The Countess went into the City to meet her daughter at the Saracen’s Head, whither the York coach used to run, and received her almost in silence. “Oh, mamma, dear mamma,” said Lady Anna, “I am so glad to be back with you again.” Sarah, the lady’s maid, was there, useless, officious, and long-eared. The Countess said almost nothing; she submitted to be kissed, and she asked after the luggage. At that time she had heard the whole story about Daniel Thwaite.
The Solicitor-General had disregarded altogether his client’s injunctions as to secrecy. He had felt that in a matter of so great importance it behoved him to look to his client’s interests, rather than his client’s instructions. This promise of a marriage with the tailor’s son must be annihilated. On behalf of the whole Lovel family it was his duty, as he thought, to see that this should be effected, if possible — and as quickly as possible. This was his duty, not only as a lawyer employed in a particular case, but as a man who would be bound to prevent any great evil which he saw looming in the future. In his view of the case the marriage of Lady Anna Lovel, with a colossal fortune, to Daniel Thwaite the tailor would be a grievous injury to the social world of his country — and it was one of those evils which may probably be intercepted by due and discreet precautions. No doubt the tailor wanted money. The man was entitled to some considerable reward for all that he had done and all that he had suffered in the cause. But Sir William could not himself propose the reward. He could not chaffer for terms with the tailor. He could not be seen in that matter. But having heard the secret from the Earl, he thought that he could get the work done. So he sent for Mr Flick, the attorney, and told Mr Flick all that he knew. “Gone and engaged herself to the tailor!” said Mr Flick, holding up both his hands. Then Sir William took Lady Anna’s part. After all, such an engagement was not — as he thought — unnatural. It had been made while she was very young, when she knew no other man of her own age in life, when she was greatly indebted to this man, when she had had no opportunity of measuring a young tailor against a young lord. She had done it probably in gratitude — so said Sir William — and now clung to it from good faith rather than affection. Neither was he severe upon the tailor. He was a man especially given to make excuses for poor weak, erring, unlearned mortals, ignorant of the law — unless when a witness attempted to be impervious — and now he made excuses for Daniel Thwaite. The man might have done so much worse than he was doing. There seemed already to be a noble reliance on himself in his conduct. Lord Lovel thought that there had been no correspondence while the young lady had been at Yoxham. There might have been, but had not been, a clandestine marriage. Other reasons he gave why Daniel Thwaite should not be regarded as altogether villanous. But, nevertheless, the tailor must not be allowed to carry off the prize. The prize was too great for him. What must be done? Sir William condescended to ask Mr Flick what he thought ought to be done. “No doubt we should be very much guided by you, Mr Solicitor,” said Mr Flick.
“One thing is, I think, plain, Mr Flick. You must see the Countess and tell her, or get Mr Goffe to do so. It is clear that she has been kept in the dark between them. At present they are all living together in the same house. She had better leave the place and go elsewhere. They should be kept apart, and the girl, if necessary, should be carried abroad.”
“I take it there is a difficulty about money, Mr Solicitor.”
“There ought to be none — and I will take it upon myself to say that there need be none. It is a case in which the court will willingly allow money out of the income of the property. The thing is so large that there should be no grudging of money for needful purposes. Seeing what prima facie claims these ladies have, they are bound to allow them to live decently, in accordance with their alleged rank, till the case is settled. No doubt she is the heiress.”
“You feel quite sure, Sir William?”
“I do — though, as I have said before, it is a case of feeling sure, and not being sure. Had that Italian woman been really the widow, somebody would have brought her case forward more loudly.”
“But if the other Italian woman who died was the wife?”
“You would have found it out when you were there. Somebody from the country would have come to us with evidence, knowing how much we could afford to pay for it. Mind you, the matter has been tried before, in another shape. The old Earl was indicted for bigamy and acquitted. We are bound to regard that young woman as Lady Anna Lovel, and we are bound to regard her and her mother conjointly as co-heiresses, in different degrees, to all the personal property which the old Earl left behind him. We can’t with safety take any other view. There will still be difficulties in their way — and very serious difficulties, were she to marry this tailor; but, between you and me, he would eventually get the money. Perhaps, Mr Flick, you had better see him. You would know how to get at his views without compromising anybody. But, in the first place, let the Countess know everything. After what has been done, you won’t have any difficulty in meeting Mr Goffe.”
