For some days after the intimation of her mother’s purpose, Lady Anna kept her bed. She begged that she might not see a doctor. She had a headache — nothing but a headache. But it was quite impossible that she should ever marry Earl Lovel. This she said whenever her mother would revert to that subject — “I have not seen him, mamma; I do not know him. I am sure it would be impossible.” Then, when at last she was induced to dress herself, she was still unwilling to be forced to undergo the interview to which she had acknowledged that she must be subjected. At last she consented to spend a day in Bedford Square; to dine there, and to be brought home in the evening. The Countess was at this time not very full of trust in the Serjeant, having learned that he was opposed to the marriage scheme, but she was glad that her daughter should be induced to go out, even to the Serjeant’s house, as after that visit the girl could have no ground on which to oppose the meeting which was to be arranged. She could hardly plead that she was too ill to see her cousin when she had dined with Mrs Bluestone.
During this time many plans had been proposed for the meeting. The Solicitor-General, discussing the matter with the young lord, had thought it best that Lady Anna should at once be asked down to Yoxham — as the Lady Anna; and the young lord would have been quite satisfied with such an arrangement. He could have gone about his obligatory wooing among his own friends, in the house to which he had been accustomed, with much more ease than in a London lodging. But his uncle, who had corresponded on the subject with Mr Hardy, still objected. “We should be giving up everything’, he said, “if we were once to call her Lady Anna. Where should we be then if they didn’t hit it off together? I don’t believe, and I never shall believe, that she is really Lady Anna Lovel.” The Solicitor-General, when he heard of this objection, shook his head, finding himself almost provoked to anger. What asses were these people not to understand that he could see further into the matter than they could do, and that their best way out of their difficulty would be frankly to open their arms to the heiress! Should they continue to be pigheaded and prejudiced, everything would soon be gone.
Then he had a scheme for inviting the girl to his own house, and to that scheme he obtained his wife’s consent. But here his courage failed him; or, it might be fairer to say, that his prudence prevailed. He was very anxious, intensely eager, so to arrange this great family dispute that all should be benefited — believing, nay feeling positively certain, that all concerned in the matter were honest; but he must not go so far as to do himself an absolute and grievous damage, should it at last turn out that he was wrong in any of his surmises. So that plan was abandoned.
There was nothing left for it but that the young Earl should himself face the difficulty, and be introduced to the girl at the lodging in Wyndham Street. But, as a prelude to this, a meeting was arranged at Mr Flick’s chambers between the Countess and her proposed son-in-law. That the Earl should go to his own attorney’s chambers was all in rule. While he was there the Countess came — which was not in rule, and almost induced the Serjeant to declare, when he heard it, that he would have nothing more to do with the case. “My lord,” said the Countess, “I am glad to meet you, and I hope that we may be friends.” The young man was less collected, and stammered out a few words that were intended to be civil.
“It is a pity that you should have conflicting interests,” said the attorney.
“I hope it need not continue to be so,” said the Countess. “My heart, Lord Lovel, is all in the welfare of our joint family. We will begrudge you nothing if you will not begrudge us the names which are our own, and without which we cannot live honourably before the world.” Then some other few words were muttered, and the Earl promised to come to Wyndham Street at a certain hour. Not a word was then said about the marriage. Even the Countess, with all her resolution and all her courage, did not find herself able in set terms to ask the young man to marry her daughter.
“She is a very handsome woman,” said the lord to the attorney, when the Countess had left them.
“And like a lady.”
“Quite like a lady. She herself was of a good family.”
“I suppose she certainly was the late Earl’s wife, Mr Flick?”
“Who can say, my lord? That is just the question. The Solicitor-General thinks that she would prove her right, and I do not know that I have ever found him to be wrong when he has had a steadfast opinion.”
“Why should we not give it up to her at once?”
“I couldn’t recommend that, my lord. Why should we give it up? The interests at stake are very great. I couldn’t for a moment think of suggesting to you to give it up.”
“I want nothing, Mr Flick, that does not belong to me.”
