Lady Anna, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 40

No Disgrace at all

Before the Solicitor-General returned to town things had come to a worse pass than ever. Lady Lovel had ordered her daughter to be ready to start to Paris by a certain hour, on a certain day — giving her three days for preparation — and Lady Anna had refused to go. Whereupon the Countess had caused her own things to be packed up, and those of her daughter. Sarah was now altogether in the confidence of the Countess, so that Lady Anna had not even dominion over her own clothes. The things were stowed away, and all the arrangements were made for the journey; but Lady Anna refused to go, and when the hour came could not be induced to get into the carriage. The lodgings had been paid for to the day, and given up; so that the poor old woman in Keppel Street was beside herself. Then the Countess, of necessity, postponed her journey for twenty-four hours, telling her daughter that on the next day she would procure the assistance of magistrates and force the rebel to obedience.

Hardly a word had been spoken between the mother and daughter during those three days. There had been messages sent backwards and forwards, and once or twice the Countess had violently entered Lady Anna’s bedroom, demanding submission. Lady Anna was always on the bed when her mother entered, and, there lying, would shake her head, and then with sobs accuse the Countess of unkindness. Lady Lovel had become furious in her wrath, hardly knowing what she herself did or said, always asserting her own authority, declaring her own power, and exclaiming against the wicked ingratitude of her child. This she did till the young waiting-woman was so frightened that she was almost determined to leave the house abruptly, though keenly alive to the profit and glory of serving a violent and rich countess. And the old lady who let the lodgings was intensely anxious to be rid of her lodgers, though her money was scrupulously paid, and no questions asked as to extra charges. Lady Anna was silent and sullen. When left to herself she spent her time at her writing-desk, of which she had managed to keep the key. What meals she took were brought up to her bedroom, so that a household more uncomfortable could hardly be gathered under a roof.

On the day fixed for that departure which did not take place, the Countess wrote to Mr Goffe for assistance — and Lady Anna, by the aid of the mistress of the house, wrote to Serjeant Bluestone. The letter to Mr Goffe was the first step taken towards obtaining that assistance from civil authorities to which the Countess thought herself to be entitled in order that her legal dominion over her daughter might be enforced. Lady Anna wrote to the Serjeant, simply begging that he would come to see her, putting her letter open into the hands of the landlady. She implored him to come at once — and, as it happened, he called in Keppel Street that night, whereas Mr Goffe’s visit was not made till the next morning. He asked for the Countess, and was shown into the drawing-room. The whole truth was soon made clear to him, for the Countess attempted to conceal nothing. Her child was rebelling against authority, and she was sure that the Serjeant would assist her in putting down and conquering such pernicious obstinacy. But she found at once that the Serjeant would not help her. “But Lady Anna will be herself of age in a day or two,” he said.

“Not for nearly two months,” said the Countess indignantly.

“My dear Lady Lovel, under such circumstances you can hardly put constraint upon her.”

“Why not? She is of age, or she is not. Till she be of age she is bound to obey me.”

“True — she is bound to obey you after a fashion, and so indeed she would be had she been of age a month since. But such obligations here in England go for very little, unless they are supported by reason.”

“The law is the law.”

“Yes — but the law would be all in her favour before you could get it to assist you — even if you could get its assistance. In her peculiar position, it is rational that she should choose to wait till she be able to act for herself. Very great interests will be at her disposal, and she will of course wish to be near those who can advise her.”

“I am her only guardian. I can advise her.” The Serjeant shook his head. “You will not help me then?”

“I fear I cannot help you, Lady Lovel.”

“Not though you know the reasons which induce me to take her away from England before she slips entirely out of my hands and ruins all our hopes?” But still the Serjeant shook his head. “Everyone is leagued against me,” said the Countess, throwing up her hands in despair.

Then the Serjeant asked permission to visit Lady Anna, but was told that he could not be allowed to do so. She was in bed, and there was nothing to make it necessary that she should receive a visit from a gentleman in her bedroom. “I am an old man’, said the Serjeant, “and have endeavoured to be a true and honest friend to the young lady. I think, Lady Lovel, that you will do wrong to refuse my request. I tell you fairly that I shall be bound to interfere on her behalf. She has applied to me as her friend, and I feel myself constrained to attend to her application.”

