“Do you think that you could be happier as the wife of such a one as Daniel Thwaite, a creature infinitely beneath you, separated as you would be from all your kith and kin, from all whose blood you share, from me and from your family, than you would be as the bearer of a proud name, the daughter and the wife of an Earl Lovel — the mother of the earl to come? I will not speak now of duty, or of fitness, or of the happiness of others which must depend upon you. It is natural that a girl should look to her own joys in marriage. Do you think that your joy can consist in calling that man your husband?”
It was thus that the Countess spoke to her daughter, who was then lying worn out and ill on her bed in Keppel Street. For three days she had been subject to such addresses as this, and during those three days no word of tenderness had been spoken to her. The Countess had been obdurate in her hardness — still believing that she might thus break her daughter’s spirit, and force her to abandon her engagement. But as yet she had not succeeded. The girl had been meek and, in all other things, submissive. She had not defended her conduct. She had not attempted to say that she had done well in promising to be the tailor’s bride. She had shown herself willing by her silence to have her engagement regarded as a great calamity, as a dreadful evil that had come upon the whole Lovel family. She had not boldness to speak to her mother as she had spoken on the subject to the Earl. She threw herself entirely upon her promise, and spoke of her coming destiny as though it had been made irrevocable by her own word. “I have promised him, mamma, and have sworn that it should be so.” That was the answer which she now made from her bed — the answer which she had made a dozen times during the last three days.
“Is everybody belonging to you to be ruined because you once spoke a foolish word?”
“Mamma, it was often spoken — very often, and he does not wish that anybody should be ruined. He told me that Lord Lovel might have the money.”
“Foolish, ungrateful girl! It is not for Lord Lovel that I am pleading to you. It is for the name, and for your own honour. Do you not constantly pray to God to keep you in that state of life to which it has pleased Him to call you — and are you not departing from it wilfully and sinfully by such an act as this?” But still Lady Anna continued to say that she was bound by the obligation which was upon her.
On the following day the Countess was frightened, believing that the girl was really ill. In truth she was ill — so that the doctor who visited her declared that she must be treated with great care. She was harassed in spirit — so the doctor said — and must be taken away, so that she might be amused. The Countess was frightened, but still was resolute. She not only loved her daughter — but loved no other human being on the face of the earth. Her daughter was all that she had to bind her to the world around her. But she declared to herself again and again that it would be better that her daughter should die than live and be married to the tailor. It was a case in which persecution even to the very gate of the grave would be wise and warrantable — if by such persecution this odious, monstrous marriage might be avoided. And she did believe that persecution would avail at last. If she were only steady in her resolve, the girl would never dare to demand the right to leave her mother’s house and walk off to the church to be married to Daniel Thwaite, without the countenance of a single friend. The girl’s strength was not of that nature. But were she, the Countess, to yield an inch, then this evil might come upon them. She had heard that young people can always beat their parents if they be sufficiently obdurate. Parents are soft-hearted to their children, and are prone to yield. And so would she have been soft-hearted, if the interests concerned had been less important, if the deviation from duty had been less startling, or the union proposed less monstrous and disgraceful. But in this case it behoved her to be obdurate — even though it should be to the very gates of the grave. “I swear to you,” she said, that the day of your marriage to Daniel Thwaite shall be the day of my death.”
In her straits she went to Serjeant Bluestone for advice. Now, the Serjeant had hitherto been opposed to all compromise, feeling certain that everything might be gained without the sacrifice of a single right. He had not a word to say against a marriage between the two cousins, but let the cousin who was the heiress be first placed in possession of her rights. Let her be empowered, when she consented to become Lady Lovel, to demand such a settlement of the property as would be made on her behalf if she were the undisputed owner of the property. Let her marry the lord if she would, but not do so in order that she might obtain the partial enjoyment of that which was all her own. And then, so the Serjeant had argued, the widowed Countess would never be held to have established absolutely her own right to her name, should any compromise be known to have been expected. People might call her Countess Lovel; but, behind her back, they would say that she was no countess. The Serjeant had been very hot about it, especially disliking the interference of Sir William. But now, when he heard this new story, his heat gave way. Anything must be done that could be done — everything must be done to prevent such a termination to the career of the two ladies as would come from a marriage with the tailor.
But he was somewhat dismayed when he came to understand the condition of affairs in Keppel Street. “How can I not be severe?” said the Countess, when he remonstrated with her. “If I were tender with her she would think that I was yielding. Is not everything at stake — everything for which my life has been devoted?” The Serjeant called his wife into council, and then suggested that Lady Anna should spend a week or two in Bedford Square. He assured the Countess that she might be quite sure that Daniel Thwaite should find no entrance within his doors.
“But if Lord Lovel would do us the honour to visit us, we should be most happy to see him,” said the Serjeant.
