The Countess had resolved that she would let their visitor depart without saying a word to him. Whatever might be the result of the interview, she was aware that she could not improve it by asking any question from the young lord, or by hearing any account of it from him. The ice had been broken, and it would now be her object to have her daughter invited down to Yoxham as soon as possible. If once the Earl’s friends could be brought to be eager for the match on his account, as was she on her daughter’s behalf, then probably the thing might be done. For herself, she expected no invitation, no immediate comfort, no tender treatment, no intimate familiar cousinship. She had endured hitherto, and would be contented to endure, so that triumph might come at last. Nor did she question her daughter very closely, anxious as she was to learn the truth.
Could she have heard every word that had been spoken she would have been sure of success. Could Daniel Thwaite have heard every word he would have been sure that the girl was about to be false to him. But the girl herself believed herself to have been true. The man had been so soft with her, so tender, so pleasant — so loving with his sweet cousinly offers of affection, that she could not turn herself against him. He had been to her eyes beautiful, noble — almost divine. She knew of herself that she could not be his wife — that she was not fit to be his wife — because she had given her troth to the tailor’s son. When her cousin touched her cheek with his lips she remembered that she had submitted to be kissed by one with whom her noble relative could hold no fellowship whatever. A feeling of degradation came upon her, as though by contact with this young man she was suddenly awakened to a sense of what her own rank demanded from her. When her mother had spoken to her of what she owed to her family, she had thought only of all the friendship that she and her mother had received from her lover and his father. But when Lord Lovel told her what she was — how she should ever be regarded by him as a dear cousin — how her mother should be accounted a countess, and receive from him the respect due to her rank — then she could understand how unfitting were a union between the Lady Anna Lovel and Daniel Thwaite, the journeyman tailor. Hitherto Daniel’s face had been noble in her eyes — the face of a man who was manly, generous, and strong. But after looking into the eyes of the young Earl, seeing how soft was the down upon his lips, how ruddy the colour of his cheek, how beautiful was his mouth with its pearl-white teeth, how noble the curve of his nostrils, after feeling the softness of his hand, and catching the sweetness of his breath, she came to know what it might have been to be wooed by such a one as he.
But not on that account did she meditate falseness. It was settled firm as fate. The dominion of the tailor over her spirit had lasted in truth for years. The sweet, perfumed graces of the young nobleman had touched her senses but for a moment. Had she been false-minded she had not courage to be false. But in truth she was not false-minded. It was to her, as that sunny moment passed across her, as to some hard-toiling youth who, while roaming listlessly among the houses of the wealthy, hears, as he lingers on the pavement of a summer night, the melodies which float upon the air from the open balconies above him. A vague sense of unknown sweetness comes upon him, mingled with an irritating feeling of envy that some favoured son of Fortune should be able to stand over the shoulders of that singing siren, while he can only listen with intrusive ears from the street below. And so he lingers and is envious, and for a moment curses his fate — not knowing how weary may be the youth who stands, how false the girl who sings. But he does not dream that his life is to be altered for him, because he has chanced to hear the daughter of a duchess warble through a window. And so it was with this girl. The youth was very sweet to her, intensely sweet when he told her that he would be a brother, perilously sweet when he bade her not to grudge him one kiss. But she knew that she was not as he was. That she had lost the right, could she ever have had the right, to live his life, to drink of his cup, and to lie on his breast. So she passed on, as the young man does in the street, and consoled herself with the consciousness that strength after all may be preferable to sweetness.
And she was an honest girl from her heart, and prone to truth, with a strong glimmer of common sense in her character, of which her mother hitherto had been altogether unaware. What right had her mother to think that she could be fit to be this young lord’s wife, having brought her up in the companionship of small traders in Cumberland? She never blamed her mother. She knew well that her mother had done all that was possible on her behalf. But for that small trader they would not even have had a roof to shelter them. But still there was the fact, and she understood it. She was as her bringing up had made her, and it was too late now to effect a change. Ah yes — it was indeed too late. It was all very well that lawyers should look upon her as an instrument, as a piece of goods that might now, from the accident of her ascertained birth, be made of great service to the Lovel family. Let her be the lord’s wife, and everything would be right for everybody. It had been very easy to say that! But she had a heart of her own — a heart to be touched, and won, and given away — and lost. The man who had been so good to them had sought for his reward, and had got it, and could not now be defrauded. Had she been dishonest she would not have dared to defraud him; had she dared, she would not have been so dishonest.
“Did you like him?” asked the mother, not immediately after the interview, but when the evening came.
“Oh yes — how should one not like him?”
“How indeed! He is the finest, noblest youth that ever my eyes rested on, and so like the Lovels.”
“Was my father like that?”
