The Kellys and the O'Kellys, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIV

The Countess

It was delightful to see on what good terms the earl and his son met that evening at dinner. The latter even went so far as to be decently civil to his mother, and was quite attentive to Fanny. She, however, did not seem to appreciate the compliment. It was now a fortnight since she had heard of her brother’s death, and during the whole of that time she had been silent, unhappy, and fretful. Not a word more had been said to her about Lord Ballindine, nor had she, as yet, spoken about him to any one; but she had been thinking about little else, and had ascertained at least, so she thought that she could never be happy, unless she were reconciled to him.

The more she brooded over the subject, the more she felt convinced that such was the case; she could not think how she had ever been induced to sanction, by her name, such an unwarrantable proceeding as the unceremonious dismissal of a man to whom her troth had been plighted, merely because he had not called to see her. As for his not writing, she was aware that Lord Cashel had recommended that, till she was of age, they should not correspond. As she thought the matter over in her own room, long hour after hour, she became angry with herself for having been talked into a feeling of anger for him. What right had she to be angry because he kept horses? She could not expect him to put himself into Lord Cashel’s leading-strings. Indeed, she thought she would have liked him less if he had done so. And now, to reject him just when circumstances put it in her power to enable her to free him from his embarrassments, and live a manner becoming his station! What must Frank think of her? For he could not but suppose that her rejection had been caused by her unexpected inheritance.

In the course of the fortnight, she made up her mind that all Lord Cashel had said to Lord Ballindine should be unsaid but who was to do it? It would be a most unpleasant task to perform; and one which, she was aware, her guardian would be most unwilling to undertake. She fully resolved that she would do it herself, if she could find no fitting ambassador to undertake the task, though that would be a step to which she would fain not be driven. At one time, she absolutely thought of asking her cousin, Kilcullen, about it this was just before his leaving Grey Abbey; he seemed so much more civil and kind than usual. But then, she knew so little of him, and so little liked what she did know: that scheme, therefore, was given up. Lady Selina was so cold, and prudent would talk to her so much about propriety, self-respect, and self-control, that she could not make a confidante of her. No one could talk to Selina on any subject more immediately interesting than a Roman Emperor, or a pattern for worsted-work. Fanny felt that she would not be equal, herself, to going boldly to Lord Cashel, and desiring him to inform Lord Ballindine that he had been mistaken in the view he had taken of his ward’s wishes: no that was impossible; such a proceeding would probably bring on a fit of apoplexy.

There was no one else to whom she could apply, but her aunt. Lady Cashel was a very good-natured old woman, who slept the greatest portion of her time, and knitted through the rest of her existence. She did not take a prominent part in any of the important doings of Grey Abbey; and, though Lord Cashel constantly referred to her, for he thought it respectable to do so, no one regarded her much. Fanny felt, however, that she would neither scold her, ridicule her, nor refuse to listen: to Lady Cashel, therefore, at last, she went for assistance.

Her ladyship always passed the morning after breakfast, in a room adjoining her own bed-room, in which she daily held deep debate with Griffiths, her factotum, respecting household affairs, knitting-needles, and her own little ailments and cossetings. Griffiths, luckily, was a woman of much the same tastes as her ladyship, only somewhat of a more active temperament; and they were most stedfast friends. It was such a comfort to Lady Cashel to have some one to whom she could twaddle!

The morning after Lord Kilcullen’s departure Fanny knocked at her door, and was asked to come in. The countess, as usual, was in her easy chair, with the knitting-apparatus in her lap, and Griffiths was seated at the table, pulling about threads, and keeping her ladyship awake by small talk.

‘I’m afraid I’m disturbing you, aunt,’ said Fanny, ‘but I wanted to speak to you for a minute or two. Good morning, Mrs Griffiths.’

‘Oh, no! you won’t disturb me, Fanny. I was a little busy this morning, for I wanted to finish this side of the You see what a deal I’ve done,’ and the countess lugged up a whole heap of miscellaneous worsted from a basket just under her arm ‘and I must finish it by lady-day, or I shan’t get the other done, I don’t know when. But still, I’ve plenty of time to attend to you.’

‘Then I’ll go down, my lady, and see about getting the syrup boiled,’ said Griffiths. ‘Good morning, Miss Wyndham.’

‘Do; but mind you come up again immediately I’ll ring the bell when Miss Wyndham is going; and pray don’t leave me alone, now.’

‘No, my lady not a moment,’ and Griffiths escaped to the syrup.

