On the next morning the poor injured one was quite well — but she was still held to be subject to piteous concern. The two aunts shook their heads when she said that she would walk down to the stepping-stones that morning, before starting for Yoxham; but she was quite sure that the sprain was gone, and the distance was not above half a mile. They were not to start till two o’clock. Would Minnie come down with her, and ramble about among the ruins?
“Minnie, come out on the lawn,” said the lord. Don’t you come with me and Anna — you can go where you like about the place by yourself.”
“Why mayn’t I come?”
“Never mind, but do as you’re bid.”
“I know. You are going to make love to cousin Anna.”
“You are an impertinent little imp.”
“I am so glad, Frederic, because I do like her. I was sure she was a real cousin. Don’t you think she is very — very nice?”
“Is that all?”
“You go away and don’t tease — or else I’ll never bring you to the Stryd again.” So it happened that Lord Lovel and Lady Anna went across the meadow together, down to the river, and sauntered along the margin till they came to the stepping-stones. He passed over, and she followed him, almost without a word. Her heart was so full, that she did not think now of the water running at her feet. It had hardly seemed to her to make any difficulty as to the passage. She must follow him whither he would lead her, but her mind misgave her — that they would not return sweet loving friends as they went out. “We won’t climb’, said he, “because it might try your ankle too much. But we will go in here by the meadow. I always think this is one of the prettiest views there is,” he said, throwing himself upon the grass.
“It is all prettiest. It is like fairyland. Does the Duke let people come here always?”
“Yes, I fancy so.”
“He must be very good-natured. Do you know the Duke?”
“I never saw him in my life.”
“A duke sounds so awful to me.”
“You’ll get used to them some day. Won’t you sit down?” Then she glided down to the ground at a little distance from him, and he at once shifted his place so as to be almost close to her. “Your foot is quite well?”
“I thought for a few minutes that there was going to be some dreadful accident, and I was so mad with myself for having made you jump it. If you had broken your leg, how would you have borne it?”
“Like other people, I suppose.”
“Would you have been angry with me?”
“I hope not. I am sure not. You were doing the best you could to give me pleasure. I don’t think I should have been angry at all. I don’t think we are ever angry with the people we really like.”
“Do you really like me?”
“Yes — I like you.”
“Is that all?”
“Is not that enough?”
She answered the question as she might have answered it had it been allowed to her, as to any girl that was free, to toy with his love, knowing that she meant to accept it. It was easier so, than in any other way. But her heart within her was sad and, could she have stopped his further speech by any word rough and somewhat rude, she would have done so. In truth, she did not know how to answer him roughly. He deserved from her that all her words should be soft, and sweet and pleasant. She believed him to be good and generous and kind and loving. The hard things which Daniel Thwaite had said of him had all vanished from her mind. To her thinking, it was no sin in him that he should want her wealth — he, the Earl, to whom by right the wealth of the Lovels should belong. The sin was rather hers — in that she kept it from him. And then, if she could receive all that he was willing to give, his heart, his name, his house and home, and sweet belongings of natural gifts and personal advantages, how much more would she take than what she gave! She could not speak to him roughly, though — alas! — the time had come in which she must speak to him truly. It was not fitting that a girl should have two lovers.
“No, dear — not enough,” he said.
It can hardly be accounted a fault in him that at this time he felt sure of her love. She had been so soft in her ways with him, so gracious, yielding, and pretty in her manners, so manifestly pleased by his company, so prone to lean upon him, that it could hardly be that he should think otherwise. She had told him, when he spoke to her more plainly up in London than he had yet done since they had been together in the country, that she could never, never be his wife. But what else could a girl say at a first meeting with a proposed lover? Would he have wished that she should at once have given herself up without one maidenly scruple, one word of feminine recusancy? If love’s course be made to run too smooth it loses all its poetry, and half its sweetness. But now they knew each other — at least, he thought they did. The scruple might now be put away. The feminine recusancy had done its work. For himself — he felt that he loved her in very truth. She was not harsh or loud — vulgar, or given to coarse manners, as might have been expected, and as he had been warned by his friends that he would find her. That she was very beautiful, all her enemies had acknowledged — and he was quite assured that her enemies had been right. She was the Lady Anna Lovel, and he felt that he could make her his own without one shade of regret to mar his triumph. Of the tailor’s son — though he had been warned of him too — he made no account whatever. That had been a slander, which only endeared the girl to him the more — a slander against Lady Anna Lovel which had been an insult to his family. Among all the ladies he knew, daughters of peers and high-bred commoners, there were none — there was not one less likely so to disgrace herself than Lady Anna Lovel, his sweet cousin.
“Do not think me too hurried, dear, if I speak to you again so soon, of that of which I spoke once before.” He had turned himself round upon his arm, so as to be very close to her — so that he would look full into her face, and, if chance favoured him, could take her hand. He paused, as though for an answer; but she did not speak to him a word. “It is not long yet since we first met.”
“Oh, no — not long.”
“And I know not what your feelings are. But, in very truth, I can say that I love you dearly. Had nothing else come in the way to bring us together, I am sure that I should have loved you.” She, poor child, believed him as though he were speaking to her the sweetest gospel. And he, too, believed himself. He was easy of heart perhaps, but not deceitful; anxious enough for his position in the world, but not meanly covetous. Had she been distasteful to him as a woman, he would have refused to make himself rich by the means that had been suggested to him. As it was, he desired her as much as her money, and had she given herself to him then would never have remembered — would never have known that the match had been sordid. “ Do you believe me?” he asked.