Mr Flick had no difficulty in seeing Mr Goffe — though he felt that there would be very much difficulty in seeing Mr Daniel Thwaite. He did tell Mr Goffe the story of the wicked tailor — by no means making those excuses which the Solicitor-General had made for the man’s presumptuous covetousness. “I knew the trouble we should have with that man,” said Mr Goffe, who had always disliked the Thwaites. Then Mr Flick went on to say that Mr Goffe had better tell the Countess — and Mr Goffe on this point agreed with his adversary. Two or three days after that, but subsequently to the date of the last letter which the mother had written to her daughter, Lady Lovel was told that Lady Anna was engaged to marry Mr Daniel Thwaite.
She had suspected how it might be; her heart had for the last month been heavy with the dread of this great calamity; she had made her plans with the view of keeping the two apart; she had asked her daughter questions founded on this very fear: and yet she could not for a while be brought to believe it. How did Mr Goffe know? Mr Goffe had heard it from Mr Flick, who had heard it from Sir William Patterson; to whom the tale had been told by Lord Lovel. “And who told Lord Lovel?” said the Countess flashing up in anger.
“No doubt Lady Anna did so,” said the attorney. But in spite of her indignation she could retain her doubts. The attorney, however, was certain. “There could be no hope but that it was so.” She still pretended not to believe it, though fully intending to take all due precautions in the matter. Since Mr Goffe thought that it would be prudent, she would remove to other lodgings. She would think of that plan of going abroad. She would be on her guard, she said. But she would not admit it to be possible that Lady Anna Lovel, the daughter of Earl Lovel, her daughter, should have so far disgraced herself.
But she did believe it. Her heart had in truth told her that it was true at the first word the lawyer had spoken to her. How blind she must have been not to have known it! How grossly stupid not to have understood those asseverations from the girl, that the marriage with her cousin was impossible! Her child had not only deceived her, but had possessed cunning enough to maintain her deception. It must have been going on for at least the last twelvemonth, and she, the while, had been kept in the dark by the manoeuvres of a simple girl! And then she thought of the depth of the degradation which was prepared for her. Had she passed twenty years of unintermittent combat for this — that when all had been done, when at last success was won, when the rank and wealth of her child had been made positively secure before the world, when she was about to see the unquestioned coronet of a Countess placed upon her child’s brow — all should be destroyed through a passion so mean as this! Would it not have been better to have died in poverty and obscurity — while there were yet doubts — before any assured disgrace had rested on her? But, oh! to have proved that she was a Countess, and her child the heiress of an Earl, in order that the Lady Anna Lovel might become the wife of Daniel Thwaite, the tailor!
She made many resolutions; but the first was this, that she would never smile upon the girl again till this baseness should have been abandoned. She loved her girl as only mothers do love. More devoted than the pelican, she would have given her heart’s blood — had given all her life — not only to nurture, but to aggrandise her child. The establishment of her own position, her own honour, her own name, was to her but the incidental result of her daughter’s emblazonment in the world. The child which she had borne to Earl Lovel, and which the father had stigmatised as a bastard, should by her means be known as the Lady Anna, the heiress of that father’s wealth — the wealthiest, the fairest, the most noble of England’s daughters. Then there had come the sweet idea that this high-born heiress of the Lovels, should herself become Countess Lovel, and the mother had risen higher in her delighted pride. It had all been for her child! Had she not loved as a mother, and with all a mother’s tenderness? And for what?
She would love still, but she would never again be tender till her daughter should have repudiated her base — her monstrous — engagement. She bound up all her faculties to harshness, and a stern resolution. Her daughter had been deceitful, and she would now be ruthless. There might be suffering, but had not she suffered? There might be sorrow, but had not she sorrowed? There might be a contest, but had not she ever been contesting? Sooner than that the tailor should reap the fruit of her labours — labours which had been commenced when she first gave herself in marriage to that dark, dreadful man — sooner than that her child should make ignoble the blood which it had cost her so much to ennoble, she would do deeds which should make even the wickedness of her husband child’s play in the world’s esteem. It was in this mood of mind that she went to meet her daughter at the Saracen’s Head.
