As all the world heard of what was going on, so did Daniel Thwaite hear it among others. He was a hard-working, conscientious, moody man, given much to silence among his fellow workmen — one to whom life was serious enough; not a happy man, though he had before him a prospect of prosperity which would make most men happy. But he was essentially a tender-hearted, affectionate man, who could make a sacrifice of himself if he thought it needed for the happiness of one he loved. When he heard of this proposed marriage, he asked himself many questions as to his duty and as to the welfare of the girl. He did love her with all his heart, and he believed thoroughly in her affection for himself. He had, as yet, no sufficient reason to doubt that she would be true to him — but he knew well that an earl’s coronet must be tempting to a girl so circumstanced as was Lady Anna. There were moments in which he thought that it was almost his duty to give her up, and bid her go and live among those of her own rank. But then he did not believe in rank. He utterly disbelieved in it; and in his heart of hearts he felt that he would make a better and a fitter husband to this girl than would an earl, with all an earl’s temptation to vice. He was ever thinking of some better world to which he might take her, which had not been contaminated by empty names and an impudent assumption of hereditary, and therefore false, dignity. As regarded the money, it would be hers whether she married him or the Earl. And if she loved him, as she had sworn that she did, why should he be false to her? Or why, as yet, should he think that she would prefer an empty, gilded lordling to the friend who had been her friend as far back as her memory could carry her? If she asked to be released, then indeed he would release her — but not without explaining to her, with such eloquence as he might be able to use, what it was she proposed to abandon, and what to take in place of that which she lost. He was a man, silent and under self-control, but self-confident also; and he did believe himself to be a better man than young Earl Lovel.
In making this resolution — that he would give her back her troth if she asked for it, but not without expressing to her his thoughts as he did so — he ignored the masterfulness of his own character. There are men who exercise dominion, from the nature of their disposition, and who do so from their youth upwards, without knowing, till advanced life comes upon them, that any power of dominion belongs to them. Men are persuasive, and imperious withal, who are unconscious that they use burning words to others, whose words to them are never even warm. So it was with this man when he spoke to himself in his solitude of his purpose of resigning the titled heiress. To the arguments, the entreaties, or the threats of others he would pay no heed. The Countess might bluster about her rank, and he would heed her not at all. He cared nothing for the whole tribe of Lovels. If Lady Anna asked for release, she should be released. But not till she had heard his words. How scalding these words might be, how powerful to prevent the girl from really choosing her own fate, he did not know himself.
Though he lived in the same house with her he seldom saw her — unless when he would knock at the door of an evening, and say a few words to her mother rather than to her. Since Thomas Thwaite had left London for the last time the Countess had become almost cold to the young man. She would not have been so if she could have helped it; but she had begun to fear him, and she could not bring herself to be cordial to him either in word or manner. He perceived it at once, and became himself cold and constrained.
Once, and once only, he met Lady Anna alone, after his father’s departure and before her interview with Lord Lovel. Then he met her on the stairs of the house while her mother was absent at the lawyer’s chambers.
“Are you here, Daniel, at this hour?” she asked, going back to the sitting-room, whither he followed her.
“I wanted to see you, and I knew that your mother would be out. It is not often that I do a thing in secret, even though it be to see the girl that I love.”
“No, indeed. I do not see you often now.”
“Does that matter much to you, Lady Anna?”
“I have been instructed, you know, that I am to call you so.”
“Not by me, Daniel.”
“No — not by you; not as yet. Your mother’s manners are much altered to me. Is it not so?”
“How can I tell? Mine are not.”
“It is no question of manners, sweetheart, between you and me. It has not come to that, I hope. Do you wish for any change — as regards me?”
“As to my love, there can be no change in that. If it suits your mother to be disdainful to me, I can bear it. I always thought that it would come to be so some day.”
There was but little more said then. He asked her no further question — none at least that it was difficult for her to answer — and he soon took his leave. He was a passionate rather than a tender lover, and having once held her in his arms, and kissed her lips, and demanded from her a return of his caress, he was patient now to wait till he could claim them as his own. But, two days after the interview between Lord Lovel and his love, he a second time contrived to find her alone.