“And shall it be so?”
Her face had been turned away, but now she slowly moved her neck so that she could look at him. Should she be false to all her vows, and try whether happiness might not be gained in that way? The manner of doing it passed through her mind in that moment. She would write to Daniel, and remind him of his promise to set her free if she so willed it. She would never see him again. She would tell him that she had striven to see things as he would have taught her, and had failed. She would abuse herself, and ask for his pardon — but having thus judged for herself, she would never go back from such judgment. It might be done — if only she could persuade herself that it were good to do it! But, as she thought of it, there came upon her a prick of conscience so sharp, that she could not welcome the devil by leaving it unheeded. How could she be forsworn to one who had been so absolutely good — whose all had been spent for her and for her mother — whose whole life had been one long struggle of friendship on her behalf — who had been the only playfellow of her youth, the only man she had ever ventured to kiss — the man whom she truly loved? He had warned her against these gauds which were captivating her spirit, and now, in the moment of her peril, she would remember his warnings.
“Shall it be so?” Lord Lovel asked again, just stretching out his hand, so that he could touch the fold of her garment.
“It cannot be so,” she said.
“It cannot be so, Lord Lovel.”
“It cannot now — or do you mean the word to be for ever?”
“For ever!” she replied.
“I know that I have been hurried and sudden,” he said — purposely passing by her last assurance; “and I do feel that you have a right to resent the seeming assurance of such haste. But in our case, dearest, the interests of so many are concerned, the doubts and fears, the well-being, and even the future conduct of all our friends are so bound up by the result, that I had hoped you would have pardoned that which would otherwise have been unpardonable.” Oh heavens — had it not been for Daniel Thwaite, how full of grace, how becoming, how laden with flattering courtesy would have been every word that he had uttered to her! “But,” he continued, if it really be that you cannot love me — ”
“Oh, Lord Lovel, pray ask of me no further question.”
“I am bound to ask and to know — for all our sakes.”
Then she rose quickly to her feet, and with altered gait and changed countenance stood over him. “I am engaged’, she said, “to be married — to Mr Daniel Thwaite.” She had told it all, and felt that she had told her own disgrace. He rose also, but stood mute before her. This was the very thing of which they had all warned him, but as to which he had been so sure that it was not so! She saw it all in his eyes, reading much more there than he could read in hers. She was degraded in his estimation, and felt that evil worse almost than the loss of his love. For the last three weeks she had been a real Lovel among the Lovels. That was all over now. Let this lawsuit go as it might, let them give to her all the money, and make the title which she hated ever so sure, she never again could be the equal friend of her gentle relative, Earl Lovel. Minnie would never again spring into her arms, swearing that she would do as she pleased with her own cousin. She might be Lady Anna, but never Anna again to the two ladies at the rectory. The perfume of his rank had been just scented, to be dashed away from her for ever. “It is a secret at present’, she said, “or I should have told you sooner. If it is right that you should repeat it, of course you must.”
“It is true.”
“Oh, Anna, for your sake as well as mine this makes me wretched indeed!”
“As for the money, Lord Lovel, if it be mine to give, you shall have it.”
“You think then it is that which I have wanted?”
“It is that which the family wants, and I can understand that it should be wanted. As for myself — for mamma and me — you can hardly understand how it has been with us when we were young. You despise Mr Thwaite — because he is a tailor.”
“I am sure he is not fit to be the husband of Lady Anna Lovel.”
“When Lady Anna Lovel had no other friend in the world, he sheltered her and gave her a house to live in, and spent his earnings in her defence, and would not yield when all those who might have been her friends strove to wrong her. Where would mamma have been — and I— had there been no Mr Thwaite to comfort us? He was our only friend — he and his father. They were all we had. In my childhood I had never a kind word from another child — but only from him. Would it have been right that he should have asked for anything, and that I should have refused it?”
“He should not have asked for this,” said Lord Lovel hoarsely.
“Why not he, as well as you? He is as much a man. If I could believe in your love after two days, Lord Lovel, could I not trust his after twenty years of friendship?”
“You knew that he was beneath you.”
“He was not beneath me. He was above me. We were poor — while he and his father had money, which we took. He could give, while we received. He was strong while we were weak — and was strong to comfort us. And then, Lord Lovel, what knew I of rank, living under his father’s wing? They told me I was the Lady Anna, and the children scouted me. My mother was a countess. So she swore, and I at least believed her. But if ever rank and title were a profitless burden, they were to her. Do you think that I had learned then to love my rank?”
“You have learned better now.”
“I have learned — but whether better I may doubt. There are lessons which are quickly learned; and there are they who say that such are the devil’s lessons. I have not been strong enough not to learn. But I must forget again, Lord Lovel. And you must forget also.” He hardly knew how to speak to her now — whether it would be fit for him even to wish to persuade her to be his, after she had told him that she had given her troth to a tailor. His uneasy thoughts prompted him with ideas which dismayed him. Could he take to his heart one who had been pressed close in so vile a grasp? Could he accept a heart that had once been promised to a tailor’s workman? Would not all the world know and say that he had done it solely for the money — even should he succeed in doing it? And yet to fail in this enterprise — to abandon all — to give up so enticing a road to wealth! Then he remembered what he had said — how he had pledged himself to abandon the lawsuit — how convinced he had been that this girl was heiress to the Lovel wealth, who now told him that she had engaged herself to marry a tailor. There was nothing more that either of them could say to the other at the moment, and they went back in silence to the inn.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55