During that night the young lord was still thinking of his future conduct — of what duty and honour demanded of him, and of the manner in which he might best make duty and honour consort with his interests. In all the emergencies of his short life he had hitherto had someone to advise him — some elder friend whose counsel he might take even though he would seem to make little use of it when it was offered to him. He had always somewhat disdained Aunt Julia, but nevertheless Aunt Julia had been very useful to him. In latter days, since the late Earl’s death, when there came upon him, as the first of his troubles, the necessity of setting aside that madman’s will, Mr Flick had been his chief counsellor; and yet in all his communications with Mr Flick he had assumed to be his own guide and master. Now it seemed that he must in truth guide himself, but he knew not how to do it. Of one thing he felt certain. He must get away from Yoxham and hurry up to London.
It behoved him to keep his cousin’s secret; but would he not be keeping it with a sanctity sufficiently strict if he imparted it to one sworn friend — a friend who should be bound not to divulge it further without his consent? If so, the Solicitor-General should be his friend. An intimacy had grown up between the great lawyer and his noble client, not social in its nature, but still sufficiently close, as Lord Lovel thought, to admit of such confidence. He had begun to be aware that without assistance of this nature he would not know how to guide himself. Undoubtedly the wealth of the presumed heiress had become dearer to him — had become at least more important to him — since he had learned that it must probably be lost. Sir William Patterson was a gentleman as well as a lawyer — one who had not simply risen to legal rank by diligence and intellect, but a gentleman born and bred, who had been at a public school, and had lived all his days with people of the right sort. Sir William was his, legal adviser, and he would commit Lady Anna’s secret to the keeping of Sir William.
There was a coach which started in those days from York at noon, reaching London early on the following day. He would go up by this coach, and would thus avoid the necessity of much further association with his family before he had decided what should be his conduct. But he must see his cousin before he went. He therefore sent a note to her before she had left her room on the following morning:
I purpose starting for London in an hour or so, and wish to say one word to you before I go. Will you meet me at nine in the drawing-room? Do not mention my going to my uncle or aunts, as it will be better that I should tell them myself.
At ten minutes before nine Lady Anna was in the drawing-room waiting for him, and at ten minutes past nine he joined her.
“I beg your pardon for keeping you waiting.” She gave him her hand, and said that it did not signify in the least. She was always early. “I find that I must go up to London at once,” he said. To this she made no answer, though he seemed to expect some reply. “In the first place, I could not remain here in comfort after what you told me yesterday.”
“I shall be sorry to drive you away. It is your home; and as I must go soon, had I not better go at once?”
“No — that is, I think not. I shall go at any rate. I have told none of them what you told me yesterday.”
“I am glad of that, Lord Lovel.”
“It is for you to tell it — if it must be told.”
“I did tell your Aunt Jane — that you and I never can be as — you said you wished.”
“I did wish it most heartily. You did not tell it — all.”
“No — not all.”
“You astounded me so, that I could hardly speak to you as I should have spoken. I did not mean to be uncourteous.”
“I did not think you uncourteous, Lord Lovel. I am sure you would not be uncourteous to me.”
“But you astounded me. It is not that I think much of myself, or of my rank as belonging to me. I know that I have but little to be proud of. I am very poor — and not clever like some young men who have not large fortunes, but who can become statesmen and all that. But I do think much of my order; I think much of being a gentleman — and much of ladies being ladies. Do you understand me?”
“Oh, yes — I understand you.”
“If you are Lady Anna Lovel — ”
“I am Lady Anna Lovel.”
“I believe you are with all my heart. You speak like it, and look like it. You are fit for any position. Everything is in your favour. I do believe it. But if so — ”
“Well, Lord Lovel — if so?”
“Surely you would not choose to — to — to degrade your rank. That is the truth. If I be your cousin, and the head of your family, I have a right to speak as such. What you told me would be degradation.”
She thought a moment, and then she replied to him — “It would be no disgrace.”
He too found himself compelled to think before he could speak again. “Do you think that you could like your associates if you were to be married to Mr Thwaite?”