“I have come again’, he said, because I knew your mother is out. I would not trouble you with secret meetings but that just now I have much to say to you. And then, you may be gone from hence before I had even heard that you were going.”
“I am always glad to see you, Daniel.”
“Are you, my sweetheart? Is that true?”
“Indeed, indeed it is.”
“I should be a traitor to doubt you — and I do not doubt. I will never doubt you if you tell me that you love me.”
“You know I love you.”
“Tell me, Anna — or shall I say Lady Anna?”
“Lady Anna — if you wish to scorn me.”
“Then never will I call you so, till it shall come to pass that I do wish to scorn you. But tell me. Is it true that Earl Lovel was with you the other day?”
“He was here the day before yesterday.”
“And why did he come?”
“Why did he come? you know that as far as I have yet heard he is still your mother’s enemy and yours, and is persecuting you to rob you of your name and of your property. Did he come as a friend?”
“Oh, yes! certainly as a friend.”
“But he still makes his claim.”
“No — he says that he will make it no longer, that he acknowledges mamma as my father’s widow, and me as my father’s heir.”
“That is generous — if that is all.”
“And he does this without condition? There is nothing to be given to him to pay him for this surrender?”
“There is nothing to give,” she said, in that low, sweet, melancholy voice which was common to her always when she spoke of herself.
“You do not mean to deceive me, dear, I know; but there is a something to be given; and I am told that he has asked for it, or certainly will ask. And, indeed, I do not think that an earl, noble, but poverty-stricken, would surrender everything without making some counter claim which would lead him by another path to all that he has been seeking. Anna, you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Has he made no such claim?”
“I cannot tell.”
“You cannot tell whether or no he has asked you to be his wife?”
“No; I cannot tell. Do not look at me like that, Daniel. He came here, and mamma left us together, and he was kind to me. Oh! so kind. He said that he would be a cousin to me, and a brother.”
“That was what he said.”
“And he meant nothing more than that — simply to be your brother?”
“I think he did mean more. I think he meant that he would try to love me so that he might be my husband.”
“And what said you to that?”
“I told him that it could not be so.”
“Why then again he said that we were cousins; that I had no nearer cousin anywhere, and that he would be good to me and help me, and that the lawsuit should not go on. Oh, Daniel, he was so good!”
“Was that all?”
“He kissed me, saying that cousins might kiss.”
“No, Anna — cousins such as you and he may not kiss. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you.”
“If you mean to be true to me, there must be no more of that. Do you not know that all this means that he is to win you to be his wife? Did he not come to you with that object?”
“I think he did, Daniel.”
“I think so too, my dear. Surrender! I’ll tell you what that surrender means. They perceive at last that they have not a shadow of justice, or even a shadow of a chance of unjust success in their claim. That with all their command of money, which is to be spent, however, out of your property, they can do nothing; that their false witnesses will not come to aid them; that they have not another inch of ground on which to stand. Their great lawyer, Sir William Patterson, dares not show himself in court with a case so false and fraudulent. At last your mother’s rights and yours are to be owned. Then they turn themselves about, and think in what other way the prize may be won. It is not likely that such a prize should be surrendered by a noble lord. The young man is made to understand that he cannot have it all without a burden, and that he must combine his wealth with you. That is it, and at once he comes to you, asking you to be his wife, so that in that way he may lay his hands on the wealth of which he has striven to rob you.”
“Daniel, I do not think that he is like that!”
“I tell you he is not only like it — but that itself. Is it not clear as noonday? He comes here to talk of love who had never seen you before. Is it thus that men love?”
“But, Daniel, he did not talk so.”
“I wonder that he was so crafty, believing him as I do to be a fool. He talked of cousinship and brotherhood, and yet gave you to know that he meant you to be his wife. Was it not so?”
“I think it was so, in very truth.”
