to somebody, and who was there? We ought not to be angry with her."
"But it shocks me so."
"Well, yes. As far as I can learn his father and he have stood by them very closely;—and did so, too, when there seemed to be but little hope. But they might be paid for all they did at a less rate than that. If she sticks to him nobody can beat him out of it. What I mean is, that it was all fair game. He ran his chance, and did it in a manly fashion." The Earl did not quite understand Sir William, who seemed to take almost a favourable view of these monstrous betrothals. "What I mean is, that nobody can touch him, or find fault with him. He has not carried her away, and got up a marriage before she was of age. He hasn't kept her from going out among her friends. He hasn't—wronged her, I suppose?"
"I think he has wronged her frightfully."
"Ah,—well. We mean different things. I am obliged to look at it as the world will look at it."
"Think of the disgrace of such a marriage;—to a tailor."
"Whose father had advanced her mother some five or six thousand pounds to help her to win back her position. That's about the truth of it. We must look at it all round, you know."
"You think, then, that nothing should be done?"
"I think that everything should be done that can be done. We have the mother on our side. Very probably we may have old Thwaite on our side. From what you say, it is quite possible that at this very moment the girl herself may be on our side. Let her remain at Yoxham as long as you can get her to stay, and let everything be done to flatter and amuse her. Go down again yourself, and play the lover as well as I do not doubt you know how to do it." It was clear then that the great legal pundit did not think that an Earl should be ashamed to carry on his suit to a lady who had confessed her attachment to a journeyman tailor. "It will be a trouble to us all, of course, because we must change our plan when the case comes on in November."
"But you still think that she is the heiress?"
"So strongly, that I feel all but sure of it. We shouldn't, in truth, have had a leg to stand on, and we couldn't fight it. I may as well tell you at once, my lord, that we couldn't do it with any chance of success. And what should we have gained had we done so? Nothing! Unless we could prove that the real wife were dead, we should have been fighting for that Italian woman, whom I most thoroughly believe to be an impostor."
"Then there is nothing to be done?"
"Very little in that way. But if the young lady be determined to marry the tailor, I think we should simply give notice that we withdraw our opposition to the English ladies, and state that we had so informed the woman who asserts her own claim and calls herself a Countess in Sicily; and we should let the Italian woman know that we had done so. In such case, for aught anybody can say here, she might come forward with her own case. She would find men here who would take it up on speculation readily enough. There would be a variety of complications, and no doubt very great delay. In such an event we should question very closely the nature of the property; as, for aught I have seen as yet, a portion of it might revert to you as real estate. It is very various,—and it is not always easy to declare at once what is real and what personal. Hitherto you have appeared as contesting the right of the English widow to her rank, and not necessarily as a claimant of the estate. The Italian widow, if a widow, would be the heir, and not your lordship. For that, among other reasons, the marriage would be most expedient. If the Italian Countess were to succeed in proving that the Earl had a wife living when he married Miss Murray,—which I feel sure he had not,—then we should come forward again with our endeavours to show that that first wife had died since,—as the Earl himself undoubtedly declared more than once. It would be a long time before the tailor got his money with his wife. The feeling of the court would be against him."
"Could we buy the tailor, Sir William?"
The Solicitor-General nursed his leg before he answered.
"Mr. Flick could answer that question better than I can do. In fact, Mr. Flick should know it all. The matter is too heavy for secrets, Lord Lovel."
LADY ANNA RETURNS TO LONDON.
After the Earl was gone Lady Anna had but a bad time of it at Yoxham. She herself could not so far regain her composure as to live on as though no disruption had taken place. She knew that she was in disgrace, and the feeling was dreadful to her. The two ladies were civil, and tried to make the house pleasant, but they were not cordial as they had been hitherto. For one happy halcyon week,—for a day or two before the Earl had come, and for those bright days during which he had been with them,—she had found herself to be really admitted into the inner circle as one of the family. Mrs. Lovel had been altogether gracious with her. Minnie had been her darling little friend. Aunt Julia had been so far won as to be quite alive to the necessity of winning. The rector himself had never quite given way,—had never been so sure of his footing as to feel himself safe in abandoning all power of receding; but the effect of this had been to put the rector himself, rather than his guest, into the back ground. The servants had believed in her, and even Mrs. Grimes had spoken in her praise,—expressing an opinion that she was almost good enough for the young Earl. All Yoxham had known that the two young people were to be married, and all Yoxham had been satisfied. But now everything was wrong. The Earl had fled, and all Yoxham knew that everything was wrong. It was impossible that her position should be as it had been.
There were consultations behind her back as to what should be done, of which,—though she heard no word of them,—she was aware. She went out daily in the carriage with Mrs. Lovel, but aunt Julia did not go with them. Aunt Julia on these occasions remained at home discussing the momentous affair with her brother. What should be done? There was a great dinner-party, specially convened to do honour to the Earl's return, and not among them a single guest who had not heard that there was to be a marriage. The guests came to see, not only the Earl, but the Earl's bride. When they arrived the Earl had flown. Mrs. Lovel expressed her deep sorrow that business of great importance had made it necessary that the Earl should go to London. Lady Anna was, of course, introduced to the strangers; but it was evident to the merest tyro in such matters, that she was not introduced as would have been a bride expectant. They had heard how charming she was, how all the Lovels had accepted her, how deeply was the Earl in love; and, lo, she sat in the house silent and almost unregarded. Of course, the story of the lawsuit, with such variations as rumour might give it, was known to them all. A twelvemonth ago,—nay, at a period less remote than that,—the two female claimants in Cumberland had always been spoken of in those parts as wretched, wicked, vulgar impostors. Then came the reaction. Lady Anna was the heiress, and Lady Anna was to be the Countess. It had flown about the country during the last ten days that there was no one like the Lady Anna. Now they came to see her, and another reaction had set in. She was the Lady Anna they must suppose. All the Lovels, even the rector, so called her. Mrs. Lovel introduced her as Lady Anna Lovel, and the rector,—hating himself as he did so,—led her out to dinner though there was a baronet's wife in the room,—the wife of a baronet who dated back from James I. She was the Lady Anna, and therefore the heiress;—but it was clear to them all that there was to be no marriage.