“Just so. But then perhaps it does belong to you. We can never be sure. No doubt the safest way will be for you to contract an alliance with this lady. Of course we should give it up then, but the settlements would make the property all right.” The young Earl did not quite like it. He would rather have commenced his wooing after the girl had been established in her own right, and when she would have had no obligation on her to accept him. But he had consented, and it was too late for him now to recede. It had been already arranged that he should call in Wyndham Street at noon on the following day, in order that he might be introduced to his cousin.
On that evening the Countess sat late with her daughter, purposing that on the morrow nothing should be said before the interview calculated to disturb the girl’s mind. But as they sat together through the twilight and into the darkness of night, close by the open window, through which the heavily laden air of the metropolis came to them, hot with all the heat of a London July day, very many words were spoken by the Countess. “It will be for you, tomorrow, to make or to mar all that I have been doing since the day on which you were born.”
“Oh! mamma, that is so terrible a thing to say!”
“But terrible things must be said if they are true. It is so. It is for you to decide whether we shall triumph, or be utterly and for ever crushed.”
“I cannot understand it. Why should we be crushed? He would not wish to marry me if this fortune were not mine. He is not coming, mamma, because he loves me.”
“You say that because you do not understand. Do you suppose that my name will be allowed to me if you should refuse your cousin’s suit? If so, you are very much mistaken. The fight will go on, and as we have not money, we shall certainly go to the wall at last. Why should you not love him? There is no one else that you care for.”
“No, mamma,” she said slowly.
“Then, what more can you want?”
“I do not know him, mamma.”
“But you will know him. According to that, no girl would ever get married. Is it not a great thing that you should be asked to assume and to enjoy the rank which has belonged to your mother, but which she has never been able to enjoy?”
“I do not think, mamma, that I care much about rank.”
“Anna!” The mother’s mind as she heard this flew off to the young tailor. Had misery so great as this overtaken her after all?
“I mean that I don’t care so much about it. It has never done us any good.”
“But if it is a thing that is your own, that you are born to, you must bear it, whether it be in sorrow or in joy; whether it be a blessing or a curse. If it be yours, you cannot fling it away from you. You may disgrace it, but you must still have it. Though you were to throw yourself away upon a chimney-sweep, you must still be Lady Anna, the daughter of Earl Lovel.”
“I needn’t call myself so.”
“Others must call you so. It is your name, and you cannot be rid of it. It is yours of right, as my name has been mine of right; and not to assert it, not to live up to it, not to be proud of it, would argue incredible baseness. Noblesse oblige. You have heard that motto, and know what it means. And then would you throw away from you in some childish fantasy all that I have been struggling to win for you during my whole life? Have you ever thought of what my life has been, Anna?”
“Would you have the heart to disappoint me, now that the victory is won — now that it may be made our own by your help? And what is it that I am asking you to do? If this man were bad — if he were such a one as your father, if he were drunken, cruel, ill-conditioned, or even heavy, foolish, or deformed; had you been told stories to set you against him, as that he had been false with other women, I could understand it. In that case we would at any rate find out the truth before we went on. But of this man we hear that he is good, and pleasant; an excellent young man, who has endeared himself to all who know him. Such a one that all the girls of his own standing in the world would give their eyes to win him.”
“Let some girl win him then who cares for him.”
“But he wishes to win you, dearest.”
“Not because he loves me. How can he love me when he never saw me? How can I love him when I never saw him?”
“He wishes to win you because he has heard what you are, and because he knows that by doing so he can set things right which for many years have been wrong.”
“It is because he would get all this money.”
“You would both get it. He desires nothing unfair. Whatever he takes from you, so much he will give. And it is not only for this generation. Is it nothing to you that the chiefs of your own family who shall come after you shall be able to hold their heads up among other British peers? Would you not wish that your own son should come to be Earl Lovel, with wealth sufficient to support the dignity?”
“I don’t think it would make him happy, mamma.”
“There is something more in this, Anna, than I can understand. You used not to be so. When we talked of these things in past years you used not to be indifferent.”
“I was not asked then to — to — marry a man I did not care for.”
“There is something else, Anna.”
