After the Earl was gone Lady Anna had but a bad time of it at Yoxham. She herself could not so far regain her composure as to live on as though no disruption had taken place. She knew that she was in disgrace, and the feeling was dreadful to her. The two ladies were civil, and tried to make the house pleasant, but they were not cordial as they had been hitherto. For one happy halcyon week — for a day or two before the Earl had come, and for those bright days during which he had been with them — she had found herself to be really admitted into the inner circle as one of the family. Mrs Lovel had been altogether gracious with her. Minnie had been her darling little friend. Aunt Julia had been so far won as to be quite alive to the necessity of winning. The rector himself had never quite given way — had never been so sure of his footing as to feel himself safe in abandoning all power of receding; but the effect of this had been to put the rector himself, rather than his guest, into the back ground. The servants had believed in her, and even Mrs Grimes had spoken in her praise — expressing an opinion that she was almost good enough for the young Earl. All Yoxham had known that the two young people were to be married, and all Yoxham had been satisfied. But now everything was wrong. The Earl had fled, and all Yoxham knew that everything was wrong. It was impossible that her position should be as it had been.
There were consultations behind her back as to what should be done, of which — though she heard no word of them — she was aware. She went out daily in the carriage with Mrs Lovel, but Aunt Julia did not go with them. Aunt Julia on these occasions remained at home discussing the momentous affair with her brother. What should be done? There was a great dinner-party, specially convened to do honour to the Earl’s return, and not among them a single guest who had not heard that there was to be a marriage. The guests came to see, not only the Earl, but the Earl’s bride. When they arrived the Earl had flown. Mrs Lovel expressed her deep sorrow that business of great importance had made it necessary that the Earl should go to London. Lady Anna was, of course, introduced to the strangers; but it was evident to the merest tyro in such matters that she was not introduced as would have been a bride expectant. They had heard how charming she was, how all the Lovels had accepted her, how deeply was the Earl in love; and, lo, she sat in the house silent and almost unregarded. Of course, the story of the lawsuit, with such variations as rumour might give it, was known to them all. A twelvemonth ago — nay, at a period less remote than that — the two female claimants in Cumberland had always been spoken of in those parts as wretched, wicked, vulgar impostors. Then came the reaction. Lady Anna was the heiress, and Lady Anna was to be the Countess. It had flown about the country during the last ten days that there was no one like the Lady Anna. Now they came to see her, and another reaction had set in. She was the Lady Anna they must suppose. All the Lovels, even the rector, so called her. Mrs Lovel introduced her as Lady Anna Lovel, and the rector — hating himself as he did so — led her out to dinner though there was a baronet’s wife in the room — the wife of a baronet who dated back from James I. She was the Lady Anna, and therefore the heiress — but it was clear to them all that there was to be no marriage.
“Then poor Lord Lovel will absolutely not have enough to starve upon,” said the baronet’s wife to the baronet, as soon as the carriage door had been shut upon them.
What were they to do with her? The dinner party had taken place on a Wednesday — the day after the Earl’s departure; and on the Thursday Aunt Julia wrote to her nephew thus:
Yoxham Rectory, 3rd September
MY DEAR FREDERIC,
My brother wishes me to write to you and say that we are all here very uneasy about Lady Anna. We have only heard from her that the match which was contemplated is not to take place. Whether that be so from unwillingness on her part or yours we have never yet been told — but both to your Aunt Jane and myself she speaks of it as though the decision were irrevocable. What had we better do? Of course, it is our most anxious desire — as it is our pleasure and our duty — to arrange everything according to your wishes and welfare. Nothing can be of so much importance to any of us in this world as your position in it. If it is your wish that Lady Anna should remain here, of course she shall remain. But if, in truth, there is no longer any prospect of a marriage, will not her longer sojourn beneath your uncle’s roof be a trouble to all of us — and especially to her?
Your Aunt Jane thinks that it may be only a lover’s quarrel. For myself, I feel sure that you would not have left us as you did, had it not been more than that. I think that you owe it to your uncle to write to me — or to him, if you like it better — and to give us some clue to the state of things.