Lady Anna was removed to Bedford Square, and there became subject to treatment that was milder, but not less persistent. Mrs Bluestone lectured her daily, treating her with the utmost respect, paying to her rank a deference which was not indeed natural to the good lady but which was assumed, so that Lady Anna might the better comprehend the difference between her own position and that of the tailor. The girls were told nothing of the tailor — lest the disgrace of so unnatural a partiality might shock their young minds; but they were instructed that there was danger, and that they were always, in speaking to their guest, to take it for granted that she was to become Countess Lovel. Her maid, Sarah, went with her to the Serjeant’s, and was taken into a half-confidence. Lady Anna was never to be left a moment alone. She was to be a prisoner with gilded chains — for whom a splendid, a glorious future was in prospect, if only she would accept it.
“I really think that she likes the lord the best,” said Mrs Bluestone to her husband.
“Then why the mischief won’t she have him?” This was in October, and that November term was fast approaching in which the cause was set down for trial.
“I almost think she would if he’d come and ask her again. Of course, I have never mentioned the other man; but when I speak to her of Earl Lovel, she always answers me as though she were almost in love with him. I was inquiring yesterday what sort of a man he was, and she said he was quite perfect. ‘It is a thousand pities’, she said, ‘that he should not have this money. He ought to have it, as he is the Earl.’”
“Why doesn’t she give it to him?”
“I asked her that; but she shook her head and said that it could never be. I think that man has made her swear some sort of awful oath, and has frightened her.”
“No doubt he has made her swear an oath, but we all know how the gods regard the perjuries of lovers,” said the Serjeant. “We must get the young lord here when he comes back to town.”
“Is he handsome?” asked Alice Bluestone, the younger daughter, who had become Lady Anna’s special friend in the family. Of course they were talking of Lord Lovel.
“Everybody says he is.”
“But what do you say?”
“I don’t think it matters much about a man being handsome — but he is beautiful. Not dark, like all the other Lovels; nor yet what you call fair. I don’t think that fair men ever look manly.”
“Oh no,” said Alice, who was contemplating an engagement with a black-haired young barrister.
“Lord Lovel is brown — with blue eyes; but it is the shape of his face that is so perfect — an oval, you know, that is not too long. But it isn’t that makes him look as he does. He looks as though everybody in the world ought to do exactly what he tells them.”
“And why don’t you, dear, do exactly what he tells you?”
“Ah — that is another question. I should do many things if he told me. He is the head of our family. I think he ought to have all this money, and be a rich great man, as the Earl Lovel should be.”
“And yet you won’t be his wife?”
“Would you — if you had promised another man?”
“Have you promised another man?”
“Yes — I have.”
“Who is he, Lady Anna?”
“They have not told you, then?”
“No — nobody has told me. I know they all want you to marry Lord Lovel — and I know he wants it. I know he is quite in love with you.”
“Ah — I do not think that. But if he were, it could make no difference. If you had once given your word to another man, would you go back because a lord asked you?”
“I don’t think I would ever give my word without asking mamma.”
“If he had been good to you, and you had loved him always, and he had been your best friend — what would you do then?”
“Who is he, Lady Anna?”
“Do not call me Lady Anna, or I shall not like you. I will tell you, but you must not say that I told you. Only I thought everybody knew. I told Lord Lovel, and he, I think, has told all the world. It is Mr Daniel Thwaite.”
“Mr Daniel Thwaite!” said Alice, who had heard enough of the case to know who the Thwaites were. “He is a tailor!”
“Yes,” said Lady Anna proudly; he is a tailor.
“Surely that cannot be good,” said Alice, who, having long since felt what it was to be the daughter of a serjeant, had made up her mind that she would marry nothing lower than a barrister.
“It is what you call bad, I daresay.”
“I don’t think a tailor can be a gentleman.”
“I don’t know. Perhaps I wasn’t a lady when I promised him. But I did promise. You can never know what he and his father did for us. I think we should have died only for them. You don’t know how we lived — in a little cottage, with hardly any money, with nobody to come near us but they. Everybody else thought that we were vile and wicked. It is true. But they always were good to us. Would not you have loved him?”
“I should have loved him in a kind of way.”
“When one takes so much, one must give in return what one has to give,” said Lady Anna.
“Do you love him still?”
“Of course I love him.”
“And you wish to be his wife?”
“Sometimes I think I don’t. It is not that I am ashamed for myself. What would it have signified if I had gone away with him straight from Cumberland, before I had ever seen my cousins? Supposing that mamma hadn’t been the Countess — ”
“But she is.”
“So they say now — but if they had said that she was not, nobody would have thought it wrong then for me to marry Mr Thwaite.”
“Don’t you think it wrong yourself?”
“It would be best for me to say that I would never marry anyone at all. He would be very angry with me.”
“Oh no — not Lord Lovel. Daniel would be very angry, because he really loves me. But it would not be so bad to him as though I became Lord Lovel’s wife. I will tell you the truth, dear. I am ashamed to marry Mr Thwaite — not for myself, but because I am Lord Lovel’s cousin and mamma’s daughter. And I should be ashamed to marry Lord Lovel.”