“If there be nothing else you will learn to care for him. You will see him tomorrow, and will be left alone with him. I will sit with you for a time, and then I will leave you. All that I ask of you is to receive him tomorrow without any prejudice against him. You must remember how much depends on you, and that you are not as other girls are.” After that Lady Anna was allowed to go to her bed, and to weep in solitude over the wretchedness of her condition. It was not only that she loved Daniel Thwaite with all her heart — loved him with a love that had grown with every year of her growth — but that she feared him also. The man had become her master; and even could she have brought herself to be false, she would have lacked the courage to declare her falsehood to the man to whom she had vowed her love.
On the following morning Lady Anna did not come down to breakfast, and the Countess began to fear that she would be unable to induce her girl to rise in time to receive their visitor. But the poor child had resolved to receive the man’s visit, and contemplated no such escape as that. At eleven o’clock she slowly dressed herself, and before twelve crept down into the one sitting-room which they occupied. The Countess glanced round at her, anxious to see that she was looking her best. Certain instructions had been given as to her dress, and the garniture of her hair, and the disposal of her ribbons. All these had been fairly well obeyed; but there was a fixed, determined hardness in her face which made her mother fear that the Earl might be dismayed. The mother knew that her child had never looked like that before.
Punctually at twelve the Earl was announced. The Countess received him very pleasantly, and with great composure. She shook hands with him as though they had known each other all their lives, and then introduced him to her daughter with a sweet smile. “I hope you will acknowledge her as your far-away cousin, my lord. Blood, they say, is thicker than water; and, if so, you two ought to be friends.”
“I am sure I hope we may be,” said the Earl.
“I hope so too — my lord,” said the girl, as she left her hand quite motionless in his.
“We heard of you down in Cumberland,” said the Countess. “It is long since I have seen the old place, but I shall never forget it. There is not a bush among the mountains there that I shall not remember — ay, into the next world, if aught of our memories are left to us.”
“I love the mountains; but the house is very gloomy.”
“Gloomy indeed. If you found it sad, what must it have been to me? I hope that I may tell you some day of all that I suffered there. There are things to tell of which I have never yet spoken to human being. She, poor child, has been too young and too tender to be troubled by such a tale. I sometimes think that no tragedy ever written, no story of horrors ever told, can have exceeded in description the things which I endured in that one year of my married life.” Then she went on at length, not telling the details of that terrible year, but speaking generally of the hardships of her life. “I have never wondered, Lord Lovel, that you and your nearest relations should have questioned my position. A bad man had surrounded me with such art in his wickedness, that it has been almost beyond my strength to rid myself of his toils.” All this she had planned beforehand, having resolved that she would rush into the midst of things at once, and if possible enlist his sympathies on her side.
“I hope it may be over now,” he said.
“Yes,” she replied, rising slowly from her seat, I hope it may be over now.” The moment had come in which she had to play the most difficult stroke of her whole game, and much might depend on the way in which she played it. She could not leave them together, walking abruptly out of the room, without giving some excuse for so unusual a proceeding. “Indeed, I hope it may be over now, both for us and for you, Lord Lovel. That wicked man, in leaving behind such cause of quarrel, has injured you almost as deeply as us. I pray God that you and that dear girl there may so look into each other’s hearts and trust each other’s purposes, that you may be able to set right the ill which your predecessor did. If so, the family of Lovel for centuries to come may be able to bless your names.” Then with slow steps she left the room.
Lady Anna had spoken one word, and that was all. It certainly was not for her now to speak. She sat leaning on the table, with her eyes fixed upon the ground, not daring to look at the man who had been brought to her as her future husband. A single glance she had taken as he entered the room, and she had seen at once that he was fair and handsome, that he still had that sweet winsome boyishness of face which makes a girl feel that she need not fear a man — that the man has something of her own weakness, and need not be treated as one who is wise, grand, or heroic. And she saw too in one glance how different he was from Daniel Thwaite, the man to whom she had absolutely given herself — and she understood at the moment something of the charm of luxurious softness and aristocratic luxury. Daniel Thwaite was swarthy, hard-handed, black-bearded — with a noble fire in his eyes, but with an innate coarseness about his mouth which betokened roughness as well as strength. Had it been otherwise with her than it was, she might, she thought, have found it easy enough to love this young earl. As it was, there was nothing for her to do but to wait and answer him as best she might.
