Lady Anna, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 9

It isn’t Law

On the next morning Lady Anna was ill, and would not leave her bed. When her mother spoke to her, she declared that her head ached wretchedly, and she could not be persuaded to dress herself.

“Is it what I said to you last night?” asked the Countess.

“Oh, mamma, that is impossible,” she said.

It seemed to the mother that the mention of the young lord’s name had produced a horror in the daughter’s mind which nothing could for the present subdue. Before the day was over, however, the girl had acknowledged that she was bound in duty, at any rate, to meet her cousin; and the Countess, forced to satisfy herself with so much of concession, and acting upon that, fixed herself in her purpose to go on with the project. The lawyers on both sides would assist her. It was for the advantage of them all that there should be such a marriage. She determined, therefore, that she would at once see Mr Goffe, her own attorney, and give him to understand in general terms that the case might be proceeded with on this new matrimonial basis.

But there was a grievous doubt on her mind — a fear, a spark of suspicion, of which she had unintentionally given notice to Thomas Thwaite when she asked him whether he had as yet spoken of the proposed marriage to his son. He had understood what was passing in her mind when she exacted from him a promise that nothing should as yet be said to Daniel Thwaite upon the matter. And yet she assured herself over and over again that her girl could not be so weak, so vain, so foolish, so wicked as that! It could not be that, after all the struggles of her life — when at last success, perfect success, was within their grasp, when all had been done and all well done, when the great reward was then coming up to their very lips with a full tide — it could not be that in the very moment of victory all should be lost through the base weakness of a young girl! Was it possible that her daughter — the daughter of one who had spent the very marrow of her life in fighting for the position that was due to her — should spoil all by preferring a journeyman tailor to a young nobleman of high rank, of ancient lineage, and one, too, who by his marriage with herself would endow her with wealth sufficient to make that rank splendid as well as illustrious? But if it were not so, what had the girl meant by saying that it was impossible? That the word should have been used once or twice in maidenly scruple, the Countess could understand; but it had been repeated with a vehemence beyond that which such natural timidity might have produced. And now the girl professed herself to be ill in bed, and when the subject was broached would only weep, and repeat the one word with which she had expressed her repugnance to the match.

Hitherto she had not been like this. She had, in her own quiet way, shared her mother’s aspirations, and had always sympathised with her mother’s sufferings; and she had been dutiful through it all, carrying herself as one who was bound to special obedience by the peculiarity of her parent’s position. She had been keenly alive to the wrongs that her mother endured, and had in every respect been a loving child. But now she protested that she would not do the one thing necessary to complete their triumph, and would give no reason for not doing so. As the Countess thought of all this, she swore to herself that she would prefer to divest her bosom of all soft motherly feeling than be vanquished in this matter by her own child. Her daughter should find that she could be stern and rough enough if she were really thwarted. What would her life be worth to her if her child, Lady Anna Lovel, the heiress and only legitimate offspring of the late Earl Lovel, were to marry a — tailor?

And then, again, she told herself that there was no sufficient excuse for such alarm. Her daughter’s demeanour had ever been modest. She had never been given to easy friendship, or to that propensity to men’s acquaintance which the world calls flirting. It might be that the very absence of such propensity — the very fact that hitherto she had never been thrust into society among her equals — had produced that feeling almost of horror which she had expressed. But she had been driven, at any rate, to say that she would meet the young man; and the Countess, acting upon that, called on Mr Goffe in his chambers, and explained to that gentleman that she proposed to settle the whole question in dispute by giving her daughter to the young Earl in marriage. Mr Goffe, who had been present at the conference among the lawyers, understood it all in a moment. The overture had been made from the other side to his client.

“Indeed, my lady!” said Mr Goffe.

“Do you not think it will be an excellent arrangement?”

In his heart of hearts Mr Goffe thought that it would be an excellent arrangement; but he could not commit himself to such an opinion. Serjeant Bluestone thought that the matter should be fought out, and Mr Goffe was not prepared to separate himself from his legal adviser. As Serjeant Bluestone had said after the conference, with much argumentative vehemence — “If we were to agree to this, how would it be if the marriage should not come off? The court can’t agree to a marriage. The court must direct to whom the property belongs. They profess that they can prove that our marriage was no marriage. They must do so, or else they must withdraw the allegation. Suppose the Italian woman were to come forward afterwards with her claim as the widow, where then would be my client’s position, and her title as dowager countess, and her claim upon her husband’s personal estate? I never heard anything more irregular in my life. It is just like Patterson, who always thinks he can make laws according to the light of his own reason.” So Serjeant Bluestone had said to the lawyers who were acting with him; and Mr Goffe, though he did himself think that this marriage would be the best thing in the world, could not differ from the Serjeant.

No doubt there might even yet be very great difficulties, even though the young Earl and Lady Anna Lovel should agree to be married. Mr Goffe on that occasion said very little to the Countess, and she left him with a feeling that a certain quantity of cold water had been thrown upon the scheme. But she would not allow herself to be disturbed by that. The marriage could go on without any consent on the part of the lawyers, and the Countess was quite satisfied that, should the marriage be once completed, the money and the titles would all go as she desired. She had already begun to have more faith in the Solicitor-General than in Mr Goffe or in Serjeant Bluestone.