“Because I should be false and ungrateful! I should be afraid to stand before him if he looked at me. You do not know how he can look. He, too, can command. He, too, is noble. They believe it is the money he wants, and when they call him a tailor, they think that he must be mean. He is not mean. He is clever, and can talk about things better than my cousin. He can work hard and give away all that he earns. And so could his father. They gave all they had to us, and have never asked it again. I kissed him once — and then he said I had paid all my mother’s debt.” Alice Bluestone shrank within herself when she was told by this daughter of a countess of such a deed. It was horrid to her mind that a tailor should be kissed by a Lady Anna Lovel. But she herself had perhaps been as generous to the black-browed young barrister, and had thought no harm. “They think I do not understand — but I do. They all want this money, and then they accuse him, and say he does it that he may become rich. He would give up all the money — just for me. How would you feel if it were like that with you?”
“I think that a girl who is a lady should never marry a man who is not a gentleman. You know the story of the rich man who could not get to Abraham’s bosom because there was a gulf fixed. That is how it should be — just as there is with royal people as to marrying royalty. Otherwise everything would get mingled, and there would soon be no difference. If there are to be differences, there should be differences. That is the meaning of being a gentleman — or a lady.” So spoke the young female Conservative with wisdom beyond her years — nor did she speak quite in vain.
“I believe what I had better do would be to die,” said Lady Anna. “Everything would come right then.”
Some day or two after this Serjeant Bluestone sent a message up to Lady Anna on his return home from the courts, with a request that she would have the great kindness to come down to him in his study. The Serjeant had treated her with more than all the deference due to her rank since she had been in his house, striving to teach her what it was to be the daughter of an Earl and probable owner of twenty thousand a year. The Serjeant, to give him his due, cared as little as most men for the peerage. He vailed his bonnet to no one but a judge — and not always that with much ceremonious observance. But now his conduct was a part of his duty to a client whom he was determined to see established in her rights. He would have handed her her cup of tea on his knees every morning, if by doing so he could have made clear to her eyes how deep would be her degradation were she to marry the tailor. The message was now brought to her by Mrs Bluestone, who almost apologised for asking her to trouble herself to walk downstairs to the back parlour. “My dear Lady Anna,” said the Serjeant, may I ask you to sit down for a moment or two while I speak to you? I have just left your mother.”
“How is dear mamma?” The Serjeant assured her that the Countess was well in health. At this time Lady Anna had not visited her mother since she had left Keppel Street, and had been told that Lady Lovel had refused to see her till she had pledged herself never to marry Daniel Thwaite. “I do so wish I might go to mamma!”
“With all my heart I wish you could, Lady Anna. Nothing makes such heart-burning sorrow as a family quarrel. But what can I say? You know what your mother thinks?”
“Couldn’t you manage that she should let me go there just once?”
“I hope that we can manage it — but I want you to listen to me first. Lord Lovel is back in London.” She pressed her lips together and fastened one hand firmly on the other. If the assurance that was required from her was ever to be exacted, it should not be exacted by Serjeant Bluestone. “I have seen his lordship today’, continued the Serjeant, “and he has done me the honour to promise that he will dine here tomorrow.”
“Yes — your cousin, Earl Lovel. There is no reason, I suppose, why you should not meet him? He has not offended you?”
“Oh no. — But I have offended him.”
“I think not, Lady Anna. He does not speak of you as though there were offence.”
“When we parted he would hardly look at me, because I told him — . You know what I told him.”
“A gentleman is not necessarily offended because a lady does not accept his first offer. Many gentlemen would be offended if that were so — and very many happy marriages would never have a chance of being made. At any rate he is coming, and I thought that perhaps you would excuse me if I endeavoured to explain how very much may depend on the manner in which you may receive him. You must feel that things are not going on quite happily now.”
“I am so unhappy, Serjeant Bluestone!”
“Yes, indeed. It must be so. You are likely to be placed — I think I may say you certainly will be placed — in such a position that the whole prosperity of a noble and ancient family must depend on what you may do. With one word you can make once more bright a fair name that has long been beneath a cloud. Here in England the welfare of the State depends on the conduct of our aristocracy!” Oh, Serjeant Bluestone, Serjeant Bluestone! how could you so far belie your opinion as to give expression to a sentiment utterly opposed to your own convictions! But what is there that a counsel will not do for a client? “If they whom Fate and Fortune have exalted, forget what the country has a right to demand from them, farewell, alas, to the glory of old England!” He had found this kind of thing very effective with twelve men, and surely it might prevail with one poor girl. “It is not for me, Lady Anna, to dictate to you the choice of a husband. But it has become my duty to point out to you the importance of your own choice, and to explain to you, if it may be possible, that you are not like other young ladies. You have in your hands the marring or the making of the whole family of Lovel. As for that suggestion of a marriage to which you were induced to give ear by feelings of gratitude, it would, if carried out, spread desolation in the bosom of every relative to whom you are bound by the close ties of noble blood.” He finished his speech, and Lady Anna retired without a word.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55