Fanny’s heart beat quick and hard, as she sat down on the sofa, opposite to her aunt. It was impossible for any one to be afraid of Lady Cashel, there was so very little about her that could inspire awe; but then, what she had to say was so very disagreeable to say! If she had had to tell her tale out loud, merely to the empty easy chair, it would have been a dreadful undertaking.

‘Well, Fanny, what can I do for you? I’m sure you look very nice in your bombazine; and it’s very nicely made up. Who was it made it for you?’

‘I got it down from Dublin, aunt; from Foley’s.’

‘Oh, I remember; so you told me. Griffiths has a niece makes those things up very well; but then she lives at Namptwich, and one couldn’t send to England for it. I had such a quantity of mourning by me, I didn’t get any made up new; else, I think I must have sent for her.’

‘My dear aunt, I am very unhappy about something, and I want you to help me. I’m afraid, though, it will give you a great deal of trouble.’

‘Good gracious, Fanny! what is it? Is it about poor Harry? I’m sure I grieved about him more than I can tell.’

‘No, aunt: he’s gone now, and time is the only cure for that grief. I know I must bear that without complaining. But, aunt, I feel I think, that is, that I’ve used Lord Ballindine very ill.’

‘Good gracious me, my love! I thought Lord Cashel had managed all that I thought that was all settled. You know, he would keep those horrid horses, and all that kind of thing; and what more could you do than just let Lord Cashel settle it?’

‘Yes, but aunt you see, I had engaged myself to Lord Ballindine, and I don’t think in fact oh, aunt! I did not wish to break my word to Lord Ballindine, and I am very very sorry for what has been done,’ and Fanny was again in tears.

‘But, my dear Fanny,’ said the countess, so far excited as to commence rising from her seat the attempt, however, was abandoned, when she felt the ill effects of the labour to which she was exposing herself ‘but, my dear Fanny what would you have? It’s done, now, you know; and, really, it’s for the best.’

‘Oh, but, dear aunt, I must get somebody to see him. I’ve been thinking about it ever since he was here with. my uncle. I wouldn’t let him think that I broke it all off, merely because because of poor Harry’s money,’ and Fanny sobbed away dreadfully.

‘But you don’t want to marry him!’ said the na‹ve countess.

Now, Fanny did want to marry him, though she hardly liked saying so, even to Lady Cashel.

‘You know, I promised him I would,’ said she; ‘and what will he think of me? what must he think of me, to throw him off so cruelly, so harshly, after all that’s past? Oh, aunt! I must see him again.’

‘I know something of human nature,’ replied the aunt, ‘and if you do, I tell you, it will end in your being engaged to him again. You know it’s off now. Come, my dear; don’t think so much about it: I’m sure Lord Cashel wouldn’t do anything cruel or harsh.’

‘Oh, I must see him again, whatever comes of it;’ and then she paused for a considerable time, during which the bewildered old lady was thinking what she could do to relieve her sensitive niece. ‘Dear, dear aunt, I don’t want to deceive you!’ and Fanny, springing up, knelt at her aunt’s feet, and looked up into her face. ‘I do love him I always loved him, and I cannot, cannot quarrel with him.’ And then she burst out crying vehemently, hiding her face in the countess’s lap.

Lady Cashel was quite overwhelmed. Fanny was usually so much more collected than herself, that her present prostration, both of feeling and body, was dreadful to see. Suppose she was to go into hysterics there they would be alone, and Lady Cashel felt that she had not strength to ring the bell.

‘But, my dear Fanny! oh dear, oh dear, this is very dreadful! but, Fanny he’s gone away now. Lift up your face, Fanny, for you frighten me. Well, I’m sure I’ll do anything for you. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind coming back again he always was very good-natured. I’m sure I always liked Lord Ballindine very much only he would have all those horses. But I’m sure, if you wish it, I should be very glad to see him marry you; only, you know, you must wait some time, because of poor Harry; and I’m sure I don’t know how you’ll manage with Lord Cashel.’

‘Dear aunt I want you to speak to Lord Cashel. When I was angry because I thought Frank didn’t come here as he might have done, I consented that my uncle should break off the match: besides, then, you know, we should have had so little between us. But I didn’t know then how well I loved him. Indeed, indeed, aunt, I cannot bring my heart to quarrel with him; and I am quite, quite sure he would never wish to quarrel with me. Will you go to my uncle tell him that I’ve changed my mind; tell him that I was a foolish girl, and did not know my mind. But tell him I must be friends with Frank again.’