"Then poor Lord Lovel will absolutely not have enough to starve upon," said the baronet's wife to the baronet, as soon as the carriage door had been shut upon them.
What were they to do with her? The dinner party had taken place on a Wednesday,—the day after the Earl's departure; and on the Thursday aunt Julia wrote to her nephew thus:—
Yoxham Rectory, 3rd September.
MY DEAR FREDERIC,
My brother wishes me to write to you and say that we are all here very uneasy about Lady Anna. We have only heard from her that the match which was contemplated is not to take place. Whether that be so from unwillingness on her part or yours we have never yet been told;—but both to your aunt Jane and myself she speaks of it as though the decision were irrevocable. What had we better do? Of course, it is our most anxious desire,—as it is our pleasure and our duty,—to arrange everything according to your wishes and welfare. Nothing can be of so much importance to any of us in this world as your position in it. If it is your wish that Lady Anna should remain here, of course she shall remain. But if, in truth, there is no longer any prospect of a marriage, will not her longer sojourn beneath your uncle's roof be a trouble to all of us,—and especially to her?
Your aunt Jane thinks that it may be only a lover's quarrel. For myself, I feel sure that you would not have left us as you did, had it not been more than that. I think that you owe it to your uncle to write to me,—or to him, if you like it better,—and to give us some clue to the state of things.
I must not conceal from you the fact that my brother has never felt convinced, as you do, that Lady Anna's mother was, in truth, the Countess Lovel. At your request, and in compliance with the advice of the Solicitor-General, he has been willing to receive her here; and, as she has been here, he has given her the rank which she claims. He took her out to dinner yesterday before Lady Fitzwarren,—which will never be forgiven should it turn out ultimately that the first wife was alive when the Earl married Anna's mother. Of course, while here she must be treated as Lady Anna Lovel; but my brother does not wish to be forced so to do, if it be intended that any further doubt should be raised. In such case he desires to be free to hold his former opinion. Therefore pray write to us, and tell us what you wish to have done. I can assure you that we are at present very uncomfortable.
Believe me to be, My dear Frederic, Your most affectionate aunt,
The Earl received this before his interview with Sir William, but left it unanswered till after he had seen that gentleman. Then he wrote as follows:—
Carlton Club, 5th September, 183—.
MY DEAR AUNT JULIA,
Will you tell my uncle that I think you had better get Lady Anna to stay at the rectory as long as possible. I'll let you know all about it very soon. Best love to aunt Jane.
I am, Your affectionate nephew,
This very short epistle was most unsatisfactory to the rector, but it was felt by them all that nothing could be done. With such an injunction before them, they could not give the girl a hint that they wished her to go. What uncle or what aunt, with such a nephew as Lord Lovel, so noble and so poor, could turn out an heiress with twenty thousand a year, as long as there was the slightest chance of a marriage? Not a doubt would have rankled in their minds had they been quite sure that she was the heiress. But, as it was, the Earl ought to have said more than he did say.
"I cannot keep myself from feeling sometimes that Frederic does take liberties with me," the rector said to his sister. But he submitted. It was a part of the religion of the family,—and no little part,—that they should cling to their head and chief. What would the world have been to them if they could not talk with comfortable ease and grace of their nephew Frederic?
During this time Anna spoke more than once to Mrs. Lovel as to her going. "I have been a long time here," she said, "and I'm sure that I am in Mr. Lovel's way."
"Not in the least, my dear. If you are happy, pray stay with us."
This was before the arrival of the brief epistle,—when they were waiting to know whether they were to dismiss their guest from Yoxham, or to retain her.
"As for being happy, nobody can be happy, I think, till all this is settled. I will write to mamma, and tell her that I had better return to her. Mamma is all alone."
"I don't know that I can advise, my dear; but as far as we are concerned, we shall be very glad if you can stay."
The brief epistle had not then arrived, and they were, in truth, anxious that she should go;—but one cannot tell one's visitor to depart from one's house without a downright rupture. Not even the rector himself dared to make such rupture, without express sanction from the Earl.
Then Lady Anna, feeling that she must ask advice, wrote to her mother. The Countess had answered her last letter with great severity,—that letter in which the daughter had declared that people ought not to be asked to marry for money. The Countess, whose whole life had made her stern and unbending, said very hard things to her child; had told her that she was ungrateful and disobedient, unmindful of her family, neglectful of her duty, and willing to sacrifice the prosperity and happiness of all belonging to her, for some girlish feeling of mere romance. The Countess was sure that her daughter would never forgive herself in after years, if she now allowed to pass by this golden opportunity of remedying all the evil that her father had done. "You are simply asked to do that which every well-bred girl in England would be delighted to do," wrote the Countess.
"Ah! she does not know," said Lady Anna.
But there had come upon her now a fear heavier and more awful than that which she entertained for her mother. Earl Lovel knew her secret, and Earl Lovel was to tell it to the Solicitor-General. She hardly doubted that it might as well be told to all the judges on the bench at once. Would it not be better that she should be married to Daniel Thwaite out of hand, and so be freed from the burden of any secret? The young lord had been thoroughly ashamed of her when she told it. Those aunts at Yoxham would hardly speak to her if they knew it. That lady before whom she had been made to walk out to dinner, would disdain to sit in the same room with her if she knew it. It must be known,—must be known to them all. But she need not remain there, beneath their eyes, while they learned it. Her mother must know it, and it would be better that she should tell her mother. She would tell her mother,—and request that she might have permission to return at once to the lodgings in Wyndham Street. So she wrote the following letter,—in which, as the reader will perceive, she could not even yet bring herself to tell her secret:—
Yoxham Rectory, Monday.
MY DEAR MAMMA,
I want you to let me come home, because I think I have been here long enough. Lord Lovel has gone away, and though you are so very angry, it is better I should tell you that we are not any longer friends. Dear, dear, dearest mamma; I am so very unhappy that you should not be pleased with me. I would die to-morrow if I could make you happy. But it is all over now, and he would not do it even if I could say that it should be so. He has gone away, and is in London, and would tell you so himself if you would ask him. He despises me, as I always knew he would,—and so he has gone away. I don't think anything of myself, because I knew it must be so; but I am so very unhappy because you will be unhappy.
