It has been said that the Countess, when she sent her daughter down to Yoxham, laid her plans with the conviction that the associations to which the girl would be subjected among the Lovels would fill her heart and mind with a new-born craving for the kind of life which she would find in the rector’s family — and she had been right. Daniel Thwaite also had known that it would be so. He had been quite alive to the fact that he and his conversation would be abased, and that his power, both of pleasing and of governing, would be lessened, by this new contact. But, had he been able to hinder her going, he would not have done so. None of those who were now interested in his conduct knew aught of the character of this man. Sir William Patterson had given him credit for some honesty, but even he had not perceived — had had no opportunity of perceiving — the staunch uprightness which was as it were a backbone to the man in all his doings. He was ambitious, discontented, sullen, and tyrannical. He hated the domination of others, but was prone to domineer himself. He suspected evil of all above him in rank, and the millennium to which he looked forward was to be produced by the gradual extirpation of all social distinctions. Gentlemen, so called, were to him as savages, which had to be cleared away in order that that perfection might come at last which the course of nature was to produce in obedience to the ordinances of the Creator. But he was a man who reverenced all laws — and a law, if recognised as a law, was a law to him whether enforced by a penalty, or simply exigent of obedience from his conscience. This girl had been thrown in his way, and he had first pitied and then loved her from his childhood. She had been injured by the fiendish malice of her own father — and that father had been an Earl. He had been strong in fighting for the rights of the mother — not because it had been the mother’s right to be a Countess — but in opposition to the Earl. At first — indeed throughout all these years of conflict, except the last year — there had been a question, not of money, but of right. The wife was entitled to due support — to what measure of support Daniel had never known or inquired; but the daughter had been entitled to nothing. The Earl, had he made his will before he was mad — or, more probably, had he not destroyed, when mad, the will which he had before made — might and would have left the girl without a shilling. In those days, when Daniel’s love was slowly growing, when he wandered about with the child among the rocks, when the growing girl had first learned to swear to him that he should always be her friend of friends, when the love of the boy had first become the passion of the man, there had been no thought of money in it. Money! Had he not been well aware from his earliest understanding of the need of money for all noble purposes, that the earnings of his father, which should have made the world to him a world of promise, were being lavished in the service of these forlorn women? He had never complained. They were welcome to it all. That young girl was all the world to him; and it was right that all should be spent; as though she had been a sister, as though she had already been his wife. There had been no plot then by which he was to become rich on the Earl’s wealth. Then had come the will, and the young Earl’s claims, and the general belief of men in all quarters that the young Earl was to win everything. What was left of the tailor’s savings was still being spent on behalf of the Countess. The first fee that ever found its way into the pocket of Serjeant Bluestone had come from the diminished hoard of old Thomas Thwaite. Then the will had been set aside; and gradually the cause of the Countess had grown to be in the ascendant. Was he to drop his love, to confess himself unworthy, and to slink away out of her sight, because the girl would become an heiress? Was he even to conceive so badly of her as to think that she would drop her love because she was an heiress? There was no such humility about him — nor such absence of self-esteem. But, as regarded her, he told himself at once that she should have the chance of being base and noble — all base, and all noble as far as title and social standing could make her so — if such were her desire. He had come to her and offered her her freedom — had done so, indeed, with such hot language of indignant protest against the gilded gingerbread of her interested suitor, as would have frightened her from the acceptance of his offer had she been minded to accept it — but his words had been hot, not from a premeditated purpose to thwart his own seeming liberality, but because his nature was hot and his temper imperious. This lordling was ready to wed his bride — the girl he had known and succoured throughout their joint lives — simply because she was rich and the lordling was a pauper. From the bottom of his heart he despised the lordling. He had said to himself a score of times that he could be well content to see the lord take the money, waste it among thieves and prostitutes, and again become a pauper, while he had the girl to sit with him at his board, and share with him the earnings of his honest labour. Of course he had spoken out. But the girl should be at liberty to do as she pleased.
He wrote no line to her before she went, or while she was at Yoxham, nor did he speak a word concerning her during her absence. But as he sat at his work, or walked to and fro between his home and the shop, or lay sleepless in bed, all his thoughts were of her. Twice or thrice a week he would knock at the door of the Countess’s room, and say a word or two, as was rendered natural by their long previous intercourse. But there had been no real intercourse between them. The Countess told him nothing of her plans; nor did he ever speak to her of his. Each suspected the other; and each was grimly civil. Once or twice the Countess expressed a hope that the money advanced by Thomas Thwaite might soon be repaid to him with much interest. Daniel would always treat the subject with a noble indifference. His father, he said, had never felt an hour’s regret at having parted with his money. Should it, perchance, come back to him, he would take it, no doubt, with thanks.