“I do not know who they would be. He would be my companion, and I like him. I love him dearly. There! you need not tell me, Lord Lovel. I know it all. He is not like you — and I, when I had become his wife, should not be like your Aunt Jane. I should never see people of that sort any more, I suppose. We should not live here in England at all — so that I should escape the scorn of all my cousins. I know what I am doing, and why I am doing it — and I do not think you ought to tempt me.”
She knew at least that she was open to temptation. He could perceive that, and was thankful for it. “I do not wish to tempt you, but I would save you from unhappiness if I could. Such a marriage would be unnatural. I have not seen Mr Thwaite.”
“Then, my lord, you have not seen a most excellent man, who, next to my mother, is my best friend.”
“But he cannot be a gentleman.”
“I do not know — but I do know that I can be his wife. Is that all, Lord Lovel?”
“Not quite all. I fear that this weary lawsuit will come back upon us in some shape. I cannot say whether I have the power to stop it if I would. I must in part be guided by others.”
“I cannot do anything. If I could, I would not even ask for the money for myself.”
“No, Lady Anna. You and I cannot decide it. I must again see my lawyer. I do not mean the attorney — but Sir William Patterson, the Solicitor-General. May I tell him what you told me yesterday?”
“I cannot hinder you.”
“But you can give me your permission. If he will promise me that it shall go no farther — then may I tell him? I shall hardly know what to do unless he knows all that I know.”
“Everybody will know soon.”
“Nobody shall know from me — but only he. Will you say that I may tell him?”
“I am much indebted to you even for that. I cannot tell you now how much I hoped when I got up yesterday morning at Bolton Bridge that I should have to be indebted to you for making me the happiest man in England. You must forgive me if I say that I still hope at heart that this infatuation may be made to cease. And now, goodbye, Lady Anna.”
“Goodbye, Lord Lovel.”
She at once went to her room, and sent down her maid to say that she would not appear at prayers or at breakfast. She would not see him again before he went. How probable it was that her eyes had rested on his form for the last time! How beautiful he was, how full of grace, how like a god! How pleasant she had found it to be near him; how full of ineffable sweetness had been everything that he had touched, all things of which he had spoken to her! He had almost overcome her, as though she had eaten of the lotus. And she knew not whether the charm was of God or devil. But she did know that she had struggled against it — because of her word, and because she owed a debt which falsehood and ingratitude would ill repay. Lord Lovel had called her Lady Anna now. Ah, yes; how good he was! When it became significant to her that he should recognise her rank, he did so at once. He had only dropped the title when, having been recognised, it had become a stumbling-block to her. Now he was gone from her, and, if it was possible, she would cease even to dream of him.
“I suppose, Frederic, that the marriage is not to be?” the rector said to him as he got into the dogcart at the rectory door.
“I cannot tell. I do not know. I think not. But, uncle, would you oblige me by not speaking of it just at present? You will know all very soon.”
The rector stood on the gravel, watching the dogcart as it disappeared, with his hands in the pockets of his clerical trousers, and with heavy signs of displeasure on his face. It was very well to be uncle to an earl, and out of his wealth to do what he could to assist and, if possible, to dispel his noble nephew’s poverty. But surely something was due to him! It was not for his pleasure that this girl — whom he was forced to call Lady Anna, though he could never believe her to be so, whom his wife and sister called Cousin Anna, though he still thought that she was not, and could not be, cousin to anybody — it was not for anything that he could get, that he was entertaining her as an honoured guest at his rectory. And now his nephew was gone, and the girl was left behind. And he was not to be told whether there was to be a marriage or not! “I cannot tell. I do not know. I think not.” And then he was curtly requested to ask no more questions. What was he to do with the girl? While the young Earl and the lawyers were still pondering the question of her legitimacy, the girl, whether a Lady Anna and a cousin — or a mere nobody, who was trying to rob the family — was to be left on his hands! Why — oh, why had he allowed himself to be talked out of his own opinion? Why had he ever permitted her to be invited to his rectory? Ah, how the title stuck in his throat as he asked her to take the customary glass of wine with him at dinner-time that evening!