I don't think they want to have me here any longer, and of course there is no reason why they should. They were very nice to me before all this happened, and they never say anything illnatured to me now. But it is very different, and there cannot be any good in remaining. You are all alone, and I think you would be glad to see your poor Anna, even though you are so angry with her. Pray let me come home. I could start very well on Friday, and I think I will do so, unless I hear from you to the contrary. I can take my place by the coach, and go away at twelve o'clock from York, and be at that place in London on Saturday at eleven. I must take my place on Thursday. I have plenty of money, as I have not spent any since I have been here. Of course Sarah will come with me. She is not nearly so nice since she knew that Lord Lovel was to go away.
Dear mamma, I do love you so much.
Your most affectionate daughter,
It was not wilfully that the poor girl gave her mother no opportunity of answering her before she had taken her place by the coach. On Thursday morning the place had to be taken, and on Thursday evening she got her mother's letter. By the same post came the Earl's letter to his aunt, desiring that Lady Anna might, if possible, be kept at Yoxham. The places were taken, and it was impossible. "I don't see why you should go," said aunt Julia, who clearly perceived that her nephew had been instigated to pursue the marriage scheme since he had been in town. Lady Anna urged that the money had been paid for two places by the coach. "My brother could arrange that, I do not doubt," said aunt Julia. But the Countess now expected her daughter, and Lady Anna stuck to her resolve. Her mother's letter had not been propitious to the movement. If the places were taken, of course she must come. So said the Countess. It was not simply that the money should not be lost, but that the people at Yoxham must not be allowed to think that her daughter was over anxious to stay. "Does your mamma want to have you back?" asked aunt Julia. Lady Anna would not say that her mother wanted her back, but simply pleaded again that the places had been taken.
When the morning came for her departure, the carriage was ordered to take her into York, and the question arose as to who should go with her. It was incumbent on the rector, who held an honorary stall in the cathedral, to be with the dean and his brother prebendaries on that day, and the use of his own carriage would be convenient to him.
"I think I'll have the gig," said the rector.
"My dear Charles," pleaded his sister, "surely that will be foolish. She can't hurt you."
"I don't know that," said the rector. "I think she has hurt me very much already. I shouldn't know how to talk to her."
"You may be sure that Frederic means to go on with it," said Mrs. Lovel.
"It would have been better for Frederic if he had never seen her," said the rector; "and I'm sure it would have been better for me."
But he consented at last, and he himself handed Lady Anna into the carriage. Mrs. Lovel accompanied them, but Aunt Julia made her farewells in the rectory drawing-room. She managed to get the girl to herself for a moment or two, and thus she spoke to her. "I need not tell you that, for yourself, my dear, I like you very much."
"Oh, thank you, Miss Lovel."
"I have heartily wished that you might be our Frederic's wife."
"It can never be," said Lady Anna.
"I won't give up all hope. I don't pretend to understand what there is amiss between you and Frederic, but I won't give it up. If it is to be so, I hope that you and I may be loving friends till I die. Give me a kiss, my dear." Lady Anna, whose eyes were suffused with tears, threw herself into the arms of the elder lady and embraced her.
Mrs. Lovel also kissed her, and bade God bless her as she parted from her at the coach door; but the rector was less demonstrative. "I hope you will have a pleasant journey," he said, taking off his clerical hat.
"Let it go as it may," said Mrs. Lovel, as she walked into the close with her husband, "you may take my word, she's a good girl."
"I'm afraid she's sly," said the rector.
"She's no more sly than I am," said Mrs. Lovel, who herself was by no means sly.
LADY ANNA'S RECEPTION.
The Countess went into the City to meet her daughter at the Saracen's Head, whither the York coach used to run, and received her almost in silence. "Oh, mamma, dear mamma," said Lady Anna, "I am so glad to be back with you again." Sarah, the lady's-maid, was there, useless, officious, and long-eared. The Countess said almost nothing; she submitted to be kissed, and she asked after the luggage. At that time she had heard the whole story about Daniel Thwaite.
The Solicitor-General had disregarded altogether his client's injunctions as to secrecy. He had felt that in a matter of so great importance it behoved him to look to his client's interests, rather than his client's instructions. This promise of a marriage with the tailor's son must be annihilated. On behalf of the whole Lovel family it was his duty, as he thought, to see that this should be effected, if possible,—and as quickly as possible. This was his duty, not only as a lawyer employed in a particular case, but as a man who would be bound to prevent any great evil which he saw looming in the future. In his view of the case the marriage of Lady Anna Lovel, with a colossal fortune, to Daniel Thwaite the tailor, would be a grievous injury to the social world of his country,—and it was one of those evils which may probably be intercepted by due and discreet precautions. No doubt the tailor wanted money. The man was entitled to some considerable reward for all that he had done and all that he had suffered in the cause. But Sir William could not himself propose the reward. He could not chaffer for terms with the tailor. He could not be seen in that matter. But having heard the secret from the Earl, he thought that he could get the work done. So he sent for Mr. Flick, the attorney, and told Mr. Flick all that he knew. "Gone and engaged herself to the tailor!" said Mr. Flick, holding up both his hands. Then Sir William took Lady Anna's part. After all, such an engagement was not,—as he thought,—unnatural. It had been made while she was very young, when she knew no other man of her own age in life, when she was greatly indebted to this man, when she had had no opportunity of measuring a young tailor against a young lord. She had done it probably in gratitude;—so said Sir William;—and now clung to it from good faith rather than affection. Neither was he severe upon the tailor. He was a man especially given to make excuses for poor weak, erring, unlearned mortals, ignorant of the law,—unless when a witness attempted to be impervious;—and now he made excuses for Daniel Thwaite. The man might have done so much worse than he was doing. There seemed already to be a noble reliance on himself in his conduct. Lord Lovel thought that there had been no correspondence while the young lady had been at Yoxham. There might have been, but had not been, a clandestine marriage. Other reasons he gave why Daniel Thwaite should not be regarded as altogether villanous. But, nevertheless, the tailor must not be allowed to carry off the prize. The prize was too great for him. What must be done? Sir William condescended to ask Mr. Flick what he thought ought to be done. "No doubt we should be very much guided by you, Mr. Solicitor," said Mr. Flick.