“She has applied to you?”

“Yes, Lady Lovel. There is her letter.”

“She has deceived me again,” said the Countess, tearing the letter into atoms. But the Serjeant so far frightened her that she was induced to promise that Mrs Bluestone should see Lady Anna on the following morning — stipulating, however, that Mrs Bluestone should see herself before she went upstairs.

On the following morning Mr Goffe came early. But Mr Goffe could give his client very little comfort. He was, however, less uncomfortable than the Serjeant had been. He was of opinion that Lady Anna certainly ought to go abroad, in obedience to her mother’s instructions, and was willing to go to her and tell her so, with what solemnity of legal authority he might be able to assume; but he could not say that anything could be done absolutely to enforce obedience. Mr Goffe suggested that perhaps a few gentle words might be successful. “Gentle words!” said the Countess, who had become quite unable to restrain herself. “The harshest words are only too gentle for her. If I had known what she was, Mr Goffe, I would never have stirred in this business. They might have called me what they would, and it would have been better.” When Mr Goffe came downstairs he had not a word to say more as to the efficacy of gentleness. He simply remarked that he did not think the young lady could be induced to go, and suggested that everybody had better wait till the Solicitor-General returned to town.

Then Mrs Bluestone came, almost on the heels of the attorney — poor Mrs Bluestone, who now felt that it was a dreadful grievance both to her and to her husband that they had had anything to do with the Lovel family! She was very formal in her manner — and, to tell the truth for her, rather frightened. The Serjeant had asked her to call and see Lady Anna Lovel. Might she be permitted to do so? Then the Countess burst forth with a long story of all her wrongs — with the history of her whole life. Not beginning with her marriage — but working back to it from the intense misery, and equally intense ambition of the present hour. She told it all; how everybody had been against her — how she had been all alone at the dreary Grange in Westmoreland — how she had been betrayed by her husband, and turned out to poverty and scorn — how she had borne it all for the sake of the one child who was, by God’s laws and man’s, the heiress to her father’s name; how she had persevered — intermingling it all with a certain worship of high honours and hereditary position with which Mrs Bluestone was able in some degree to sympathise. She was clever, and words came to her freely. It was almost impossible that any hearer should refuse to sympathise with her — any hearer who knew that her words were true. And all that she told was true. The things which she narrated had been done — the wrongs had been endured — and the end of it all which she feared, was imminent. And the hearer thought as did the speaker as to the baseness of this marriage with the tailor — thought as did the speaker of the excellence of the marriage with the lord. But still there was something in the woman’s eye — something in the tone of her voice, something in the very motion of her hands as she told her story, which made Mrs Bluestone feel that Lady Anna should not be left under her mother’s control. It would be very well that the Lovel family should be supported, and that Lady Anna should be kept within the pale of her own rank. But there might be things worse than Lady Anna’s defection — and worse even than the very downfall of the Lovels.

After sitting for nearly two hours with the Countess, Mrs Bluestone was taken upstairs. “Mrs Bluestone has come to see you,” said the Countess, not entering the room, and retreating again immediately as she closed the door.

“This is very kind of you, Mrs Bluestone,” said Lady Anna, who was sitting crouching in her dressing-gown over the fire. “But I thought that perhaps the Serjeant would come.” The lady, taken off her guard, immediately said that the Serjeant had been there on the preceding evening. “And mamma would not let me see him! But you will help me!”

In this interview, as in that below, a long history was told to the visitor, and was told with an eloquent energy which she certainly had not expected. “They talk to me of ladies,” said Lady Anna. “I was not a lady. I knew nothing of ladies and their doings. I was a poor girl, friendless but for my mother, sometimes almost without shoes to my feet, often ragged, solitary, knowing nothing of ladies. Then there came one lad, who played with me — and it was mamma who brought us together. He was good to me, when all others were bad. He played with me, and gave me things, and taught me — and loved me. Then when he asked me to love him again, and to love him always, was I to think that I could not — because I was a lady! You despise him because he is a tailor. A tailor was good to me, when no one else was good. How could I despise him because he was a tailor? I did not despise him, but I loved him with all my heart.”