“Of course it was so. Do brothers marry their sisters? Were it not for the money, which must be yours and which he is kind enough to surrender, would he come to you then with his brotherhood, and his cousinship, and his mock love? Tell me that, my lady! Can it be real love — to which there has been no forerunning acquaintance?”
“I think not, indeed.”
“And must it not be lust of wealth? That may come by hearsay well enough. It is a love which requires no great foreknowledge to burn with real strength. He is a gay looking lad, no doubt.”
“I do not know as to gay, but he is beautiful.”
“Like enough, my girl; with soft hands, and curled hair, and a sweet smell, and a bright colour, and a false heart. I have never seen the lad; but for the false heart I can answer.”
“I do not think that he is false.”
“Not false! and yet he comes to you asking you to be his wife, just at that nick of time in which he finds that you — the right owner — are to have the fortune of which he has vainly endeavoured to defraud you! Is it not so?”
“He cannot be wrong to wish to keep up the glory of the family.”
“The glory of the family — yes, the fame of the late lord, who lived as though he were a fiend let loose from hell to devastate mankind. The glory of the family! And how will he maintain it? At racecourses, in betting-clubs, among loose women, with luscious wines, never doing one stroke of work for man or God, consuming and never producing, either idle altogether or working the work of the devil. That will be the glory of the family. Anna Lovel, you shall give him his choice.” Then he took her hand in his. “Ask him whether he will have that empty, or take all the wealth of the Lovels. You have my leave.”
“And if he took the empty hand what should I do?” she asked.
“My brave girl, no; though the chance be but one in a thousand against me, I would not run the risk. But I am putting it to yourself, to your reason, to judge of his motives. Can it be that his mind in this matter is not sordid and dishonest? As to you, the choice is open to you.”
“No, Daniel; it is open no longer.”
“The choice is open to you. If you will tell me that your heart is so set upon being the bride of a lord, that truth and honesty and love, and all decent feeling from woman to man can be thrown to the wind, to make way for such an ambition — I will say not a word against it. You are free.”
“Have I asked for freedom?”
“No, indeed! Had you done so, I should have made all this much shorter.”
“Then why do you harass me by saying it?”
“Because it is my duty. Can I know that he comes here seeking you for his wife; can I hear it said on all sides that this family feud is to be settled by a happy family marriage; can I find that you yourself are willing to love him as a cousin or a brother — without finding myself compelled to speak? There are two men seeking you as their wife. One can make you a countess; the other simply an honest man’s wife, and, so far as that can be low, lower than that title of your own which they will not allow you to put before your name. If I am still your choice, give me your hand.” Of course she gave it him. “So be it; and now I shall fear nothing.” Then she told him that it was intended that she should go to Yoxham as a visitor; but still he declared that he would fear nothing.
Early on the next morning he called on Mr Goffe, the attorney, with the object of making some inquiry as to the condition of the lawsuit. Mr Goffe did not much love the elder tailor, but he specially disliked the younger. He was not able to be altogether uncivil to them, because he knew all that they had done to succour his client; but he avoided them when it was possible, and was chary of giving them information. On this occasion Daniel asked whether it was true that the other side had abandoned their claim.
“Really Mr Thwaite, I cannot say that they have,” said Mr Goffe.
“Can you say that they have not?”
“No, nor that either.”
“Had anything of that kind been decided, I suppose you would have known it, Mr Goffe?”
“Really, sir, I cannot say. There are questions, Mr Thwaite, which a professional gentleman cannot answer, even to such friends as you and your father have been. When any real settlement is to be made, the Countess Lovel will, as a matter of course, be informed.”
“She should be informed at once,” said Daniel Thwaite sternly: “and so should they who have been concerned with her in this matter.”
“You, I know, have heavy claims on the Countess.”
“My father has claims, which will never vex her, whether paid or not paid; but it is right that he should know the truth. I do not believe that the Countess herself knows, though she has been led to think that the claim has been surrendered.”
Mr Goffe was very sorry, but really he had nothing further to tell.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14