"One thing is, I think, plain, Mr. Flick. You must see the Countess and tell her, or get Mr. Goffe to do so. It is clear that she has been kept in the dark between them. At present they are all living together in the same house. She had better leave the place and go elsewhere. They should be kept apart, and the girl, if necessary, should be carried abroad."
"I take it there is a difficulty about money, Mr. Solicitor."
"There ought to be none,—and I will take it upon myself to say that there need be none. It is a case in which the court will willingly allow money out of the income of the property. The thing is so large that there should be no grudging of money for needful purposes. Seeing what prima facie claims these ladies have, they are bound to allow them to live decently, in accordance with their alleged rank, till the case is settled. No doubt she is the heiress."
"You feel quite sure, Sir William?"
"I do;—though, as I have said before, it is a case of feeling sure, and not being sure. Had that Italian woman been really the widow, somebody would have brought her case forward more loudly."
"But if the other Italian woman who died was the wife?"
"You would have found it out when you were there. Somebody from the country would have come to us with evidence, knowing how much we could afford to pay for it. Mind you, the matter has been tried before, in another shape. The old Earl was indicted for bigamy and acquitted. We are bound to regard that young woman as Lady Anna Lovel, and we are bound to regard her and her mother conjointly as co-heiresses, in different degrees, to all the personal property which the old Earl left behind him. We can't with safety take any other view. There will still be difficulties in their way;—and very serious difficulties, were she to marry this tailor; but, between you and me, he would eventually get the money. Perhaps, Mr. Flick, you had better see him. You would know how to get at his views without compromising anybody. But, in the first place, let the Countess know everything. After what has been done, you won't have any difficulty in meeting Mr. Goffe."
Mr. Flick had no difficulty in seeing Mr. Goffe,—though he felt that there would be very much difficulty in seeing Mr. Daniel Thwaite. He did tell Mr. Goffe the story of the wicked tailor,—by no means making those excuses which the Solicitor-General had made for the man's presumptuous covetousness. "I knew the trouble we should have with that man," said Mr. Goffe, who had always disliked the Thwaites. Then Mr. Flick went on to say that Mr. Goffe had better tell the Countess,—and Mr. Goffe on this point agreed with his adversary. Two or three days after that, but subsequently to the date of the last letter which the mother had written to her daughter, Lady Lovel was told that Lady Anna was engaged to marry Mr. Daniel Thwaite.
She had suspected how it might be; her heart had for the last month been heavy with the dread of this great calamity; she had made her plans with the view of keeping the two apart; she had asked her daughter questions founded on this very fear;—and yet she could not for a while be brought to believe it. How did Mr. Goffe know? Mr. Goffe had heard it from Mr. Flick, who had heard it from Sir William Patterson; to whom the tale had been told by Lord Lovel. "And who told Lord Lovel?" said the Countess flashing up in anger.
"No doubt Lady Anna did so," said the attorney. But in spite of her indignation she could retain her doubts. The attorney, however, was certain. "There could be no hope but that it was so." She still pretended not to believe it, though fully intending to take all due precautions in the matter. Since Mr. Goffe thought that it would be prudent, she would remove to other lodgings. She would think of that plan of going abroad. She would be on her guard, she said. But she would not admit it to be possible that Lady Anna Lovel, the daughter of Earl Lovel, her daughter, should have so far disgraced herself.
But she did believe it. Her heart had in truth told her that it was true at the first word the lawyer had spoken to her. How blind she must have been not to have known it! How grossly stupid not to have understood those asseverations from the girl, that the marriage with her cousin was impossible! Her child had not only deceived her, but had possessed cunning enough to maintain her deception. It must have been going on for at least the last twelvemonth, and she, the while, had been kept in the dark by the manoeuvres of a simple girl! And then she thought of the depth of the degradation which was prepared for her. Had she passed twenty years of unintermittent combat for this,—that when all had been done, when at last success was won, when the rank and wealth of her child had been made positively secure before the world, when she was about to see the unquestioned coronet of a Countess placed upon her child's brow,—all should be destroyed through a passion so mean as this! Would it not have been better to have died in poverty and obscurity,—while there were yet doubts,—before any assured disgrace had rested on her? But, oh! to have proved that she was a Countess, and her child the heiress of an Earl, in order that the Lady Anna Lovel might become the wife of Daniel Thwaite, the tailor!
She made many resolutions; but the first was this, that she would never smile upon the girl again till this baseness should have been abandoned. She loved her girl as only mothers do love. More devoted than the pelican, she would have given her heart's blood,—had given all her life,—not only to nurture, but to aggrandize her child. The establishment of her own position, her own honour, her own name, was to her but the incidental result of her daughter's emblazonment in the world. The child which she had borne to Earl Lovel, and which the father had stigmatised as a bastard, should by her means be known as the Lady Anna, the heiress of that father's wealth,—the wealthiest, the fairest, the most noble of England's daughters. Then there had come the sweet idea that this high-born heiress of the Lovels, should herself become Countess Lovel, and the mother had risen higher in her delighted pride. It had all been for her child! Had she not loved as a mother, and with all a mother's tenderness? And for what?
She would love still, but she would never again be tender till her daughter should have repudiated her base,—her monstrous engagement. She bound up all her faculties to harshness, and a stern resolution. Her daughter had been deceitful, and she would now be ruthless. There might be suffering, but had not she suffered? There might be sorrow, but had not she sorrowed? There might be a contest, but had not she ever been contesting? Sooner than that the tailor should reap the fruit of her labours,—labours which had been commenced when she first gave herself in marriage to that dark, dreadful man,—sooner than that her child should make ignoble the blood which it had cost her so much to ennoble, she would do deeds which should make even the wickedness of her husband child's play in the world's esteem. It was in this mood of mind that she went to meet her daughter at the Saracen's Head.