Then he heard one evening, as he returned from his work, that the Countess was about to remove herself on the morrow to another home. The woman of the house, who told him, did not know where the Countess had fixed her future abode. He passed on up to his bedroom, washed his hands, and immediately went down to his fellow-lodger. After the first ordinary greeting, which was cold and almost unkind, he at once asked his question. “They tell me that you go from this tomorrow, Lady Lovel.” She paused a moment, and then bowed her head. “Where is it that you are going to live?” She paused again, and paused long, for she had to think what answer she would make him. “Do you object to let me know?” he asked.
“Mr Thwaite, I must object.”
Then at that moment there came upon him the memory of all that he and his father had done, and not the thought of that which he intended to do. This was the gratitude of a Countess! “In that case of course I shall not ask again. I had hoped that we were friends.”
“Of course we are friends. Your father has been the best friend I ever had. I shall write to your father and let him know. I am bound to let your father know all that I do. But at present my case is in the hands of my lawyers, and they have advised that I should tell no one in London where I live.”
“Then good evening, Lady Lovel. I beg your pardon for having intruded.” He left the room without another word, throwing off the dust from his feet as he went with violent indignation. He and she must now be enemies. She had told him that she would separate herself from him — and they must be separated. Could he have expected better things from a declared Countess? But how would it be with Lady Anna? She also had a title. She also would have wealth. She might become a Countess if she wished it. Let him only know by one sign from her that she did wish it, and he would take himself off at once to the farther side of the globe, and live in a world contaminated by no noble lords and titled ladies. As it happened, the Countess might as well have given him the address, as the woman at the lodgings informed him on the next morning that the Countess had removed herself to No. — Keppel Street.
He did not doubt that Lady Anna was about to return to London. That quick removal would not otherwise have been made. But what mattered it to him whether she were at Yoxham or in Keppel Street? He could do nothing. There would come a time — but it had not come as yet — when he must go to the girl boldly, let her be guarded as she might, and demand her hand. But the demand must be made to herself and herself only. When that time came there should be no question of money. Whether she were the undisturbed owner of hundreds of thousands, or a rejected claimant to her father’s name, the demand should be made in the same tone and with the same assurance. He knew well the whole history of her life. She had been twenty years old last May, and it was now September. When the next spring should come round she would be her own mistress, free to take herself from her mother’s hands, and free to give herself to whom she would. He did not say that nothing should be done during those eight months; but, according to his lights, he could not make his demand with full force till she was a woman, as free from all legal control, as was he as a man.
The chances were much against him. He knew what were the allurements of luxury. There were moments in which he told himself that of course she would fall into the nets that were spread for her. But then again there would grow within his bosom a belief in truth and honesty which would buoy him up. How grand would be his victory, how great the triumph of a human soul’s nobility, if, after all these dangers, if after all the enticements of wealth and rank, the girl should come to him, and lying on his bosom, should tell him that she had never wavered from him through it all! Of this, at any rate, he assured himself — that he would not go prying, with clandestine manoeuvres, about that house in Keppel Street. The Countess might have told him where she intended to live without increasing her danger.
While things were in this state with him he received a letter from Messrs. Norton and Flick, the attorneys, asking him to call on Mr Flick at their chambers in Lincoln’s Inn. The Solicitor-General had suggested to the attorney that he should see the man, and Mr Flick had found himself bound to obey; but in truth he hardly knew what to say to Daniel Thwaite. It must be his object of course to buy off the tailor; but such arrangements are difficult, and require great caution. And then Mr Flick was employed by Earl Lovel, and this man was the friend of the Earl’s opponents in the case. Mr Flick did feel that the Solicitor-General was moving into great irregularities in this cause. The cause itself was no doubt peculiar — unlike any other cause with which Mr Flick had become acquainted in his experience; there was no saying at the present moment who had opposed interests, and who combined interests in the case; but still etiquette is etiquette, and Mr Flick was aware that such a house as that of Messrs. Norton and Flick should not be irregular. Nevertheless he sent for Daniel Thwaite.