I must not conceal from you the fact that my brother has never felt convinced, as you do, that Lady Anna’s mother was, in truth, the Countess Lovel. At your request, and in compliance with the advice of the Solicitor-General, he has been willing to receive her here; and, as she has been here, he has given her the rank which she claims. He took her out to dinner yesterday before Lady Fitzwarren — which will never be forgiven should it turn out ultimately that the first wife was alive when the Earl married Anna’s mother. Of course, while here she must be treated as Lady Anna Lovel; but my brother does not wish to be forced so to do, if it be intended that any further doubt should be raised. In such case he desires to be free to hold his former opinion. Therefore pray write to us, and tell us what you wish to have done. I can assure you that we are at present very uncomfortable.
Believe me to be, My dear Frederic, Your most affectionate aunt, JULIA LOVEL
The Earl received this before his interview with Sir William, but left it unanswered till after he had seen that gentleman. Then he wrote as follows:
Carlton Club, 5th September, 183 —
MY DEAR AUNT JULIA,
Will you tell my uncle that I think you had better get Lady Anna to stay at the rectory as long as possible. I’ll let you know all about it very soon. Best love to Aunt Jane.
I am, Your affectionate nephew, LOVEL
This very short epistle was most unsatisfactory to the rector, but it was felt by them all that nothing could be done. With such an injunction before them, they could not give the girl a hint that they wished her to go. What uncle or what aunt with such a nephew as Lord Lovel, so noble and so poor, could turn out an heiress with twenty thousand a year, as long as there was the slightest chance of a marriage? Not a doubt would have rankled in their minds had they been quite sure that she was the heiress. But, as it was, the Earl ought to have said more than he did say.
“I cannot keep myself from feeling sometimes that Frederic does take liberties with me,” the rector said to his sister. But he submitted. It was a part of the religion of the family — and no little part — that they should cling to their head and chief. What would the world have been to them if they could not talk with comfortable ease and grace of their nephew Frederic?
During this time Anna spoke more than once to Mrs Lovel as to her going. “I have been a long time here,” she said, and I’m sure that I am in Mr Lovel’s way.”
“Not in the least, my dear. If you are happy, pray stay with us.”
This was before the arrival of the brief epistle — when they were waiting to know whether they were to dismiss their guest from Yoxham, or to retain her.
“As for being happy, nobody can be happy, I think, till all this is settled. I will write to mamma, and tell her that I had better return to her. Mamma is all alone.”
“I don’t know that I can advise, my dear; but as far as we are concerned, we shall be very glad if you can stay.”
The brief epistle had not then arrived, and they were, in truth, anxious that she should go — but one cannot tell one’s visitor to depart from one’s house without a downright rupture. Not even the rector himself dared to make such rupture, without express sanction from the Earl.
Then Lady Anna, feeling that she must ask advice, wrote to her mother. The Countess had answered her last letter with great severity — that letter in which the daughter had declared that people ought not to be asked to marry for money. The Countess, whose whole life had made her stern and unbending, said very hard things to her child; had told her that she was ungrateful and disobedient, unmindful of her family, neglectful of her duty, and willing to sacrifice the prosperity and happiness of all belonging to her, for some girlish feeling of mere romance. The Countess was sure that her daughter would never forgive herself in after years, if she now allowed to pass by this golden opportunity of remedying all the evil that her father had done. “You are simply asked to do that which every well-bred girl in England would be delighted to do,” wrote the Countess.
“Ah! she does not know,” said Lady Anna.
But there had come upon her now a fear heavier and more awful than that which she entertained for her mother. Earl Lovel knew her secret, and Earl Lovel was to tell it to the Solicitor-General. She hardly doubted that it might as well be told to all the judges on the bench at once. Would it not be better that she should be married to Daniel Thwaite out of hand, and so be freed from the burden of any secret? The young lord had been thoroughly ashamed of her when she told it. Those aunts at Yoxham would hardly speak to her if they knew it. That lady before whom she had been made to walk out to dinner, would disdain to sit in the same room with her if she knew it. It must be known — must be known to them all. But she need not remain there, beneath their eyes, while they learned it. Her mother must know it, and it would be better that she should tell her mother. She would tell her mother — and request that she might have permission to return at once to the lodgings in Wyndham Street. So she wrote the following letter — in which, as the reader will perceive, she could not even yet bring herself to tell her secret:
Yoxham Rectory, Monday
MY DEAR MAMMA,
I want you to let me come home, because I think I have been here long enough. Lord Lovel has gone away, and though you are so very angry, it is better I should tell you that we are not any longer friends. Dear, dear, dearest mamma; I am so very unhappy that you should not be pleased with me. I would die to-morrow if I could make you happy. But it is all over now, and he would not do it even if I could say that it should be so. He has gone away, and is in London, and would tell you so himself if you would ask him. He despises me, as I always knew he would — and so he has gone away. I don’t think anything of myself, because I knew it must be so; but I am so very unhappy because you will be unhappy.
