The introduction to Yoxham followed quickly upon the Earl’s visit to Wyndham Street. There was a great consultation at the rectory before a decision could be made as to the manner in which the invitation should be given. The Earl thought that it should be sent to the mother. The rector combated this view very strongly, still hoping that, though he might be driven to call the girl Lady Anna, he might postpone the necessity of acknowledging the countess-ship of the mother till the marriage should have been definitely acknowledged. Mrs Lovel thought that if the girl were Lady Anna, then the mother must be the Countess Lovel, and that it would be as well to be hung for a sheep as a lamb. But the wisdom of Aunt Julia sided with her brother, though she did not share her brother’s feelings of animosity to the two women. “It is understood that the girl is to be invited, and not the mother,” said Miss Lovel; “and as it is quite possible that the thing should fail — in which case the lawsuit might possibly go on — the less we acknowledge the better.” The Earl declared that the lawsuit couldn’t go on — that he would not carry it on. “My dear Frederic, you are not the only person concerned. The lady in Italy, who still calls herself Countess Lovel, may renew the suit on her own behalf as soon as you have abandoned it. Should she succeed, you would have to make what best compromise you could with her respecting the property. That is the way I understand it.” This exposition of the case by Miss Lovel was so clear that it carried the day, and accordingly a letter was written by Mrs Lovel, addressed to Lady Anna Lovel, asking her to come and spend a few days at Yoxham. She could bring her maid with her or not as she liked; but she could have the service of Mrs Lovel’s lady’s maid if she chose to come unattended. The letter sounded cold when it was read, but the writer signed herself “Yours affectionately, Jane Lovel’. It was addressed to “The Lady Anna Lovel, to the care of Messrs. Goffe and Goffe, solicitors, Raymond’s Buildings, Gray’s Inn’.
Lady Anna was allowed to read it first; but she read it in the presence of her mother, to whom she handed it at once, as a matter of course. A black frown came across the Countess’s brow, and a look of displeasure, almost of anger, rested on her countenance. “Is it wrong, mamma?” asked the girl.
“It is a part of the whole — but, my dear, it shall not signify. Conquerors cannot be conquerors all at once, nor can the vanquished be expected to submit themselves with a grace. But it will come. And though they should ignore me utterly, that will be as nothing. I have not clung to this for years past to win their loves.”
“I will not go, mamma, if they are unkind to you.”
“You must go, my dear. It is only that they are weak enough to think that they can acknowledge you, and yet continue to deny to me my rights. But it matters nothing. Of course you shall go — and you shall go as the daughter of the Countess Lovel.”
That mention of the lady’s maid had been unfortunate. Mrs Lovel had simply desired to make it easy for the young lady to come without a servant to wait upon her, and had treated her husband’s far-away cousin as elder ladies often do treat those who are younger when the question of the maid may become a difficulty. But the Countess, who would hardly herself have thought of it, now declared that her girl should go attended as her rank demanded. Lady Anna, therefore, under her mother’s dictation, wrote the following reply:
Wyndham Street, 3rd August, 183 —
DEAR MRS LOVEL,
I shall be happy to accept your kind invitation to Yoxham, but can hardly do so before the 10th. On that day I will leave London for York inside the mail-coach. Perhaps you can be kind enough to have me met where the coach stops. As you are so good as to say you can take her in, I will bring my own maid.
Yours affectionately, ANNA LOVEL
“But, mamma, I don’t want a maid,” said the girl, who had never been waited on in her life, and who had more often than not made her mother’s bed and her own till they had come up to London.
“Nevertheless you shall take one. You will have to make other changes besides that; and the sooner that you begin to make them the easier they will be to you.”