After having explained who he was, which Daniel knew very well, without being told, Mr Flick began his work. “You are aware, Mr Thwaite, that the friends on both sides are endeavouring to arrange this question amicably without any further litigation.”
“I am aware that the friends of Lord Lovel, finding that they have no ground to stand on at law, are endeavouring to gain their object by other means.”
“No, Mr Thwaite. I cannot admit that for a moment. That would be altogether an erroneous view of the proceeding.”
“Is Lady Anna Lovel the legitimate daughter of the late Earl?”
“That is what we do not know. That is what nobody knows. You are not a lawyer, Mr Thwaite, or you would be aware that there is nothing more difficult to decide than questions of legitimacy. It has sometimes taken all the Courts a century to decide whether a marriage is a marriage or not. You have heard of the great MacFarlane case. To find out who was the MacFarlane they had to go back a hundred and twenty years, and at last decide on the memory of a man whose grandmother had told him that she had seen a woman wearing a wedding ring. The case cost over forty thousand pounds, and took nineteen years. As far as I can see this is more complicated even than that. We should in all probability have to depend on the proceedings of the courts in Sicily, and you and I would never live to see the end of it.”
“You would live on it, Mr Flick, which is more than I could do.”
“Mr Thwaite, that I think is a very improper observation; but, however — . My object is to explain to you that all these difficulties may be got over by a very proper and natural alliance between Earl Lovel and the lady who is at present called by courtesy Lady Anna Lovel.”
“By the Crown’s courtesy, Mr Flick,” said the tailor, who understood the nature of the titles which he hated.
“We allow the name, I grant you, at present; and are anxious to promote the marriage. We are all most anxious to bring to a close this ruinous litigation. Now, I am told that the young lady feels herself hampered by some childish promise that has been made — to you.”
Daniel Thwaite had expected no such announcement as this. He did not conceive that the girl would tell the story of her engagement, and was unprepared at the moment for any reply. But he was not a man to remain unready long. “Do you call it childish?” he said.
“I do certainly.”
“Then what would her engagement be if now made with the Earl? The engagement with me, as an engagement, is not yet twelve months old, and has been repeated within the last month. She is an infant, Mr Flick, according to your language, and therefore, perhaps, a child in the eye of the law. If Lord Lovel wishes to marry her, why doesn’t he do so? He is not hindered, I suppose, by her being a child.”
“Any marriage with you, you know, would in fact be impossible.”
“A marriage with me, Mr Flick, would be quite as possible as one with the Lord Lovel. When the lady is of age, no clergyman in England dare refuse to marry us, if the rules prescribed by law have been obeyed.”
“Well, well, Mr Thwaite; I do not want to argue with you about the law and about possibilities. The marriage would not be fitting, and you know that it would not be fitting.”
“It would be most unfitting — unless the lady wished it as well as I. Just as much may be said of her marriage with Earl Lovel. To which of us has she given her promise? which of us has she known and loved? which of us has won her by long friendship and steady regard? and which of us, Mr Flick, is attracted to the marriage by the lately assured wealth of the young woman? I never understood that Lord Lovel was my rival when Lady Anna was regarded as the baseborn child of the deceased madman.”
“I suppose, Mr Thwaite, you are not indifferent to her money?”
“Then you suppose wrongly — as lawyers mostly do when they take upon themselves to attribute motives.”
“You are not civil, Mr Thwaite.”
“You did not send for me here, sir, in order that there should be civilities between us. But I will at least be true. In regard to Lady Anna’s money, should it become mine by reason of her marriage with me, I will guard it for her sake, and for that of the children she may bear, with all my power. I will assert her right to it as a man should do. But my purpose in seeking her hand will neither be strengthened nor weakened by her money. I believe that it is hers. Nay — I know that the law will give it to her. On her behalf, as being betrothed to her, I defy Lord Lovel and all other claimants. But her money and her hand are two things apart, and I will never be governed as to the one by any regard as to the other. Perhaps, Mr Flick, I have said enough — and so, good morning.” Then he went away.
The lawyer had never dared to suggest the compromise which had been his object in sending for the man. He had not dared to ask the tailor how much ready money he would take down to abandon the lady, and thus to relieve them all from that difficulty. No doubt he exercised a wise discretion, as, had he done so, Daniel Thwaite might have become even more uncivil than before.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14