‘Well, of course I’ll do what you wish me indeed, I would do anything for you, Fanny, as if you were one of my own; but really, I don’t know Good gracious! What am I to say to him? Wouldn’t it be better, Fanny, if you were to go to him yourself?’

‘Oh, no, aunt; pray do you tell him first. I couldn’t go to him; besides, he would do anything for you, you know. I want you to go to him do, now, dear aunt and tell him not from me, but from yourself how very, very much I that is, how very very but you will know what to say; only Frank must, must come back again.’

‘Well, Fanny, dear, I’ll go to Lord Cashel; or, perhaps, he wouldn’t mind coming here. Ring the bell for me, dear. But I’m sure he’ll be very angry. I’d just write a line and ask Lord Ballindine to come and dine here, and let him settle it all himself, only I don’t think Lord Cashel would like it.’

Griffiths answered the summons, and was despatched to the book-room to tell his lordship that her ladyship would be greatly obliged if he would step upstairs to her for a minute or two; and, as soon as Griffiths was gone on her errand, Fanny fled to her own apartment, leaving her aunt in a very bewilder and pitiable state of mind: and there she waited, with palpitating heart and weeping eyes, the effects of the interview.

She was dreadfully nervous, for she felt certain that she would be summoned before her uncle. Hitherto, she alone, in all the house, had held him in no kind of awe; indeed, her respect for her uncle had not been of the most exalted kind; but now she felt she was afraid of him.

She remained in her room much longer than she thought it would have taken her aunt to explain what she had to say. At last, however, she heard footsteps in the corridor, and Griffiths knocked at the door. Her aunt would be obliged by her stepping into her room. She tried not to look disconcerted, and asked if Lord Cashel were still there. She was told that he was; and she felt that she had to muster up all her courage to encounter him.

When she went into the room, Lady Cashel was still in her easy-chair, but the chair seemed to lend none of its easiness to its owner. She was sitting upright, with her hands on her two knees, and she looked perplexed, distressed, and unhappy. Lord Cashel was standing with his back to the fire-place, and Fanny had never seen his face look so black. He really seemed, for the time, to have given over acting, to have thrown aside his dignity, and to be natural and in earnest.

Lady Cashel began the conversation.

‘Oh, Fanny,’ she said, ‘you must really overcome all this sensitiveness; you really must. I’ve spoken to your uncle, and it’s quite impossible, and very unwise; and, indeed, it can’t be done at all. In fact, Lord Ballindine isn’t, by any means, the sort of person I supposed.’

Fanny knit her brows a little at this, and felt somewhat less humble than she did before. She knew she should get indignant if her uncle abused her lover, and that, if she did, her courage would rise in proportion. Her aunt continued ‘Your uncle’s very kind about it, and says he can, of course, forgive your feeling a little out of sorts just at present; and, I’m sure, so can I, and I’m sure I’d do anything to make you happy; but as for making it all up with Lord Ballindine again, indeed it cannot be thought of, Fanny; and so your uncle will tell you.’

And then Lord Cashel opened his oracular mouth, for the purpose of doing so.

‘Really, Fanny, this is the most unaccountable thing I ever heard of. But you’d better sit down, while I speak to you,’ and Fanny sat down on the sofa. ‘I think I understood you rightly, when you desired me, less than a month ago, to inform Lord Ballindine that circumstances that is, his own conduct obliged you to decline the honour of his alliance. Did you not do so spontaneously, and of your own accord?’

‘Certainly, uncle, I agreed to take your advice; though I did so most unwillingly.’

‘Had I not your authority for desiring him I won’t say to discontinue his visits, for that he had long done but to give up his pretensions to your hand? Did you not authorise me to do so?’

‘I believe I did. But, uncle ’

‘And I have done as you desired me; and now, Fanny, that I have done so now that I have fully explained to him what you taught me to believe were your wishes on the subject, will you tell me for I really think your aunt must have misunderstood you what it is that you wish me to do?’

‘Why, uncle, you pointed out and it was very true then, that my fortune was not sufficient to enable Lord Ballindine to keep up his rank. It is different now, and I am very, very sorry that it is so; but it is different now, and I feel that I ought not to reject Lord Ballindine, because I am so much richer than I was when he when he proposed to me.’

‘Then it’s merely a matter of feeling with you, and not of affection? If I understand you, you are afraid that you should be thought to have treated Lord Ballindine badly?’

‘It’s not only that —’ And then she paused for a few moments, and added, ‘I thought I could have parted with him, when you made me believe that I ought to do so, but I find I cannot.’