She had taken fresh lodgings very suddenly,—in Keppel Street, near Russell Square, a long way from Wyndham Street. She had asked Mr. Goffe to recommend her a place, and he had sent her to an old lady with whom he himself had lodged in his bachelor's days. Keppel Street cannot be called fashionable, and Russell Square is not much affected by the nobility. Nevertheless the house was superior in all qualifications to that which she was now leaving, and the rent was considerably higher. But the affairs of the Countess in regard to money were in the ascendant; and Mr. Goffe did not scruple to take for her a "genteel" suite of drawing-rooms,—two rooms with folding-doors, that is,—with the bedrooms above, first-class lodging-house attendance, and a garret for the lady's-maid. "And then it will be quite close to Mrs. Bluestone," said Mr. Goffe, who knew of that intimacy.
The drive in a glass coach home from the coach-yard to Keppel Street was horrible to Lady Anna. Not a word was spoken, as Sarah, the lady's-maid, sat with them in the carriage. Once or twice the poor girl tried to get hold of her mother's hand, in order that she might entice something of a caress. But the Countess would admit of no such softness, and at last withdrew her hand roughly. "Oh mamma!" said Lady Anna, unable to suppress her dismay. But the Countess said never a word. Sarah, the lady's-maid, began to think that there must be a second lover. "Is this Wyndham Street?" said Lady Anna when the coach stopped.
"No, my dear;—this is not Wyndham Street. I have taken another abode. This is where we are to live. If you will get out I will follow you, and Sarah will look to the luggage." Then the daughter entered the house, and met the old woman curtseying to her. She at once felt that she had been removed from contact with Daniel Thwaite, and was sure that her mother knew her story. "That is your room," said her mother. "You had better get your things off. Are you tired?"
"Oh! so tired!" and Lady Anna burst into tears.
"What will you have?"
"Oh, nothing! I think I will go to bed, mamma. Why are you unkind to me? Do tell me. Anything is better than that you should be unkind."
"Anna,—have not you been unkind to me?"
"Never, mamma;—never. I have never meant to be unkind. I love you better than all the world. I have never been unkind. But, you;—Oh, mamma, if you look at me like that, I shall die."
"Is it true that you have promised that you would be the wife of Mr. Daniel Thwaite?"
"Is it true? I will be open with you. Mr. Goffe tells me that you have refused Lord Lovel, telling him that you must do so because you were engaged to Mr. Daniel Thwaite. Is that true?"
"Yes, mamma;—it is true."
"And you have given your word to that man?"
"I have, mamma."
"And yet you told me that there was no one else when I spoke to you of Lord Lovel? You lied to me?" The girl sat confounded, astounded, without power of utterance. She had travelled from York to London, inside one of those awful vehicles of which we used to be so proud when we talked of our stage coaches. She was thoroughly weary and worn out. She had not breakfasted that morning, and was sick and ill at ease, not only in heart, but in body also. Of course it was so. Her mother knew that it was so. But this was no time for fond compassion. It would be better, far better that she should die than that she should not be compelled to abandon this grovelling abasement. "Then you lied to me?" repeated the Countess still standing over her.
"Oh, mamma, you mean to kill me."
"I would sooner die here, at your feet, this moment, and know that you must follow me within an hour, than see you married to such a one as that. You shall never marry him. Though I went into court myself and swore that I was that lord's mistress,—that I knew it when I went to him,—that you were born a brat beyond the law, that I had lived a life of perjury, I would prevent such greater disgrace as this. It shall never be. I will take you away where he shall never hear of you. As to the money, it shall go to the winds, so that he shall never touch it. Do you think that it is you that he cares for? He has heard of all this wealth,—and you are but the bait upon his hook to catch it."
"You do not know him, mamma."
"Will you tell me of him, that I do not know him; impudent slut! Did I not know him before you were born? Have I not known him all through? Will you give me your word of honour that you will never see him again?" Lady Anna tried to think, but her mind would not act for her. Everything was turning round, and she became giddy and threw herself on the bed. "Answer me, Anna. Will you give me your word of honour that you will never see him again?"
She might still have said yes. She felt that enough of speech was left to her for so small an effort,—and she knew that if she did so the agony of the moment would pass away from her. With that one word spoken her mother would be kind to her, and would wait upon her; would bring her tea, and would sit by her bedside, and caress her. But she too was a Lovel, and she was, moreover, the daughter of her who once had been Josephine Murray.
"I cannot say that, mamma," she said, "because I have promised."
Her mother dashed from the room, and she was left alone upon the bed.
DANIEL AND THE LAWYER.
