At the end of a fortnight the boys had gone back to school, and Lord Lovel was to reach the rectory in time for dinner that evening. There was a little stir throughout the rectory, as an earl is an earl though he be in his uncle’s house, and rank will sway even aunts and cousins. The parson at present was a much richer man than the peer — but the peer was at the head of all the Lovels, and then it was expected that his poverty would quickly be made to disappear. All that Lovel money which had been invested in bank shares, Indian railways, Russian funds, Devon consols, and coal mines, was to become his — if not in one way, then in another. The Earl was to be a topping man, and the rectory cook was ordered to do her best. The big bedroom had been made ready, and the parson looked at his ‘99 port and his ‘16 Margaux. In those days men drank port, and champagne at country houses was not yet a necessity. To give the rector of Yoxham his due it must be said of him that he would have done his very best for the head of his family had there been no large fortune within the young lord’s grasp. The Lovels had ever been true to the Lovels, with the exception of that late wretched Earl — the Lady Anna’s father.
But if the rector and his wife were alive to the importance of the expected arrival, what must have been the state of Lady Anna! They had met but once before, and during that meeting they had been alone together. There had grown up, she knew not how, during those few minutes, a heavenly sweetness between them. He had talked to her with a voice that had been to her ears as the voice of a god — it had been so sweet and full of music! He had caressed her — but with a caress so gentle and pure that it had been to her void of all taint of evil. It had perplexed her for a moment — but had left no sense of wrong behind it. He had told her that he loved her — that he would love her dearly; but had not scared her in so telling her, though she knew she could never give him back such love as that of which he spoke to her. There had been a charm in it, of which she delighted to dream — fancying that she could remember it for ever, as a green island in her life; but could so best remember it if she were assured that she should never see him more. But now she was to see him again, and the charm must be renewed — or else the dream dispelled for ever. Alas! it must be the latter. She knew that the charm must be dispelled.
But there was a doubt on her own mind whether it would not be dispelled without any effort on her part. It would vanish at once if he were to greet her as the Lovels had greeted her on her first coming. She could partly understand that the manner of their meeting in London had thrust upon him a necessity for flattering tenderness with which he might well dispense when he met her among his family. Had he really loved her — had he meant to love her — he would hardly have been absent so long after her coming. She had been glad that he had been absent — so she assured herself — because there could never be any love between them. Daniel Thwaite had told her that the brotherly love which had been offered was false love — must be false — was no love at all. Do brothers marry sisters; and had not this man already told her that he wished to make her his wife? And then there must never be another kiss. Daniel Thwaite had told her that; and he was not only her lover, but her master also. This was the rule by which she would certainly hold. She would be true to Daniel Thwaite. And yet she looked for the lord’s coming, as one looks for the rising of the sun of an early morning — watching for that which shall make all the day beautiful.
And he came. The rector and his wife, and Aunt Julia and Minnie, all went out into the hall to meet him, and Anna was left alone in the library, where they were wont to congregate before dinner. It was already past seven, and everyone was dressed. A quarter of an hour was to be allowed to the lord, and he was to be hurried up at once to his bedroom. She would not see him till he came down ready, and all hurried, to lead his aunt to the dining-room. She heard the scuffle in the hall. There were kisses — and a big kiss from Minnie to her much-prized Cousin Fred; and a loud welcome from the full-mouthed rector. “And where is Anna?’ — the lord asked. They were the first words he spoke, and she heard them, ah! so plainly. It was the same voice — sweet, genial, and manly; sweet to her beyond all sweetness that she could conceive.
“You shall see her when you come down from dressing,” said Mrs Lovel — in a low voice, but still audible to the solitary girl.
“I will see her before I go up to dress,” said the lord, walking through them, and in through the open door to the library. “So, here you are. I am so glad to see you! I had sworn to go into Scotland before the time was fixed for your coming — before I had met you — and I could not escape. Have you thought ill of me because I have not been here to welcome you sooner?”
“No — my lord.”
“There are horrible penalties for anybody who calls me lord in this house — are there not, Aunt Jane? But I see my uncle wants his dinner.”
“I’ll take you upstairs, Fred,” said Minnie, who was still holding her cousin’s hand.
“I am coming. I will only say that I would sooner see you here than in any house in England.”
Then he went, and during the few minutes that he spent in dressing little or nothing was spoken in the library. The parson in his heart was not pleased by the enthusiasm with which the young man greeted this new cousin; and yet, why should he not be enthusiastic if it was intended that they should be man and wife?