Then at once the Countess made a pilgrimage to Mr Goffe in search of funds wherewith to equip her girl properly for her new associations. She was to go, as Lady Anna Lovel, to stay with Mrs Lovel and Miss Lovel and the little Lovels. And she was to go as one who was to be the chosen bride of Earl Lovel. Of course she must be duly caparisoned. Mr Goffe made difficulties — as lawyers always do — but the needful money was at last forthcoming. Representations had been made in high legal quarters — to the custodians for the moment of the property which was to go to the established heir of the late Earl. They had been made conjointly by Goffe and Goffe, and Norton and Flick, and the money was forthcoming. Mr Goffe suggested that a great deal could not be wanted all at once for the young lady’s dress. The Countess smiled as she answered, “You hardly know, Mr Goffe, the straits to which we have been reduced. If I tell you that this dress which I have on is the only one in which I can fitly appear even in your chambers, perhaps you will think that I demean myself.” Mr Goffe was touched, and signed a sufficient cheque. They were going to succeed, and then everything would be easy. Even if they did not succeed, he could get it passed in the accounts. And if not that — well, he had run greater risks than this for clients whose causes were of much less interest than this of the Countess and her daughter.
The Countess had mentioned her own gown, and had spoken strict truth in what she had said of it — but not a shilling of Mr Goffe’s money went to the establishment of a wardrobe for herself. That her daughter should go down to Yoxham Rectory in a manner befitting the daughter of Earl Lovel was at this moment her chief object. Things were purchased by which the poor girl, unaccustomed to such finery, was astounded and almost stupefied. Two needle-women were taken in at the lodgings in Wyndham Street; parcels from Swan and Edgar’s — Marshall and Snellgrove were not then, or at least had not loomed to the grandeur of an entire block of houses — addressed to Lady Anna Lovel, were frequent at the door, somewhat to the disgust of the shopmen, who did not like to send goods to Lady Anna Lovel in Wyndham Street. But ready money was paid, and the parcels came home. Lady Anna, poor girl, was dismayed much by the parcels, but she was at her wits’ end when the lady’s maid came — a young lady, herself so sweetly attired that Lady Anna would have envied her in the old Cumberland days. “I shall not know what to say to her, mamma,” said Lady Anna.
“It will all come in two days, if you will only be equal to the occasion,” said the Countess, who in providing her child with this expensive adjunct, had made some calculation that the more her daughter was made to feel the luxuries of aristocratic life, the less prone would she be to adapt herself to the roughnesses of Daniel Thwaite the tailor.
The Countess put her daughter into the mail-coach, and gave her much parting advice. “Hold up your head when you are with them. That is all that you have to do. Among them all your blood will be the best.” This theory of blood was one of which Lady Anna had never been able even to realise the meaning. “And remember this too — that you are in truth the most wealthy. It is they that should honour you. Of course you will be courteous and gentle with them — it is your nature; but do not for a moment allow yourself to be conscious that you are their inferior.” Lady Anna — who could think but little of her birth — to whom it had been throughout her life a thing plaguesome rather than profitable — could remember only what she had been in Cumberland, and her binding obligation to the tailor’s son. She could remember but that and the unutterable sweetness of the young man who had once appeared before her — to whom she knew that she must be inferior. “Hold up your head among them, and claim your own always,” said the Countess.
The rectory carriage was waiting for her at the inn yard in York, and in it was Miss Lovel. When the hour had come it was thought better that the wise woman of the family should go than any other. For the ladies of Yoxham were quite as anxious as to the Lady Anna as was she in respect of them. What sort of a girl was this that they were to welcome among them as the Lady Anna — who had lived all her life with tailors, and with a mother of whom up to quite a late date they had thought all manner of evil? The young lord had reported well of her, saying that she was not only beautiful, but feminine, of soft modest manners, and in all respects like a lady. The Earl, however, was but a young man, likely to be taken by mere beauty; and it might be that the girl had been clever enough to hood-wink him. So much evil had been believed that a report stating that all was good could not be accepted at once as true. Miss Lovel would be sure to find out, even in the space of an hour’s drive, and Miss Lovel went to meet her. She did not leave the carriage, but sent the footman to help Lady Anna Lovel from the coach. “My dear,” said Miss Lovel, I am very glad to see you. Oh, you have brought a maid! We didn’t think you would. There is a seat behind which she can occupy.”