It has been said that the Countess, when she sent her daughter down to Yoxham, laid her plans with the conviction that the associations to which the girl would be subjected among the Lovels would fill her heart and mind with a new-born craving for the kind of life which she would find in the rector's family;—and she had been right. Daniel Thwaite also had known that it would be so. He had been quite alive to the fact that he and his conversation would be abased, and that his power, both of pleasing and of governing, would be lessened, by this new contact. But, had he been able to hinder her going, he would not have done so. None of those who were now interested in his conduct knew aught of the character of this man. Sir William Patterson had given him credit for some honesty, but even he had not perceived,—had had no opportunity of perceiving,—the staunch uprightness which was as it were a backbone to the man in all his doings. He was ambitious, discontented, sullen, and tyrannical. He hated the domination of others, but was prone to domineer himself. He suspected evil of all above him in rank, and the millennium to which he looked forward was to be produced by the gradual extirpation of all social distinctions. Gentlemen, so called, were to him as savages, which had to be cleared away in order that that perfection might come at last which the course of nature was to produce in obedience to the ordinances of the Creator. But he was a man who reverenced all laws,—and a law, if recognised as a law, was a law to him whether enforced by a penalty, or simply exigent of obedience from his conscience. This girl had been thrown in his way, and he had first pitied and then loved her from his childhood. She had been injured by the fiendish malice of her own father,—and that father had been an Earl. He had been strong in fighting for the rights of the mother,—not because it had been the mother's right to be a Countess,—but in opposition to the Earl. At first,—indeed throughout all these years of conflict, except the last year,—there had been a question, not of money, but of right. The wife was entitled to due support,—to what measure of support Daniel had never known or inquired; but the daughter had been entitled to nothing. The Earl, had he made his will before he was mad,—or, more probably, had he not destroyed, when mad, the will which he had before made,—might and would have left the girl without a shilling. In those days, when Daniel's love was slowly growing, when he wandered about with the child among the rocks, when the growing girl had first learned to swear to him that he should always be her friend of friends, when the love of the boy had first become the passion of the man, there had been no thought of money in it. Money! Had he not been well aware from his earliest understanding of the need of money for all noble purposes, that the earnings of his father, which should have made the world to him a world of promise, were being lavished in the service of these forlorn women? He had never complained. They were welcome to it all. That young girl was all the world to him; and it was right that all should be spent; as though she had been a sister, as though she had already been his wife. There had been no plot then by which he was to become rich on the Earl's wealth. Then had come the will, and the young Earl's claims, and the general belief of men in all quarters that the young Earl was to win everything. What was left of the tailor's savings was still being spent on behalf of the Countess. The first fee that ever found its way into the pocket of Serjeant Bluestone had come from the diminished hoard of old Thomas Thwaite. Then the will had been set aside; and gradually the cause of the Countess had grown to be in the ascendant. Was he to drop his love, to confess himself unworthy, and to slink away out of her sight, because the girl would become an heiress? Was he even to conceive so badly of her as to think that she would drop her love because she was an heiress? There was no such humility about him,—nor such absence of self-esteem. But, as regarded her, he told himself at once that she should have the chance of being base and noble,—all base, and all noble as far as title and social standing could make her so,—if such were her desire. He had come to her and offered her her freedom;—had done so, indeed, with such hot language of indignant protest against the gilded gingerbread of her interested suitor, as would have frightened her from the acceptance of his offer had she been minded to accept it;—but his words had been hot, not from a premeditated purpose to thwart his own seeming liberality, but because his nature was hot and his temper imperious. This lordling was ready to wed his bride,—the girl he had known and succoured throughout their joint lives,—simply because she was rich and the lordling was a pauper. From the bottom of his heart he despised the lordling. He had said to himself a score of times that he could be well content to see the lord take the money, waste it among thieves and prostitutes, and again become a pauper, while he had the girl to sit with him at his board, and share with him the earnings of his honest labour. Of course he had spoken out. But the girl should be at liberty to do as she pleased.
He wrote no line to her before she went, or while she was at Yoxham, nor did he speak a word concerning her during her absence. But as he sat at his work, or walked to and fro between his home and the shop, or lay sleepless in bed, all his thoughts were of her. Twice or thrice a week he would knock at the door of the Countess's room, and say a word or two, as was rendered natural by their long previous intercourse. But there had been no real intercourse between them. The Countess told him nothing of her plans; nor did he ever speak to her of his. Each suspected the other; and each was grimly civil. Once or twice the Countess expressed a hope that the money advanced by Thomas Thwaite might soon be repaid to him with much interest. Daniel would always treat the subject with a noble indifference. His father, he said, had never felt an hour's regret at having parted with his money. Should it, perchance, come back to him, he would take it, no doubt, with thanks.
Then he heard one evening, as he returned from his work, that the Countess was about to remove herself on the morrow to another home. The woman of the house, who told him, did not know where the Countess had fixed her future abode. He passed on up to his bedroom, washed his hands, and immediately went down to his fellow-lodger. After the first ordinary greeting, which was cold and almost unkind, he at once asked his question. "They tell me that you go from this to-morrow Lady Lovel." She paused a moment, and then bowed her head. "Where is it that you are going to live?" She paused again, and paused long, for she had to think what answer she would make him. "Do you object to let me know?" he asked.
"Mr. Thwaite, I must object."
Then at that moment there came upon him the memory of all that he and his father had done, and not the thought of that which he intended to do. This was the gratitude of a Countess! "In that case of course I shall not ask again. I had hoped that we were friends."
"Of course we are friends. Your father has been the best friend I ever had. I shall write to your father and let him know. I am bound to let your father know all that I do. But at present my case is in the hands of my lawyers, and they have advised that I should tell no one in London where I live."
"Then good evening, Lady Lovel. I beg your pardon for having intruded." He left the room without another word, throwing off the dust from his feet as he went with violent indignation. He and she must now be enemies. She had told him that she would separate herself from him,—and they must be separated. Could he have expected better things from a declared Countess? But how would it be with Lady Anna? She also had a title. She also would have wealth She might become a Countess if she wished it. Let him only know by one sign from her that she did wish it, and he would take himself off at once to the farther side of the globe, and live in a world contaminated by no noble lords and titled ladies. As it happened the Countess might as well have given him the address, as the woman at the lodgings informed him on the next morning that the Countess had removed herself to No. —— Keppel Street.
He did not doubt that Lady Anna was about to return to London. That quick removal would not otherwise have been made. But what mattered it to him whether she were at Yoxham or in Keppel Street? He could do nothing. There would come a time,—but it had not come as yet,—when he must go to the girl boldly, let her be guarded as she might, and demand her hand. But the demand must be made to herself and herself only. When that time came there should be no question of money. Whether she were the undisturbed owner of hundreds of thousands, or a rejected claimant to her father's name, the demand should be made in the same tone and with the same assurance. He knew well the whole history of her life. She had been twenty years old last May, and it was now September. When the next spring should come round she would be her own mistress, free to take herself from her mother's hands, and free to give herself to whom she would. He did not say that nothing should be done during those eight months; but, according to his lights, he could not make his demand with full force till she was a woman, as free from all legal control, as was he as a man.
The chances were much against him. He knew what were the allurements of luxury. There were moments in which he told himself that of course she would fall into the nets that were spread for her. But then again there would grow within his bosom a belief in truth and honesty which would buoy him up. How grand would be his victory, how great the triumph of a human soul's nobility, if, after all these dangers, if after all the enticements of wealth and rank, the girl should come to him, and lying on his bosom, should tell him that she had never wavered from him through it all! Of this, at any rate, he assured himself,—that he would not go prying, with clandestine manoeuvres, about that house in Keppel Street. The Countess might have told him where she intended to live without increasing her danger.