“Now, Lady Anna,” said the rector, as he offered her his arm to lead her out to dinner. It was but a mild corrective to the warmth of his nephew. The lord lingered a moment with his aunt in the library.
“Have you not got beyond that with her yet?” he asked.
“Your uncle is more old-fashioned than you are, Fred. Things did not go so quick when he was young.”
In the evening he came and lounged on a double-seated ottoman behind her, and she soon found herself answering a string of questions. Had she been happy at Yoxham? Did she like the place? What had she been doing? “Then you know Mrs Grimes already?” She laughed as she said that she did know Mrs Grimes. “The lion of Yoxham is Mrs Grimes. She is supposed to have all the misfortunes and all the virtues to which humanity is subject. And how do you and Minnie get on? Minnie is my prime minister. The boys, I suppose, teased you out of your life?”
“I did like them so much! I never knew a boy till I saw them, Lord Lovel.”
“They take care to make themselves known, at any rate. But they are nice, good-humoured lads — taking after their mother. Don’t tell their father I said so. Do you think it pretty about here?”
“Just about Yoxham — because there is so much wood. But this is not the beautiful part of Yorkshire, you know. I wonder whether we could make an expedition to Wharfedale and Bolton Abbey. You would say that the Wharfe was pretty. We’ll try and plan it. We should have to sleep out one night; but that would make it all the jollier. There isn’t a better inn in England than the Devonshire Arms — and I don’t think a pleasanter spot. Aunt Jane — couldn’t we go for one night to Bolton Abbey?”
“It is very far, Frederic.”
“Thirty miles or so — that ought to be nothing in Yorkshire. We’ll manage it. We could get post-horses from York, and the carriage would take us all. My uncle, you must know, is very chary about the carriage horses, thinking that the corn of idleness — which is destructive to young men and women — is very good for cattle. But we’ll manage it, and you shall jump over the Stryd.” Then he told her the story how the youth was drowned — and how the monks moaned; and he got away to other legends, to the white doe of Rylston, and Landseer’s picture of the abbey in olden times. She had heard nothing before of these things — or indeed of such things, and the hearing them was very sweet to her. The parson, who was still displeased, went to sleep. Minnie had been sent to bed, and Aunt Julia and Aunt Jane every now and again put in a word. It was resolved before the evening was over that the visit should be made to Bolton Abbey. Of course, their nephew ought to have opportunities of making love to the girl he was doomed to marry. “Goodnight, dearest,” he said when she went to bed. She was sure that the last word had been so spoken, and that no ear but her own had heard it. She could not tell him that such word should not be spoken; and yet she felt that the word would be almost as offensive as the kiss to Daniel Thwaite. She must contrive some means of telling him that she could not, would not, must not be his dearest.
She had now received two letters from her mother since she had been at Yoxham, and in each of them there were laid down for her plain instructions as to her conduct. It was now the middle of August, and it was incumbent upon her to allow matters so to arrange themselves, that the marriage might be declared to be a settled thing when the case should come on in November. Mr Goffe and Mr Flick had met each other, and everything was now understood by the two parties of lawyers. If the Earl and Lady Anna were then engaged with the mutual consent of all interested — and so engaged that a day could be fixed for the wedding — then, when the case was opened in court, would the Solicitor-General declare that it was the intention of Lord Lovel to make no further opposition to the claims of the Countess and her daughter, and it would only remain for Serjeant Bluestone to put in the necessary proofs of the Cumberland marriage and of the baptism of Lady Anna. The Solicitor-General would at the same time state to the court that an alliance had been arranged between these distant cousins, and that in that way everything would be settled. But — and in this clause of her instructions the Countess was most urgent — this could not be done unless the marriage were positively settled. Mr Flick had been very urgent in pointing out to Mr Goffe that in truth their evidence was very strong to prove that when the Earl married the now so-called Countess, his first wife was still living, though they gave no credit to the woman who now called herself the Countess. But, in either case — whether the Italian countess were now alive or now dead — the daughter would be illegitimate, and the second marriage void, if their surmise on this head should prove to be well founded. But the Italian party could of itself do nothing, and the proposed marriage would set everything right. But the evidence must be brought into court and further sifted, unless the marriage were a settled thing by November. All this the Countess explained at great length in her letters, calling upon her daughter to save herself, her mother, and the family.