On reaching London, towards the end of August, Lord Lovel found that the Solicitor-General was out of town. Sir William had gone down to Somersetshire with the intention of saying some comforting words to his constituents. Mr Flick knew nothing of his movements; but his clerk was found, and his clerk did not expect him back in London till October. But, in answer to Lord Lovel’s letter, Sir William undertook to come up for one day. Sir William was a man who quite recognised the importance of the case he had in hand.
“Engaged to the tailor — is she?” he said; not, however, with any look of surprise.
“But, Sir William — you will not repeat this, even to Mr Flick, or to Mr Hardy. I have promised Lady Anna that it shall not go beyond you.”
“If she sticks to her bargain, it cannot be kept secret very long — nor would she wish it. It’s just what we might have expected, you know.”
“You wouldn’t say so if you knew her.”
“H— m. I’m older than you, Lord Lovel. You see, she had nobody else near her. A girl must cotton to somebody, and who was there? We ought not to be angry with her.”
“But it shocks me so.”
“Well, yes. As far as I can learn, his father and he have stood by them very closely — and did so, too, when there seemed to be but little hope. But they might be paid for all they did at a less rate than that. If she sticks to him nobody can beat him out of it. What I mean is, that it was all fair game. He ran his chance, and did it in a manly fashion.” The Earl did not quite understand Sir William, who seemed to take almost a favourable view of these monstrous betrothals. “What I mean is, that nobody can touch him, or find fault with him. He has not carried her away and got up a marriage before she was of age. He hasn’t kept her from going out among her friends. He hasn’t — wronged her, I suppose?”
“I think he has wronged her frightfully.”
“Ah — well. We mean different things. I am obliged to look at it as the world will look at it.”
“Think of the disgrace of such a marriage — to a tailor.”
“Whose father had advanced her mother some five or six thousand pounds to help her to win back her position. That’s about the truth of it. We must look at it all round, you know.”
“You think, then, that nothing should be done?”
“I think that everything should be done that can be done. We have the mother on our side. Very probably we may have old Thwaite on our side. From what you say, it is quite possible that at this very moment the girl herself may be on our side. Let her remain at Yoxham as long as you can get her to stay, and let everything be done to flatter and amuse her. Go down again yourself, and play the lover as well as I do not doubt you know how to do it.” It was clear then that the great legal pundit did not think that an Earl should be ashamed to carry on his suit to a lady who had confessed her attachment to a journeyman tailor. “It will be a trouble to us all, of course, because we must change our plan when the case comes on in November.”
“But you still think that she is the heiress?”
“So strongly, that I feel all but sure of it. We shouldn’t, in truth, have had a leg to stand on, and we couldn’t fight it. I may as well tell you at once, my lord, that we couldn’t do it with any chance of success. And what should we have gained had we done so? Nothing! Unless we could prove that the real wife were dead, we should have been fighting for that Italian woman, whom I most thoroughly believe to be an impostor.”
“Then there is nothing to be done?”
“Very little in that way. But if the young lady be determined to marry the tailor, I think we should simply give notice that we withdraw our opposition to the English ladies, and state that we had so informed the woman who asserts her own claim and calls herself a Countess in Sicily; and we should let the Italian woman know that we had done so. In such case, for aught anybody can say here, she might come forward with her own case. She would find men here who would take it up on speculation readily enough. There would be a variety of complications, and no doubt very great delay. In such an event we should question very closely the nature of the property; as, for aught I have seen as yet, a portion of it might revert to you as real estate. It is very various — and it is not always easy to declare at once what is real and what personal. Hitherto you have appeared as contesting the right of the English widow to her rank, and not necessarily as a claimant of the estate. The Italian widow, if a widow, would be the heir, and not your lordship. For that, among other reasons, the marriage would be most expedient. If the Italian Countess were to succeed in proving that the Earl had a wife living when he married Miss Murray — which I feel sure he had not — then we should come forward again with our endeavours to show that that first wife had died since — as the Earl himself undoubtedly declared more than once. It would be a long time before the tailor got his money with his wife. The feeling of the court would be against him.”
“Could we buy the tailor, Sir William?”
The Solicitor-General nursed his leg before he answered.
“Mr Flick could answer that question better than I can do. In fact, Mr Flick should know it all. The matter is too heavy for secrets, Lord Lovel.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01