The Earl, without asking any question on the subject, had found that the Solicitor-General thought nothing of that objection which had weighed so heavily on his own mind, as to carrying on his suit with a girl who had been wooed successfully by a tailor. His own spirit rebelled for a while against such condescension. When Lady Anna had first told him that she had pledged her word to a lover low in the scale of men, the thing had seemed to him to be over. What struggle might be made to prevent the accomplishment of so base a marriage must be effected for the sake of the family, and not on his own special behoof. Not even for twenty thousand a year, not even for Lady Anna Lovel, not for all the Lovels, would he take to his bosom as his bride the girl who had leaned with loving fondness on the shoulders of Daniel Thwaite. But when he found that others did not feel it as he felt it, he turned the matter over again in his mind — and by degrees relented. There had doubtless been much in the whole affair which had placed it outside the pale of things which are subject to the ordinary judgment of men. Lady Anna’s position in the world had been very singular. A debt of gratitude was due by her to the tailor, who had seemed to exact from her some great payment. As she had said herself, she had given the only thing which she had to give. Now there would be much to give. The man doubtless deserved his reward and should have it, but that reward must not be the hand of the heiress of the Lovels. He, the Earl, would once again claim that as his own.
He had hurried out of town after seeing Sir William, but had not returned to Yoxham. He went again to Scotland, and wrote no further letter to the rectory after those three lines which the reader has seen. Then he heard from Mr Flick that Lady Anna was staying with the Serjeant in Bedford Square, and he returned to London at the lawyer’s instance. It was so expedient that if possible something should be settled before November!
The only guests asked to meet the Earl at Serjeant Bluestone’s, were Sir William and Lady Patterson, and the black-browed young barrister. The whole proceeding was very irregular — as Mr Flick, who knew what was going on, said more than once to his old partner, Mr Norton. That the Solicitor-General should dine with the Serjeant might be all very well — though, as schoolboys say, they had never known each other at home before. But that they should meet in this way the then two opposing clients — the two claimants to the vast property as to which a cause was to come on for trial in a few weeks — did bewilder Mr Flick. “I suppose the Solicitor-General sees his way, but he may be in a mess yet,” said Mr Flick. Mr Norton only scratched his head. It was no work of his.
Sir William, who arrived before the Earl, was introduced for the first time to the young lady. “Lady Anna,” he said, for some months past I have heard much of you. And now I have great pleasure in meeting you.” She smiled, and strove to look pleased, but she had not a word to say to him. “You know I ought to be your enemy,” he continued laughing, “but I hope that is well nigh over. I should not like to have to fight so fair a foe.” Then the young lord arrived, and the lawyers of course gave way to the lover.
Lady Anna, from the moment in which she was told that he was to come, had thought of nothing but the manner of their greeting. It was not that she was uneasy as to her own fashion of receiving him. She could smile and be silent, and give him her hand or leave it ungiven, as he might demand. But in what manner would he accost her? She had felt sure that he had despised her from the moment in which she had told him of her engagement. Of course he had despised her. Those fine sentiments about ladies and gentlemen, and the gulf which had been fixed, had occurred to her before she heard them from the mouth of Miss Alice Bluestone. She understood as well as did her young friend what was the difference between her cousin the Earl, and her lover the tailor. Of course it would be sweet to be able to love such a one as her cousin. They all talked to her as though she was simply obstinate and a fool, not perceiving, as she did herself, that the untowardness of her fortune had prescribed this destiny for her. Good as Daniel Thwaite might be — as she knew that he was — she felt herself to be degraded in having promised to be his wife. The lessons they had taught her had not been in vain. And she had been specially degraded in the eyes of him who was to her imagination the brightest of human beings. They told her that she might still be his wife if only she would consent to hold out her hand when he should ask for it. She did not believe it. Were it true, it could make no difference — but she did not believe it. He had scorned her when she told him the tale at Bolton Abbey. He had scorned her when he hurried away from Yoxham. Now he was coming to the Serjeant’s house, with the express intention of meeting her again. Why should he come? Alas, alas! She was sure that he would never speak to her again in that bright sunny manner, with those dulcet honey words, which he had used when first they saw each other in Wyndham Street.