She had taken fresh lodgings very suddenly — in Keppel Street, near Russell Square, a long way from Wyndham Street. She had asked Mr Goffe to recommend her a place, and he had sent her to an old lady with whom he himself had lodged in his bachelor’s days. Keppel Street cannot be called fashionable, and Russell Square is not much affected by the nobility. Nevertheless the house was superior in all qualifications to that which she was now leaving, and the rent was considerably higher. But the affairs of the Countess in regard to money were in the ascendant; and Mr Goffe did not scruple to take for her a “genteel” suite of drawing-rooms — two rooms with folding doors, that is — with the bedrooms above, first-class lodging-house attendance, and a garret for the lady’s maid. “And then it will be quite close to Mrs Bluestone,” said Mr Goffe, who knew of that intimacy.
The drive in a glass coach home from the coach-yard to Keppel Street was horrible to Lady Anna. Not a word was spoken, as Sarah, the lady’s maid, sat with them in the carriage. Once or twice the poor girl tried to get hold of her mother’s hand, in order that she might entice something of a caress. But the Countess would admit of no such softness, and at last withdrew her hand roughly. “Oh mamma!” said Lady Anna, unable to suppress her dismay. But the Countess said never a word. Sarah, the lady’s maid, began to think that there must be a second lover. “Is this Wyndham Street?” said Lady Anna when the coach stopped.
“No, my dear — this is not Wyndham Street. I have taken another abode. This is where we are to live. If you will get out I will follow you and Sarah will look to the luggage.” Then the daughter entered the house, and met the old woman curtsying to her. She at once felt that she had been removed from contact with Daniel Thwaite, and was sure that her mother knew her story. “That is your room,” said her mother. “You had better get your things off. Are you tired?”
“Oh! so tired!” and Lady Anna burst into tears.
“What will you have?”
“Oh, nothing! I think I will go to bed, mamma. Why are you unkind to me? Do tell me. Anything is better than that you should be unkind.”
“Anna — have not you been unkind to me?”
“Never, mamma — never. I have never meant to be unkind. I love you better than all the world. I have never been unkind. But, you — Oh, mamma, if you look at me like that, I shall die.”
“Is it true that you have promised that you would be the wife of Mr Daniel Thwaite?”
“Is it true? I will be open with you. Mr Goffe tells me that you have refused Lord Lovel, telling him that you must do so because you were engaged to Mr Daniel Thwaite. Is that true?”
“Yes, mamma — it is true.”
“And you have given your word to that man?”
“I have, mamma.”
“And yet you told me that there was no one else when I spoke to you of Lord Lovel? You lied to me?” The girl sat confounded, astounded, without power of utterance. She had travelled from York to London, inside one of those awful vehicles of which we used to be so proud when we talked of our stage coaches. She was thoroughly weary and worn out. She had not breakfasted that morning, and was sick and ill at ease, not only in heart, but in body also. Of course it was so. Her mother knew that it was so. But this was no time for fond compassion. It would be better, far better that she should die than that she should not be compelled to abandon this grovelling abasement. “Then you lied to me?” repeated the Countess still standing over her.
“Oh, mamma, you mean to kill me.”
“I would sooner die here, at your feet, this moment, and know that you must follow me within an hour, than see you married to such a one as that. You shall never marry him. Though I went into court myself and swore that I was that lord’s mistress — that I knew it when I went to him — that you were born a brat beyond the law, that I had lived a life of perjury, I would prevent such greater disgrace as this. It shall never be. I will take you away where he shall never hear of you. As to the money, it shall go to the winds, so that he shall never touch it. Do you think that it is you that he cares for? He has heard of all this wealth — and you are but the bait upon his hook to catch it.”
“You do not know him, mamma.”
“Will you tell me of him, that I do not know him; impudent slut! Did I not know him before you were born? Have I not known him all through? Will you give me your word of honour that you will never see him again?” Lady Anna tried to think, but her mind would not act for her. Everything was turning round, and she became giddy and threw herself on the bed. “Answer me, Anna. Will you give me your word of honour that you will never see him again?”
She might still have said yes. She felt that enough of speech was left to her for so small an effort — and she knew that if she did so the agony of the moment would pass away from her. With that one word spoken her mother would be kind to her, and would wait upon her; would bring her tea, and would sit by her bedside, and caress her. But she too was a Lovel, and she was, moreover, the daughter of her who once had been Josephine Murray.
“I cannot say that, mamma,” she said, because I have promised.”
Her mother dashed from the room, and she was left alone upon the bed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01