Lady Anna answered the first epistle — or rather, wrote another in return to it — but she said nothing of her noble lover, except that Lord Lovel had not as yet come to Yoxham. She confined herself to simple details of her daily life, and a prayer that her dear mother might be happy. The second letter from the Countess was severe in its tone — asking why no promise had been made, no assurance given — no allusion made to the only subject that could now be of interest. She implored her child to tell her that she was disposed to listen to the Earl’s suit. This letter was in her pocket when the Earl arrived, and she took it out and read it again after the Earl had whispered in her ear that word so painfully sweet.
She proposed to answer it before breakfast on the following morning. At Yoxham rectory they breakfasted at ten, and she was always up at least before eight. She determined as she laid herself down that she would think of it all night. It might be best, she believed, to tell her mother the whole truth — that she had already promised everything to Daniel Thwaite, and that she could not go back from her word. Then she began to build castles in the air — castles which she declared to herself must ever be in the air — of which Lord Lovel, and not Daniel Thwaite, was the hero, owner, and master. She assured herself that she was not picturing to herself any prospect of a really possible life, but was simply dreaming of an impossible Elysium. How many people would she make happy, were she able to let that young Phoebus know in one half-uttered word — or with a single silent glance — that she would in truth be his dearest. It could not be so. She was well aware of that. But surely she might dream of it. All the cares of that careful, careworn mother would then be at an end. How delightful would it be to her to welcome that sorrowful one to her own bright home, and to give joy where joy had never yet been known! How all the lawyers would praise her, and tell her that she had saved a noble family from ruin. She already began to have feelings about the family to which she had been a stranger before she had come among the Lovels. And if it really would make him happy, this Phoebus, how glorious would that be! How fit he was to be made happy! Daniel had said that he was sordid, false, fraudulent, and a fool — but Daniel did not, could not, understand the nature of the Lovels. And then she herself — how would it be with her? She had given her heart to Daniel Thwaite, and she had but one heart to give. Had it not been for that, it would have been very sweet to love that young curled darling. There were two sorts of life, and now she had had an insight into each. Daniel had told her that this soft, luxurious life was thoroughly bad. He could not have known when saying so how much was done for their poor neighbours by such as even these Lovels. It could not be wrong to be soft, and peaceful, and pretty, to enjoy sweet smells, to sit softly, and eat off delicately painted china plates — as long as no one was defrauded, and many were comforted. Daniel Thwaite, she believed, never went to church. Here at Yoxham there were always morning prayers, and they went to church twice every Sunday. She had found it very pleasant to go to church, and to be led along in the easy path of self-indulgent piety on which they all walked at Yoxham. The church seats at Yoxham were broad, with soft cushions, and the hassocks were well stuffed. Surely, Daniel Thwaite did not know everything. As she thus built her castles in the air — castles so impossible to be inhabited — she fell asleep before she had resolved what letter she should write.
But in the morning she did write her letter. It must be written — and when the family were about the house, she would be too disturbed for so great an effort. It ran as follows:
I am much obliged for your letter, which I got the day before yesterday. Lord Lovel came here yesterday, or perhaps I might have answered it then. Everybody here seems to worship him almost, and he is so good to everybody! We are all to go on a visit to Bolton Abbey, and sleep at an inn somewhere, and I am sure I shall like it very much, for they say it is most beautiful. If you look at the map, it is nearly in a straight line between here and Kendal, but only much nearer to York. The day is not fixed yet, but I believe it will be very soon.
I shall be so glad if the lawsuit can be got over, for your sake, dearest mamma. I wish they could let you have your title and your share of the money, and let Lord Lovel have the rest, because he is head of the family. That would be fairest, and I can’t see why it should not be so. Your share would be quite enough for you and me. I can’t say anything about what you speak of. He has said nothing, and I’m sure I hope he won’t. I don’t think I could do it; and I don’t think the lawyers ought to want me to. I think it is very wrong of them to say so. We are strangers, and I feel almost sure that I could never be what he would want. I don’t think people ought to marry for money.
Dearest mamma, pray do not be angry with me. If you are, you will kill me. I am very happy here, and nobody has said anything about my going away. Couldn’t you ask Serjeant Bluestone whether something couldn’t be done to divide the money, so that there might be no more law? I am sure he could if he liked, with Mr Goffe and the other men.
Dearest mamma, I am, Your most affectionate Daughter, ANNA LOVEL
When the moment came, and the pen was in her hand, she had not the courage to mention the name of Daniel Thwaite. She knew that the fearful story must be told, but at this moment she comforted herself — or tried to comfort herself — by remembering that Daniel himself had enjoined that their engagement must yet for a while be kept secret.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55