While things were in this state with him he received a letter from Messrs. Norton and Flick, the attorneys, asking him to call on Mr. Flick at their chambers in Lincoln's Inn. The Solicitor-General had suggested to the attorney that he should see the man, and Mr. Flick had found himself bound to obey; but in truth he hardly knew what to say to Daniel Thwaite. It must be his object of course to buy off the tailor; but such arrangements are difficult, and require great caution. And then Mr. Flick was employed by Earl Lovel, and this man was the friend of the Earl's opponents in the case. Mr. Flick did feel that the Solicitor-General was moving into great irregularities in this cause. The cause itself was no doubt peculiar,—unlike any other cause with which Mr. Flick had become acquainted in his experience; there was no saying at the present moment who had opposed interests, and who combined interests in the case; but still etiquette is etiquette, and Mr. Flick was aware that such a house as that of Messrs. Norton and Flick should not be irregular. Nevertheless he sent for Daniel Thwaite.
After having explained who he was, which Daniel knew very well, without being told, Mr. Flick began his work. "You are aware, Mr. Thwaite, that the friends on both sides are endeavouring to arrange this question amicably without any further litigation."
"I am aware that the friends of Lord Lovel, finding that they have no ground to stand on at law, are endeavouring to gain their object by other means."
"No, Mr. Thwaite. I cannot admit that for a moment. That would be altogether an erroneous view of the proceeding."
"Is Lady Anna Lovel the legitimate daughter of the late Earl?"
"That is what we do not know. That is what nobody knows. You are not a lawyer, Mr. Thwaite, or you would be aware that there is nothing more difficult to decide than questions of legitimacy. It has sometimes taken all the Courts a century to decide whether a marriage is a marriage or not. You have heard of the great MacFarlane case. To find out who was the MacFarlane they had to go back a hundred and twenty years, and at last decide on the memory of a man whose grandmother had told him that she had seen a woman wearing a wedding-ring. The case cost over forty thousand pounds, and took nineteen years. As far as I can see this is more complicated even than that. We should in all probability have to depend on the proceedings of the courts in Sicily, and you and I would never live to see the end of it."
"You would live on it, Mr. Flick, which is more than I could do."
"Mr. Thwaite, that I think is a very improper observation; but, however—. My object is to explain to you that all these difficulties may be got over by a very proper and natural alliance between Earl Lovel and the lady who is at present called by courtesy Lady Anna Lovel."
"By the Crown's courtesy, Mr. Flick," said the tailor, who understood the nature of the titles which he hated.
"We allow the name, I grant you, at present; and are anxious to promote the marriage. We are all most anxious to bring to a close this ruinous litigation. Now, I am told that the young lady feels herself hampered by some childish promise that has been made—to you."
Daniel Thwaite had expected no such announcement as this. He did not conceive that the girl would tell the story of her engagement, and was unprepared at the moment for any reply. But he was not a man to remain unready long. "Do you call it childish?" he said.
"I do certainly."
"Then what would her engagement be if now made with the Earl? The engagement with me, as an engagement, is not yet twelve months old, and has been repeated within the last month. She is an infant, Mr. Flick, according to your language, and therefore, perhaps, a child in the eye of the law. If Lord Lovel wishes to marry her, why doesn't he do so? He is not hindered, I suppose, by her being a child."
"Any marriage with you, you know, would in fact be impossible."
"A marriage with me, Mr. Flick, would be quite as possible as one with the Lord Lovel. When the lady is of age, no clergyman in England dare refuse to marry us, if the rules prescribed by law have been obeyed."
"Well, well, Mr. Thwaite; I do not want to argue with you about the law and about possibilities. The marriage would not be fitting, and you know that it would not be fitting."
"It would be most unfitting,—unless the lady wished it as well as I. Just as much may be said of her marriage with Earl Lovel. To which of us has she given her promise? which of us has she known and loved? which of us has won her by long friendship and steady regard? and which of us, Mr. Flick, is attracted to the marriage by the lately assured wealth of the young woman? I never understood that Lord Lovel was my rival when Lady Anna was regarded as the base-born child of the deceased madman."
"I suppose, Mr. Thwaite, you are not indifferent to her money?"
"Then you suppose wrongly,—as lawyers mostly do when they take upon themselves to attribute motives."
"You are not civil, Mr. Thwaite."
"You did not send for me here, sir, in order that there should be civilities between us. But I will at least be true. In regard to Lady Anna's money, should it become mine by reason of her marriage with me, I will guard it for her sake, and for that of the children she may bear, with all my power. I will assert her right to it as a man should do. But my purpose in seeking her hand will neither be strengthened nor weakened by her money. I believe that it is hers. Nay,—I know that the law will give it to her. On her behalf, as being betrothed to her, I defy Lord Lovel and all other claimants. But her money and her hand are two things apart, and I will never be governed as to the one by any regard as to the other. Perhaps, Mr. Flick, I have said enough,—and so, good morning." Then he went away.
The lawyer had never dared to suggest the compromise which had been his object in sending for the man. He had not dared to ask the tailor how much ready money he would take down to abandon the lady, and thus to relieve them all from that difficulty. No doubt he exercised a wise discretion, as had he done so, Daniel Thwaite might have become even more uncivil than before.
THERE IS A GULF FIXED.
"Do you think that you could be happier as the wife of such a one as Daniel Thwaite, a creature infinitely beneath you, separated as you would be from all your kith and kin, from all whose blood you share, from me and from your family, than you would be as the bearer of a proud name, the daughter and the wife of an Earl Lovel,—the mother of the earl to come? I will not speak now of duty, or of fitness, or of the happiness of others which must depend upon you. It is natural that a girl should look to her own joys in marriage. Do you think that your joy can consist in calling that man your husband?"
It was thus that the Countess spoke to her daughter, who was then lying worn out and ill on her bed in Keppel Street. For three days she had been subject to such addresses as this, and during those three days no word of tenderness had been spoken to her. The Countess had been obdurate in her hardness,—still believing that she might thus break her daughter's spirit, and force her to abandon her engagement. But as yet she had not succeeded. The girl had been meek and, in all other things, submissive. She had not defended her conduct. She had not attempted to say that she had done well in promising to be the tailor's bride. She had shown herself willing by her silence to have her engagement regarded as a great calamity, as a dreadful evil that had come upon the whole Lovel family. She had not boldness to speak to her mother as she had spoken on the subject to the Earl. She threw herself entirely upon her promise, and spoke of her coming destiny as though it had been made irrevocable by her own word. "I have promised him, mamma, and have sworn that it should be so." That was the answer which she now made from her bed;—the answer which she had made a dozen times during the last three days.
