Lady Anna, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 39

Lady Anna’s Offer

Early in March Lady Anna was convalescent, but had not left the house in Keppel Street, and the confusion and dismay of the Countess were greater than ever. Lady Anna had declared that she would not leave England for the present. She was reminded that at any rate till the 10th of May she was subject to her mother’s control. But by this time her mother’s harshness to her had produced some corresponding hardness in her. “Yes, mamma — but I will not go abroad. Things must be settled, and I am not well enough to go yet.” The Countess asserted that everything could be arranged abroad, that papers could be sent after them, that Mr Goffe could come out to them, and with much show of authority persisted. She would do anything by which she might be able to remove Lady Anna from the influence of Daniel Thwaite at the time at which the girl would cease to be subject to her. But in truth the girl had ceased to be subject to her. “No, mamma, I will not go. If you will ask Serjeant Bluestone, or Sir William Patterson, I am sure they will say that I ought not to be made to go.” There were some terrible scenes in which the mother was driven almost to desperation. Lady Anna repeated to the Countess all that she had said to Lord Lovel — and swore to her mother with the Bible in hand that if ever she became the wife of any man she would be the wife of Daniel Thwaite. Then the Countess with great violence knocked the book out of her daughter’s grasp, and it was thrown to the other side of the room. “If this is to go on,” said the Countess, one of us must die.”

“Mamma, I have done nothing to make you so unkind to me. You have not spoken one word of kindness to me since I came from Yoxham.”

“If this goes on I shall never speak a word of kindness to you again,” said the mother.

But in the midst of all this there was one point on which they agreed — on which they came sufficiently near together for action, though there was still a wide difference between them. Some large proportion of the property at stake was to be made over to Lord Lovel on the day that gave the girl the legal power of transferring her own possessions. The Countess began by presuming that the whole of Lady Anna’s wealth was to be transferred — not from any lack of reverence for the great amount which was in question, but feeling that for all good purposes it would be safer in the hands of the Earl than in those of her own child. If it could be arranged that the tailor could get nothing with his bride, then it might still be possible that the tailor might refuse the match. At any rate a quarrel might be fostered and the evil might be staved off. But to this Lady Anna would not assent. If she might act in this business in concert with Mr Thwaite she would be able, she thought, to do better by her cousin than she proposed. But as she was not allowed to learn what were Mr Thwaite’s wishes, she would halve her property with her cousin. As much as this she was willing to do — and was determined to do acting on her own judgment. More she would not do — unless she could see Mr Thwaite. As it stood, her proposition was one which would, if carried out, bestow something like £10,000 a year upon the Earl. Then Mr Goffe was sent for, and Lady Anna was allowed to communicate her suggestion to the lawyer. “That should require a great deal of thought,” said Mr Goffe with solemnity. Lady Anna declared that she had been thinking of it all the time she had been ill. “But it should not be done in a hurry,” said Mr Goffe. Then Lady Anna remarked that in the meantime, her cousin, the Earl, the head of her family, would have nothing to support his title. Mr Goffe took his leave, promising to consult his partner, and to see Mr Flick.

Mr Goffe did consult his partner and did see Mr Flick, and then Serjeant Bluestone was asked his advice — and the Solicitor-General. The Serjeant had become somewhat tired of the Lovels, and did not care to give any strong advice either in one direction or in the other. The young lady, he said, might of course do what she liked with her own when it was her own; but he thought that she should not be hurried. He pointed it out as a fact that the Earl had not the slightest claim upon any portion of the estate — not more than he would have had if this money had come to Lady Anna from her mother’s instead of from her father’s relatives. He was still of opinion that the two cousins might ultimately become man and wife if matters were left tranquil and the girl were taken abroad for a year or two. Lady Anna, however, would be of age in a few weeks, and must of course do as she liked with her own.

But they all felt that everything would at last be ruled by what the Solicitor-General might say. The Solicitor-General was going out of town for a week or ten days — having the management of a great case at the Spring Assizes. He would think over Lady Anna’s proposition, and say what he had to say when he returned. Lord Lovel, however, had been his client, and he had said from first to last that more was to be done for his client by amicable arrangement than by hostile opposition. If the Earl could get £10,000 a year by amicable arrangement, the Solicitor-General would be shown to have been right in the eyes of all men, and it was probable — as both Mr Goffe and Mr Flick felt — that he would not repudiate a settlement of the family affairs by which he would be proved to have been a discreet counsellor.