But Serjeant Bluestone was not a man to bear such treatment and be quiet under it. He heard that very day from Mr Goffe what had been done, and was loud in the expression of his displeasure. It was the most irregular thing that he had ever known. No other man except Patterson in the whole profession would have done it! The counsel on the other side — probably Patterson himself — had been to his client, and given advice to his client, and had done so after her own counsel had decided that no such advice should be given! He would see the Attorney-General, and ask the Attorney-General what he thought about it. Now, it was supposed in legal circles, just at this period, that the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General were not the best friends in the world; and the latter was wont to call the former an old fogey, and the former to say of the latter that he might be a very clever philosopher, but certainly no lawyer. And so by degrees the thing got much talked about in the profession; and there was perhaps a balance of opinion that the Solicitor-General had done wrong.

But this was certain — that no one could be put into possession of the property till the court had decided to whom it belonged. If the Earl withdrew from his claim, the widow would simply be called on to prove her own marriage — which had in truth been proved more than once already — and the right of her legitimate child would follow as a matter of course. It was by no means probable that the woman over in Italy would make any claim on her own behalf — and even, should she do so, she could not find the means of supporting it. “They must be asses” said the Solicitor-General, “not to see that I am fighting their battle for them, and that I am doing so because I can best secure my own client’s interests by securing theirs also.” But even he became nervous after a day or two, and was anxious to learn that the marriage scheme was progressing. He told his client, Lord Lovel, that it would be well that the marriage should take place before the court sat in November. “In that case settlements will, of course, have been made, and we shall simply withdraw. We shall state the fact of this new marriage, and assert ourselves to be convinced that the old marriage was good and valid. But you should lose no time in the wooing, my lord.” At this time the Earl had not seen his cousin, and it had not yet been decided when they should meet.

“It is my duty to explain to you, Lady Lovel, as my client,” said Serjeant Bluestone to the Countess, “that this arrangement cannot afford a satisfactory mode to you of establishing your own position.”

“It would be so happy for the whole family!”

“As to that I can know nothing, Lady Lovel. If your daughter and the Earl are attached to each other, there can be no reason on earth why they should not be married. But it should be a separate thing. Your position should not be made to depend upon hers.”

“But they will withdraw, Serjeant Bluestone.”

“How do you know that they will withdraw? Supposing at the last moment Lady Anna were to decline the alliance, would they withdraw then? Not a bit of it. The matter would be further delayed, and referred over to next year. You and your daughter would be kept out of your money, and there would still be danger.”

“I should not care for that — if they were married.”

“And they have set up this Italian countess — who never was a countess — any more than I am. Now they have put her up, they are bound to dispose of her. If she came forward afterwards, on her own behalf, where would you all be then?”

“My daughter would, at any rate, be safe.”

The Serjeant did not like it at all. He felt that he was being thrown over, not only by his client the Countess — as to which he might have been indifferent, knowing that the world at large, the laity as distinguished from the lawyers, the children of the world as all who were not lawyers seemed to him to be, will do and must be expected to do, foolish things continually. They cannot be persuaded to subject themselves to lawyers in all their doings, and, of course, go wrong when they do not do so. The infinite simplicity and silliness of mankind and womankind at large were too well known to the Serjeant to cause him dismay, let them be shown in ever so egregious a fashion. But in this case the fault came from another lawyer, who had tampered with his clients, and who seemed to be himself as ignorant as though he belonged to the outside world. And this man had been made Solicitor-General — over the heads of half the profession — simply because he could make a speech in Parliament!

But the Solicitor-General was himself becoming uneasy when at the end of a fortnight he learned that the young people — as he had come to call them on all occasions — had not as yet seen each other. He would not like to have it said of him that he had thrown over his client. And there were some who still believed that the Italian marriage had been a real marriage, and the Italian wife alive at the time of the Cumberland marriage — though the Italian woman now living had never been the countess. Mr Hardy so believed, and, in his private opinion, thought that the Solicitor-General had been very indiscreet.

“I don’t think that we could ever dare to face a jury,” said Sir William to Mr Hardy when they discussed the matter, about a fortnight after the proposition had been made.

“Why did the Earl always say that the Italian woman was his wife?”

“Because the Earl was a very devil.”

“Mr Flick does not think so.”

“Yes, he does; but Mr Flick, like all attorneys with a bad case, does not choose to say quite what he thinks, even to his own counsel. Mr Flick does not like to throw his client over, nor do I, nor do you. But with such a case we have no right to create increased expenses, and all the agony of prolonged fallacious hope. The girl is her father’s heir. Do you suppose I would not stick to my brief if I did not feel sure that it is so?”

“Then let the Earl be told, and let the girl have her rights.”

“Ah! there you have me. It may be that such would be the juster course; but then, Hardy, cannot you understand that though I am sure, I am not quite sure; that though the case is a bad one, it may not be quite bad enough to be thrown up? It is just the case in which a compromise is expedient. If but a quarter, or but an eighth of a probability be with you, take your proportion of the thing at stake. But here is a compromise that gives all to each. Who would wish to rob the girl of her noble name and great inheritance if she be the heiress? Not I, though the Earl be my client. And yet how sad would it be to have to tell that young man that there was nothing for him but to submit to lose all the wealth belonging to the family of which he has been born the head! If we can bring them together there will be nothing to make sore the hearts of any of us.”

Mr Hardy acknowledged to himself that the Solicitor-General pleaded his own case very well; but yet he felt that it wasn’t law.

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