“Mamma thought it best. I hope it is not wrong, Mrs Lovel.”
“I ought to have introduced myself. I am Miss Lovel, and the rector of Yoxham is my brother. It does not signify about the maid in the least. We can do very well with her. I suppose she has been with you a long time.”
“No, indeed — she only came the day before yesterday.” And so Miss Lovel learned the whole story of the lady’s maid.
Lady Anna said very little, but Miss Lovel explained a good many things during the journey. The young lord was not at Yoxham. He was with a friend in Scotland, but would be home about the 20th. The two boys were at home for the holidays, but would go back to school in a fortnight. Minnie Lovel, the daughter, had a governess. The rectory, for a parsonage, was a tolerably large house, and convenient. It had been Lord Lovel’s early home, but at present he was not much there. “He thinks it right to go to Lovel Grange during a part of the autumn. I suppose you have seen Lovel Grange.”
“Oh, indeed. But you lived near it — did you not?”
“No, not near — about fifteen miles, I think. I was born there, but have never been there since I was a baby.”
“Oh! — you were born there. Of course you know that it is Lord Lovel’s seat now. I do not know that he likes it, though the scenery is magnificent. But a landlord has to live, at least for some period of the year, upon his property. You saw my nephew.”
“Yes; he came to us once.”
“I hope you liked him. We think him very nice. But then he is almost the same as a son here. Do you care about visiting the poor?”
“I have never tried,” said Lady Anna.
“We have been so poor ourselves — we were just one of them.” Then Miss Lovel perceived that she had made a mistake. But she was generous enough to recognize the unaffected simplicity of the girl, and almost began to think well of her.
“I hope you will come round the parish with us. We shall be very glad. Yoxham is a large parish, with scattered hamlets, and there is plenty to do. The manufactories are creeping up to us, and we have already a large mill at Yoxham Lock. My brother has to keep two curates now. Here we are, my dear, and I hope we shall be able to make you happy.”
Mrs Lovel did not like the maid, and Mr Lovel did not like it at all. “And yet we heard when we were up in town that they literally had not anything to live on,” said the parson. “I hope that, after all, we may not be making fools of ourselves.” But there was no help for it, and the maid was of course taken in.
The children had been instructed to call their cousin Lady Anna — unless they heard their mother drop the title, and then they were to drop it also. They were not so young but what they had all heard the indiscreet vigour with which their father had ridiculed the claim to the title, and had been something at a loss to know whence the change had come. “Perhaps they are as they call themselves,” the rector had said, “and, if so, heaven forbid that we should not give them their due.” After this the three young ones, discussing the matter among themselves, had made up their minds that Lady Anna was no cousin of theirs — but “a humbug’. When, however, they saw her their hearts relented, and the girl became soft, and the boys became civil. “Papa,” said Minnie Lovel, on the second day, “I hope she is our cousin.”
“I hope so too, my dear.”
“I think she is. She looks as if she ought to be because she is so pretty.”
“Being pretty, my dear, is not enough. You should love people because they are good.”
“But I would not like all the good people to be my cousins — would you, papa? Old widow Grimes is a very good old woman; but I don’t want to have her for a cousin.”
“My dear, you are talking about what you don’t understand.”
But Minnie did in truth understand the matter better than her father. Before three or four days had passed she knew that their guest was lovable — whether cousin or no cousin; and she knew also that the newcomer was of such nature and breeding as made her fit to be a cousin. All the family had as yet called her Lady Anna, but Minnie thought that the time had come in which she might break through the law. “I think I should like to call you just Anna, if you will let me,” she said. They two were in the guest’s bedroom, and Minnie was leaning against her new friend’s shoulder.
“Oh, I do so wish you would. I do so hate to be called Lady.”