"Is everybody belonging to you to be ruined because you once spoke a foolish word?"
"Mamma, it was often spoken,—very often, and he does not wish that anybody should be ruined. He told me that Lord Lovel might have the money."
"Foolish, ungrateful girl! It is not for Lord Lovel that I am pleading to you. It is for the name, and for your own honour. Do you not constantly pray to God to keep you in that state of life to which it has pleased Him to call you;—and are you not departing from it wilfully and sinfully by such an act as this?" But still Lady Anna continued to say that she was bound by the obligation which was upon her.
On the following day the Countess was frightened, believing that the girl was really ill. In truth she was ill,—so that the doctor who visited her declared that she must be treated with great care. She was harassed in spirit,—so the doctor said,—and must be taken away, so that she might be amused. The Countess was frightened, but still was resolute. She not only loved her daughter,—but loved no other human being on the face of the earth. Her daughter was all that she had to bind her to the world around her. But she declared to herself again and again that it would be better that her daughter should die than live and be married to the tailor. It was a case in which persecution even to the very gate of the grave would be wise and warrantable,—if by such persecution this odious, monstrous marriage might be avoided. And she did believe that persecution would avail at last. If she were only steady in her resolve, the girl would never dare to demand the right to leave her mother's house and walk off to the church to be married to Daniel Thwaite, without the countenance of a single friend. The girl's strength was not of that nature. But were she, the Countess, to yield an inch, then this evil might come upon them. She had heard that young people can always beat their parents if they be sufficiently obdurate. Parents are soft-hearted to their children, and are prone to yield. And so would she have been soft-hearted, if the interests concerned had been less important, if the deviation from duty had been less startling, or the union proposed less monstrous and disgraceful. But in this case it behoved her to be obdurate,—even though it should be to the very gates of the grave. "I swear to you," she said, "that the day of your marriage to Daniel Thwaite shall be the day of my death."
In her straits she went to Serjeant Bluestone for advice. Now, the Serjeant had hitherto been opposed to all compromise, feeling certain that everything might be gained without the sacrifice of a single right. He had not a word to say against a marriage between the two cousins, but let the cousin who was the heiress be first placed in possession of her rights. Let her be empowered, when she consented to become Lady Lovel, to demand such a settlement of the property as would be made on her behalf if she were the undisputed owner of the property. Let her marry the lord if she would, but not do so in order that she might obtain the partial enjoyment of that which was all her own. And then, so the Serjeant had argued, the widowed Countess would never be held to have established absolutely her own right to her name, should any compromise be known to have been effected. People might call her Countess Lovel; but, behind her back, they would say that she was no countess. The Serjeant had been very hot about it, especially disliking the interference of Sir William. But now, when he heard this new story, his heat gave way. Anything must be done that could be done;—everything must be done to prevent such a termination to the career of the two ladies as would come from a marriage with the tailor.
But he was somewhat dismayed when he came to understand the condition of affairs in Keppel Street. "How can I not be severe?" said the Countess, when he remonstrated with her. "If I were tender with her she would think that I was yielding. Is not everything at stake,—everything for which my life has been devoted?" The Serjeant called his wife into council, and then suggested that Lady Anna should spend a week or two in Bedford Square. He assured the Countess that she might be quite sure that Daniel Thwaite should find no entrance within his doors.
"But if Lord Lovel would do us the honour to visit us, we should be most happy to see him," said the Serjeant.
Lady Anna was removed to Bedford Square, and there became subject to treatment that was milder, but not less persistent. Mrs. Bluestone lectured her daily, treating her with the utmost respect, paying to her rank a deference, which was not indeed natural to the good lady, but which was assumed, so that Lady Anna might the better comprehend the difference between her own position and that of the tailor. The girls were told nothing of the tailor,—lest the disgrace of so unnatural a partiality might shock their young minds; but they were instructed that there was danger, and that they were always, in speaking to their guest, to take it for granted that she was to become Countess Lovel. Her maid, Sarah, went with her to the Serjeant's, and was taken into a half-confidence. Lady Anna was never to be left a moment alone. She was to be a prisoner with gilded chains,—for whom a splendid, a glorious future was in prospect, if only she would accept it.
"I really think that she likes the lord the best," said Mrs. Bluestone to her husband.
"Then why the mischief won't she have him?" This was in October, and that November term was fast approaching in which the cause was set down for trial.
"I almost think she would if he'd come and ask her again. Of course, I have never mentioned the other man; but when I speak to her of Earl Lovel, she always answers me as though she were almost in love with him. I was inquiring yesterday what sort of a man he was, and she said he was quite perfect. 'It is a thousand pities,' she said, 'that he should not have this money. He ought to have it, as he is the Earl.'"
"Why doesn't she give it to him?"
"I asked her that; but she shook, her head and said, that it could never be. I think that man has made her swear some sort of awful oath, and has frightened her."
"No doubt he has made her swear an oath, but we all know how the gods regard the perjuries of lovers," said the Serjeant. "We must get the young lord here when he comes back to town."
"Is he handsome?" asked Alice Bluestone, the younger daughter, who had become Lady Anna's special friend in the family. Of course they were talking of Lord Lovel.
"Everybody says he is."
"But what do you say?"
"I don't think it matters much about a man being handsome,—but he is beautiful. Not dark, like all the other Lovels; nor yet what you call fair. I don't think that fair men ever look manly."
"Oh no," said Alice, who was contemplating an engagement with a black-haired young barrister.
"Lord Lovel is brown,—with blue eyes; but it is the shape of his face that is so perfect,—an oval, you know, that is not too long. But it isn't that makes him look as he does. He looks as though everybody in the world ought to do exactly what he tells them."
"And why don't you, dear, do exactly what he tells you?"
"Ah,—that is another question. I should do many things if he told me. He is the head of our family. I think he ought to have all this money, and be a rich great man, as the Earl Lovel should be."