“Yes indeed, in the shape of his face, and the tone of his voice, and the movement of his eyes; though the sweetness of the countenance was all gone in the Devil’s training to which he had submitted himself. And you too are like him, though darker, and with something of the Murrays’ greater breadth of face. But I can remember portraits at Lovel Grange — everyone of them — and all of them were alike. There never was a Lovel but had that natural grace of appearance. You will gaze at those portraits, dear, oftener even than I have done; and you will be happy where I was — oh — so miserable!”
“I shall never see them, mamma.”
“I do not want to see them.”
“You say you like him?”
“Yes; I like him.”
“And why should you not love him well enough to make him your husband?”
“I am not fit to be his wife.”
“You are fit — none could be fitter; none others so fit. You are as well born as he, and you have the wealth which he wants. You must have it, if, as you tell me, he says that he will cease to claim it as his own. There can be no question of fitness.”
“Money will not make a girl fit, mamma.”
“You have been brought up as a lady — and are a lady. I swear I do not know what you mean. If he thinks you fit, and you can like him — as you say you do — what more can be wanted? Does he not wish it?”
“I do not know. He said he did not, and then — I think he said he did.”
“Is that it?”
“No, mamma. It is not that; not that only. It is too late!”
“Too late! How too late? Anna, you must tell me what you mean. I insist upon it that you tell me what you mean. Why is it too late?” But Lady Anna was not prepared to tell her meaning. She had certainly not intended to say anything to her mother of her solemn promise to Daniel Thwaite. It had been arranged between him and her that nothing was to be said of it till this law business should be all over. He had sworn to her that to him it made no difference, whether she should be proclaimed to be the Lady Anna, the undoubted owner of thousands a year, or Anna Murray, the illegitimate daughter of the late Earl’s mistress, a girl without a penny, and a nobody in the world’s esteem. No doubt they must shape their life very differently in this event or in that. How he might demean himself should this fortune be adjudged to the Earl, as he thought would be the case when he first made the girl promise to be his wife, he knew well enough. He would do as his father had done before him, and, he did not doubt — with better result. What might be his fate should the wealth of the Lovels become the wealth of his intended wife, he did not yet quite foreshadow to himself. How he should face and fight the world when he came to be accused of having plotted to get all this wealth for himself he did not know. He had dreams of distributing the greater part among the Lovels and the Countess, and taking himself and his wife with one-third of it to some new country in which they would not in derision call his wife the Lady Anna, and in which he would be as good a man as any earl. But let all that be as it might, the girl was to keep her secret till the thing should be settled. Now, in these latter days, it had come to be believed by him, as by nearly everybody else, that the thing was wellnigh settled. The Solicitor-General had thrown up the sponge. So said the bystanders. And now there was beginning to be a rumour that everything was to be set right by a family marriage. The Solicitor-General would not have thrown up the sponge — so said they who knew him best — without seeing a reason for doing so. Serjeant Bluestone was still indignant, and Mr Hardy was silent and moody. But the world at large were beginning to observe that in this, as in all difficult cases, the Solicitor-General tempered the innocence of the dove with the wisdom of the serpent. In the meantime Lady Anna by no means intended to allow the secret to pass her lips. Whether she ever could tell her mother, she doubted; but she certainly would not do so an hour too soon. “Why is it too late?” demanded the Countess, repeating her question with stern severity of voice.
“I mean that I have not lived all my life as his wife should live.”
“Trash! It is trash. What has there been in your life to disgrace you? We have been poor and we have lived as poor people do live. We have not been disgraced.”
“I will not hear such nonsense. It is a reproach to me.”
“Oh, mamma, do not say that. I know how good you have been — how you have thought of me in every thing. Pray do not say that I reproach you!” And she came and knelt at her mother’s lap.
“I will not, darling; but do not vex me by saying that you are unfit. There is nothing else, dearest?”
“No, mamma,” she said in a low tone, pausing before she told the falsehood.
“I think it will be arranged that you shall go down to Yoxham. The people there even are beginning to know that we are right, and are willing to acknowledge us. The Earl, whom I cannot but love already for his gracious goodness, has himself declared that he will not carry on the suit. Mr Goffe has told me that they are anxious to see you there. Of course you must go — and will go as Lady Anna Lovel. Mr Goffe says that some money can now be allowed from the estate, and you shall go as becomes the daughter of Earl Lovel when visiting among her cousins. You will see this young man there. If he means to love you and to be true to you, he will be much there. I do not doubt but that you will continue to like him. And remember this, Anna — that even though your name be acknowledged — even though all the wealth be adjudged to be your own — even though some judge on the bench shall say that I am the widowed Countess Lovel, it may be all undone some day — unless you become this young man’s wife. That woman in Italy may be bolstered up at last, if you refuse him. But when you are once the wife of young Lord Lovel, no one then can harm us. There can be no going back after that.” This the Countess said rather to promote the marriage, than from any fear of the consequences which she described. Daniel Thwaite was the enemy that now she dreaded, and not the Italian woman, or the Lovel family.
Lady Anna could only say that she would go to Yoxham, if she were invited there by Mrs Lovel.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01