‘You mean that you love him?’ and the earl looked very black at his niece. He intended to frighten her out of her resolution, but she quietly answered,

‘Yes, uncle, I do.’

‘And you want me to tell him so, after having banished him from my house?’

Fanny’s eyes again shot fire at the word ‘banished’, but she answered, very quietly, and even with a smile,

‘No, uncle; but I want you to ask him here again. I might tell him the rest myself.’

‘But, Fanny, dear,’ said the countess, ‘your uncle couldn’t do it: you know, he told him to go away before. Besides, I really don’t think he’d come; he’s so taken up with those horrid horses, and that Mr Blake, who is worse than any of ’em. Really, Fanny, Kilcullen says that he and Mr Blake are quite notorious.’

‘I think, aunt, Lord Kilcullen might be satisfied with looking after himself. If it depended on him, he never had a kind word to say for Lord Ballindine.’

‘But you know, Fanny,’ continued the aunt, ‘he knows everybody; and if he says Lord Ballindine is that sort of person, why, it must be so, though I’m sure I’m very sorry to hear it.’

Lord Cashel saw that he could not trust any more to his wife: that last hit about Kilcullen had been very unfortunate; so he determined to put an end to all Fanny’s yearnings after her lover with a strong hand, and said,

‘If you mean, Fanny, after what has passed, that I should go to Lord Ballindine, and give him to understand that he is again welcome to Grey Abbey, I must at once tell you that it is absolutely absolutely impossible. If I had no personal objection to the young man on any prudential score, the very fact of my having already, at your request, desired his absence from my house, would be sufficient to render it impossible. I owe too much to my own dignity, and am too anxious for your reputation, to think of doing such a thing. But when I also remember that Lord Ballindine is a reckless, dissipated gambler I much fear, with no fixed principle, I should consider any step towards renewing the acquaintance between you a most wicked and unpardonable proceeding.’

When Fanny heard her lover designated as a reckless gambler, she lost all remaining feelings of fear at her uncle’s anger, and, standing up, looked him full in the face through her tears.

‘It’s not so, my lord!’ she said, when he had finished. ‘He is not what you have said. I know him too well to believe such things of him, and I will not submit to hear him abused.’

‘Oh, Fanny, my dear!’ said the frightened countess; ‘don’t speak in that way. Surely, your uncle means to act for your own happiness; and don’t you know Lord Ballindine has those horrid horses?’

‘If I don’t mind his horses, aunt, no one else need; but he’s no gambler, and he’s not dissipated I’m sure not half so much so as Lord Kilcullen.’

‘In that, Fanny, you’re mistaken,’ said the earl; ‘but I don’t wish to discuss the matter with you. You must, however, fully understand this: Lord Ballindine cannot be received under this roof. If you regret him, you must remember that his rejection was your own act. I think you then acted most prudently, and I trust it will not be long before you are of the same opinion yourself,’ and Lord Cashel moved to the door as though he had accomplished his part in the interview.

‘Stop one moment, uncle,’ said Fanny, striving hard to be calm, and hardly succeeding. ‘I did not ask my aunt to speak to you on this subject, till I had turned it over and over in my mind, and resolved that I would not make myself and another miserable for ever, because I had been foolish enough not to know my mind. You best know whether you can ask Lord Ballindine to Grey Abbey or not; but I am determined, if I cannot see him here, that I will see him somewhere else,’ and she turned towards the door, and then, thinking of her aunt, she turned back and kissed her, and immediately left the room.

The countess looked up at her husband, quite dumbfounded, and he seemed rather distressed himself. However, he muttered something about her being a hot-headed simpleton and soon thinking better about it, and then betook himself to his private retreat, to hold sweet converse with his own thoughts having first rung the bell for Griffiths, to pick up the scattered threads of her mistress’s knitting.

Lord Cashel certainly did not like the look of things. There was a determination in Fanny’s eye, as she made her parting speech, which upset him rather, and which threw considerable difficulties in the way of Lord Kilcullen’s wooing. To be sure, time would do a great deal: but then, there wasn’t so much time to spare. He had already taken steps to borrow the thirty thousand pounds, and had, indeed, empowered his son to receive it: he had also pledged himself for the other fifty; and then, after all, that perverse fool of a girl would insist on being in love with that scapegrace, Lord Ballindine! This, however, might wear away, and he would take very good care that she should hear of his misdoings. It would be very odd if, after all, his plans were to be destroyed, and his arrangements disconcerted by his own ward, and niece especially when he designed so great a match for her!

He could not, however, make himself quite comfortable, though he had great confidence in his own diplomatic resources.

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