“Lady Anna,” he said.
“Will it not be well that we should be friends?”
“Oh — friends — yes, my lord.”
“I will tell you all and everything — that is, about myself. I was brought up to believe that you and your mother were just — impostors.”
“My lord, we are not impostors.”
“No — I believe it. I am sure you are not. Mistakes have been made, but it has not been of my doing. As a boy, what could I believe but what I was told? I know now that you are and always have been as you have called yourself. If nothing else comes of it, I will at any rate say so much. The estate which your father left is no doubt yours. If I could hinder it, there should be no more law.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
“Your mother says that she has suffered much. I am sure she has suffered. I trust that all that is over now. I have come here today more to say that on my own behalf than anything else.” A shadow of a shade of disappointment, the slightest semblance of a cloud, passed across her heart as she heard this. But it was well. She could not have married him, even if he had wished it, and now, as it seemed, that difficulty was over. Her mother and those lawyers had been mistaken, and it was well that he should tell her so at once.
“It is very good of you, my lord.”
“I would not have you think of me that I could come to you hoping that you would promise me your love before I had shown you whether I had loved you or not.”
“No, my lord.” She hardly understood him now — whether he intended to propose himself as a suitor for her hand or not.
“You, Lady Anna, are your father’s heir. I am your cousin, Earl Lovel, as poor a peer as there is in England. They tell me that we should marry because you are rich and I am an earl.”
“So they tell me — but that will not make it right.”
“I would not have it so, even if I dared to think that you would agree to it.”
“Oh no, my lord; nor would I.”
“But if you could learn to love me — ”
“No, my lord — no.”
“Do not answer me yet, my cousin. If I swore that I loved you — loved you so soon after seeing you — and loved you, too, knowing you to be so wealthy an heiress — ”
“Ah, do not talk of that.”
“Well — not of that. But if I said that I loved you, you would not believe me.”
“It would not be true, my lord.”
“But I know that I shall love you. You will let me try? You are very lovely, and they tell me you are sweet-humoured. I can believe well that you are sweet and pleasant. You will let me try to love you, Anna?”
“No, my lord.”
“Must it be so, so soon?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Why that? Is it because we are strangers to each other? That may be cured — if not quickly, as I would have it cured, slowly and by degrees; slowly as you can wish, if only I may come where you shall be. You have said that we may be friends.”
“Oh yes — friends, I hope.”
“Friends at least. We are born cousins.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Cannot you call me by my name? Cousins, you know, do so. And remember this, you will have and can have no nearer cousin than I am. I am bound at least to be a brother to you.”
“Oh, be my brother!”
“That — or more than that. I would fain be more than that. But I will be that, at least. As I came to you, before I saw you, I felt that whenever we knew each other I could not be less to you than that. If I am your friend, I must be your best friend — as being, though poor, the head of your family. The Lovels should at least love each other; and cousins may love, even though they should not love enough to be man and wife.”
“I will love you so always.”
“Enough to be my wife?”
“Enough to be your dear cousin — your loving sister.”
“So it shall be — unless it can be more. I would not ask you for more now. I would not wish you to give more now. But think of me, and ask yourself whether you can dare to give yourself to me altogether.”
“I cannot dare, my lord.”
“You would not call your brother, lord. My name is Frederic. But Anna, dear Anna,’ — and then he took her unresisting hand — “you shall not be asked for more now. But cousins, new-found cousins, who love each other, and will stand by each other for help and aid against the world, may surely kiss — as would a brother and a sister. You will not grudge me a kiss.” Then she put up her cheek innocently, and he kissed it gently — hardly with a lover’s kiss. “I will leave you now,” he said, still holding her hand. “But tell your mother thus: that she shall no longer be troubled by lawyers at the suit of her cousin Frederic. She is to me the Countess Lovel, and she shall be treated by me with the honour suited to her rank.” And so he left the house without seeing the Countess again.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14