“But you are Lady Anna — arn’t you?”
“And you are Miss Mary Lovel, but you wouldn’t like everybody in the house to call you so. And then there has been so much said about it all my life, that it makes me quite unhappy. I do so wish your mamma wouldn’t call me Lady Anna.” Whereupon Minnie very demurely explained that she could not answer for her mamma, but that she would always call her friend Anna — when papa wasn’t by.
But Minnie was better than her promise. “Mamma,” she said the next day, “do you know that she hates to be called Lady Anna?”
“What makes you think so?”
“I am sure of it. She told me so. Everybody has always been talking about it ever since she was born, and she says she is so sick of it.”
“But, my dear, people must be called by their names. If it is her proper name she ought not to hate it. I can understand that people should hate an assumed name.”
“I am Miss Mary Lovel, but I should not at all like it if everybody called me Miss Mary. The servants call me Miss Mary, but if papa and Aunt Julia did so, I should think they were scolding me.”
“But Lady Anna is not papa’s daughter.”
“She is his cousin. Isn’t she his cousin, mamma? I don’t think people ought to call their cousins Lady Anna. I have promised that I won’t. Cousin Frederic said that she was his cousin. What will he call her?”
“I cannot tell, my dear. We shall all know her better by that time.” Mrs Lovel, however, followed her daughter’s lead, and from that time the poor girl was Anna to all of them — except to the rector. He listened, and thought that he would try it; but his heart failed him. He would have preferred that she should be an impostor, were that still possible. He would so much have preferred that she should not exist at all! He did not care for her beauty. He did not feel the charm of her simplicity. It was one of the hardships of the world that he should be forced to have her there in his rectory. The Lovel wealth was indispensable to the true heir of the Lovels, and on behalf of his nephew and his family he had been induced to consent; but he could not love the interloper. He still dreamed of coming surprises that would set the matter right in a manner that would be much preferable to a marriage. The girl might be innocent — as his wife and sister told him; but he was sure that the mother was an intriguing woman. It would be such a pity that they should have entertained the girl if — after all — the woman should at last be but a pseudo-countess! As others had ceased to call her Lady Anna, he could not continue to do so; but he managed to live on with her without calling her by any name.
In the meantime Cousin Anna went about among the poor with Minnie and Aunt Julia, and won golden opinions. She was soft, feminine, almost humble — but still with a dash of humour in her, when she was sufficiently at her ease with them to be happy. There was very much in the life which she thoroughly enjoyed. The green fields, and the air which was so pleasant to her after the close heat of the narrow London streets, and the bright parsonage garden, and the pleasant services of the country church — and doubtless also the luxuries of a rich, well-ordered household. Those calculations of her mother had not been made without a true basis. The softness, the niceness, the ease, the grace of the people around her, won upon her day by day, and hour by hour. The pleasant idleness of the drawing-room, with its books and music, and unstrained chatter of family voices, grew upon her as so many new charms. To come down with bright ribbons and clean unruffled muslin to breakfast, with nothing to do which need ruffle them unbecomingly, and then to dress for dinner with silk and gauds, before ten days were over, had made life beautiful to her. She seemed to live among roses and perfumes. There was no stern hardness in the life, as there had of necessity been in that which she had ever lived with her mother. The caresses of Minnie Lovel soothed and warmed her heart — and every now and again, when the eyes of Aunt Julia were not upon her, she was tempted to romp with the boys. Oh! that they had really been her brothers!
But in the midst of all there was ever present to her the prospect of some coming wretchedness. The life which she was leading could not be her life. That Earl was coming — that young Apollo — and he would again ask her to be his wife. She knew that she could not be his wife. She was there, as she understood well, that she might give all this wealth that was to be hers to the Lovel family; and when she refused to give herself — as the only way in which that wealth could be conveyed — they would turn her out from their pleasant home. Then she must go back to the other life, and be the wife of Daniel Thwaite; and soft things must be at an end with her.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01