“But when you came to know who you were, Lady Anna — ”

“Yes — yes. I came to know who I was, and they brought my cousin to me, and told me to love him, and bade me be a lady indeed. I felt it too, for a time. I thought it would be pleasant to be a Countess, and to go among great people; and he was pleasant, and I thought that I could love him too, and do as they bade me. But when I thought of it much — when I thought of it alone — I hated myself. In my heart of hearts I loved him who had always been my friend. And when Lord Lovel came to me at Bolton, and said that I must give my answer then — I told him all the truth. I am glad I told him the truth. He should not have come again after that. If Daniel is so poor a creature because he is a tailor — must not I be poor who love him? And what must he be when he comes to me again after that?”

When Mrs Bluestone descended from the room she was quite sure that the girl would become Lady Anna Thwaite, and told the Countess that such was her opinion. “By the God above me,” said the Countess rising from her chair — “by the God above me, she never shall.” But after that the Countess gave up her project of forcing her daughter to go abroad. The old lady of the house was told that the rooms would still be required for some weeks to come — perhaps for months; and having had a conference on the subject with Mrs Bluestone, did not refuse her consent.

At last Sir William returned to town, and was besieged on all sides, as though in his hands lay the power of deciding what should become of all the Lovel family. Mr Goffe was as confidential with him as Mr Flick, and even Serjeant Bluestone condescended to appeal to him. The young Earl was closeted with him on the day of his return, and he had found on his desk the following note from the Countess:

The Countess Lovel presents her compliments to the Solicitor-General. The Countess is very anxious to leave England with her daughter, but has hitherto been prevented by her child’s obstinacy. Sir William Patterson is so well aware of all the circumstances that he no doubt can give the Countess advice as to the manner in which she should proceed to enforce the obedience of her daughter. The Countess Lovel would feel herself unwarranted in thus trespassing on the Solicitor-General, were it not that it is her chief anxiety to do everything for the good of Earl Lovel and the family.

“Look at that, my lord,” said the Solicitor-General, showing the Earl the letter. “I can do nothing for her.”

“What does she want to have done?”

“She wants to carry her daughter away beyond the reach of Mr Thwaite. I am not a bit surprised; but she can’t do it. The days are gone by when a mother could lock her daughter up, or carry her away — at any rate in this country.”

“It is very sad.”

“It might have been much worse. Why should she not marry Mr Thwaite? Let them make the settlement as they propose, and then let the young lady have her way. She will have her way — whether her mother lets her or no.”

“It will be a disgrace to the family, Sir William.”

“No disgrace at all! How many peers’ daughters marry commoners in England. It is not with us as it is with some German countries in which noble blood is separated as by a barrier from blood that is not noble. The man I am told is clever and honest. He will have great means at his command, and I do not see why he should not make as good a gentleman as the best of us. At any rate she must not be persecuted.”

Sir William answered the Countess’s letter as a matter of course, but there was no comfort in his answer.

The Solicitor-General presents his compliments to the Countess Lovel. With all the will in the world to be of service, he fears that he can do no good by interfering between the Countess and Lady Anna Lovel. If, however, he may venture to give advice, he would suggest to the Countess that as Lady Anna will be of age in a short time, no attempt should now be made to exercise a control which must cease when that time shall arrive.

“They are all joined against me,” said the Countess, when she read the letter — “everyone of them! But still it shall never be. I will not live to see it.”

Then there was a meeting between Mr Flick and Sir William. Mr Flick must inform the ladies that nothing could be done till Lady Anna was of age — that not even could any instructions be taken from her before that time as to what should subsequently be done. If, when that time came, she should still be of a mind to share with her cousin the property, she could then instruct Mr Goffe to make out the necessary deeds.

All this was communicated by letter to the Countess, but Mr Goffe especially requested that the letter might be shown to Lady Anna, and that he might receive a reply intimating that Lady Anna understood its purport. If necessary he would call upon Lady Anna in Keppel Street. After some delay and much consideration, the Countess sent the attorney’s letter to her daughter, and Lady Anna herself wrote a reply. She perfectly understood the purport of Mr Goffe’s letter, and would thank Mr Goffe to call upon her on the 10th of May, when the matter might, she hoped, be settled.

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