In the meantime it behoved Lord Lovel himself to have an opinion. Mr Flick of course had told him of the offer — which had in truth been made directly to himself by his cousin. At this time his affairs were not in a happy condition. A young earl, handsome and well esteemed, may generally marry an heiress — if not one heiress then another. Though he be himself a poor man, his rank and position will stand in lieu of wealth. And so would it have been with this young earl — who was very handsome and excellently well esteemed — had it not been that all the world knew that it was his especial business to marry one especial heiress. He could hardly go about looking for other honey, having as he had, one particular hive devoted by public opinion to himself. After a year or two he might have looked elsewhere — but what was he to do in the meantime? He was well nigh penniless, and in debt. So he wrote a letter to his uncle, the parson.

It may be remembered that when the uncle and nephew last parted in London there was not much love between them. From that day to this they had not seen each other, nor had there been any communication between them. The horses had been taken away and sold. The rector had spoken to the ladies of his household more than once with great bitterness of the young man’s ingratitude; and they more than once had spoken to the rector, with a woman’s piteous tenderness, of the young lord’s poverty. But it was all sorrow and distress. For in truth the rector could not be happy while he was on bad terms with the head of his family. Then the young lord wrote as though there had been nothing amiss between them. It had in truth all passed away from his mind. This very liberal offer had been made to him. It amounted to wealth in lieu of poverty — to what would be comfortable wealth even for an earl. Ten thousand a year was offered to him by his cousin. Might he accept it? The rector took the letter in good part, and begged his nephew to come at once to Yoxham. Whereupon the nephew went to Yoxham.

“What does Sir William say?” asked the rector, who, in spite of his disapproval of all that Sir William had done, felt that the Solicitor-General was the man whose influence in the matter would really prevail.

“He has said nothing as yet. He is out of town.”

“Ten thousand a year! Who was it made the offer?”

“She made it herself.”

“Lady Anna?”

“Yes — Lady Anna. It is a noble offer.”

“Yes, indeed. But then if she has no right to any of it, what does it amount to?”

“But she has a right to all of it — she and her mother between them.”

“I shall never believe it, Frederic — never; and not the less so because they now want to bind you to them by such a compromise as this.”

“I think you look at it in a wrong light, Uncle Charles.”

“Well — well. I will say nothing more about it. I don’t see why you shouldn’t take it — I don’t indeed. It ought to have been yours. Everybody says that. You’ll have to buy land, and it won’t give you nearly so much then. I hope you’ll buy land all the same, and I do hope it will be properly settled when you marry. As to marrying, you will be able to do much better than what you used to think of.”

“We won’t talk about that, Uncle Charles,” said the Earl.

As far as the rector’s opinion went, it was clear that the offer might be accepted; but yet it was felt that very much must depend on what the Solicitor-General might say. Then Miss Lovel gave her opinion on the matter, which did not altogether agree with that of her brother. She believed in Lady Anna, whereas the rector professed that he did not. The rector and Lady Fitzwarren were perhaps the only two persons who, after all that had been said and done, still maintained that the Countess was an impostor, and that Lady Anna would only be Anna Murray, if everybody had his due. Miss Lovel was quite as anxious on behalf of the Earl as was her brother, but she clung to the hope of a marriage. “I still think it might all come right, if you would only wait,” said Aunt Julia.

“It’s all very well talking of waiting, but how am I to live?”

“You could live here, Frederic. There is nothing my brother would like so much. I thought he would break his heart when the horses were taken away. It would only be for a year.”

“What would come of it?”

“At the end of the year she would be your wife.”

“Never!” said the Earl.

“Young men are so impatient.”

“Never, under any circumstances, would I ask her again. You may make your mind up to that. As sure as you stand there, she will marry Daniel Thwaite, if she lives another twelve-month.”

“You really think so, Frederic?”

“I am sure of it. After what she said to me, it would be impossible I should doubt it.”

“And she will be Lady Anna Thwaite! Oh dear, how horrible. I wish she had died when she was ill — I do indeed. A journeyman tailor! But something will prevent it. I really think that Providence will interfere to prevent it!” But in reference to the money she gave in her adhesion. If the great lawyer said that it might be taken — then it should be taken. At the end of a week the Earl hurried back to London to see the great lawyer.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43