I don’t think they want to have me here any longer, and of course there is no reason why they should. They were very nice to me before all this happened, and they never say anything ill-natured to me now. But it is very different, and there cannot be any good in remaining. You are all alone, and I think you would be glad to see your poor Anna, even though you are so angry with her. Pray let me come home. I could start very well on Friday, and I think I will do so, unless I hear from you to the contrary. I can take my place by the coach, and go away at twelve o’clock from York, and be at that place in London on Saturday at eleven. I must take my place on Thursday. I have plenty of money, as I have not spent any since I have been here. Of course Sarah will come with me. She is not nearly so nice since she knew that Lord Lovel was to go away.
Dear mamma, I do love you so much. Your most affectionate daughter, ANNA
It was not wilfully that the poor girl gave her mother no opportunity of answering her before she had taken her place by the coach. On Thursday morning the place had to be taken, and on Thursday evening she got her mother’s letter. By the same post came the Earl’s letter to his aunt, desiring that Lady Anna might, if possible, be kept at Yoxham. The places were taken, and it was impossible. “I don’t see why you should go,” said Aunt Julia, who clearly perceived that her nephew had been instigated to pursue the marriage scheme since he had been in town. Lady Anna urged that the money had been paid for two places by the coach. “My brother could arrange that, I do not doubt,” said Aunt Julia. But the Countess now expected her daughter, and Lady Anna stuck to her resolve. Her mother’s letter had not been propitious to the movement. If the places were taken, of course she must come. So said the Countess. It was not simply that the money should not be lost, but that the people at Yoxham must not be allowed to think that her daughter was over anxious to stay. “Does your mamma want to have you back?” asked Aunt Julia. Lady Anna would not say that her mother wanted her back, but simply pleaded again that the places had been taken.
When the morning came for her departure, the carriage was ordered to take her into York, and the question arose as to who should go with her. It was incumbent on the rector, who held an honorary stall in the cathedral, to be with the dean and his brother prebendaries on that day, and the use of his own carriage would be convenient to him.
“I think I’ll have the gig,” said the rector.
“My dear Charles,” pleaded his sister, surely that will be foolish. She can’t hurt you.”
“I don’t know that,” said the rector. I think she has hurt me very much already. I shouldn’t know how to talk to her.”
“You may be sure that Frederic means to go on with it,” said Mrs Lovel.
“It would have been better for Frederic if he had never seen her,” said the rector; “and I’m sure it would have been better for me.”
But he consented at last, and he himself handed Lady Anna into the carriage. Mrs Lovel accompanied them, but Aunt Julia made her farewells in the rectory drawing-room. She managed to get the girl to herself for a moment or two, and thus she spoke to her. “I need not tell you that, for yourself, my dear, I like you very much.”
“Oh, thank you Miss Lovel.”
“I have heartily wished that you might be our Frederic’s wife.”
“It can never be,” said Lady Anna.
“I won’t give up all hope. I don’t pretend to understand what there is amiss between you and Frederic, but I won’t give it up. If it is to be so, I hope that you and I may be loving friends till I die. Give me a kiss, my dear.” Lady Anna, whose eyes were suffused with tears, threw herself into the arms of the elder lady and embraced her.
Mrs Lovel also kissed her, and bade God bless her as she parted from her at the coach door; but the rector was less demonstrative. “I hope you will have a pleasant journey,” he said, taking off his clerical hat.
“Let it go as it may,” said Mrs Lovel, as she walked into the close with her husband, “you may take my word, she’s a good girl.”
“I’m afraid she’s sly,” said the rector.
“She’s no more sly than I am,” said Mrs Lovel, who herself was by no means sly.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01