Nor was he less uneasy as to this meeting. He had not intended to scorn her when he parted from her, but he had intended that she should understand that there was an end of his suit. He had loved her dearly, but there are obstacles to which love must yield. Had she already married this tailor, how would it have been with him then? That which had appeared to him to be most fit for him to do, had suddenly become altogether unfit — and he had told himself at the moment that he must take back his love to himself as best he might. He could not sue for that which had once been given to a tailor. But now all that was changed, and he did intend to sue again. She was very beautiful — to his thinking the very pink of feminine grace, and replete with charms — soft in voice, soft in manner, with just enough of spirit to give her character. What a happy chance it had been, what marvellous fortune, that he should have been able to love this girl whom it was so necessary that he should marry — what a happy chance, had it not been for this wretched tailor! But now, in spite of the tailor, he would try his fate with her once again. He had not intended to scorn her when he left her, but he knew that his manner to her must have told her that his suit was over. How should he renew it again in the presence of Serjeant and Mrs Bluestone and of Sir William and Lady Patterson?
He was first introduced to the wives of the two lawyers while Lady Anna was sitting silent on the corner of a sofa. Mrs Bluestone, foreseeing how it would be, had endeavoured with much prudence to establish her young friend at some distance from the other guests, in order that the Earl might have the power of saying some word; but the young barrister had taken this opportunity of making himself agreeable, and stood opposite to her talking nothings about the emptiness of London, and the glories of the season when it should come. Lady Anna did not hear a word that the young barrister said. Lady Anna’s ear was straining itself to hear what Lord Lovel might say, and her eye, though not quite turned towards him, was watching his every motion. Of course he must speak to her. “Lady Anna is on the sofa,” said Mrs Bluestone. Of course he knew that she was there. He had seen her dear face the moment that he entered the room. He walked up to her and gave her his hand, and smiled upon her.
She had made up her little speech. “I hope they are quite well at Yoxham,” she said, in that low, soft, silver voice which he had told himself would so well befit the future Countess Lovel.
“Oh yes — I believe so. I am a truant there, for I do not answer Aunt Julia’s letters as punctually as I ought to do. I shall be down there for the hunting I suppose next month.” Then dinner was announced; and as it was necessary that the Earl should take down Mrs Bluestone and the Serjeant Lady Anna — so that the young barrister absolutely went down to dinner with the wife of the Solicitor-General — the conversation was brought to an end. Nor was it possible that they should be made to sit next each other at dinner. And then, when at last the late evening came and they were all together in the drawing-room, other things intervened and the half hour so passed that hardly a word was spoken between them. But there was just one word as he went away. “I shall call and see you,” he said.
“I don’t think he means it,” the Serjeant said to his wife that evening, almost in anger.
“Why not, my dear?”
“He did not speak to her.”
“People can’t speak at dinner-parties when there is anything particular to say. If he didn’t mean it, he wouldn’t have come. And if you’ll all have a little patience she’ll mean it too. I can’t forgive her mother for being so hard to her. She’s one of the sweetest creatures I ever came across.”
A little patience, and here was November coming! The Earl who had now been dining in his house, meeting his own client there, must again become the Serjeant’s enemy in November, unless this matter were settled. The Serjeant at present could see no other way of proceeding. The Earl might no doubt retire from the suit, but a jury must then decide whether the Italian woman had any just claim. And against the claim of the Italian woman the Earl would again come forward. The Serjeant as he thought of it, was almost sorry that he had asked the Earl and the Solicitor-General to his house.
On the very next morning — early in the day — the Earl was announced in Bedford Square. The Serjeant was of course away at his chambers. Lady Anna was in her room and Mrs Bluestone was sitting with her daughter. “I have come to see my cousin,” said the Earl boldly.
“I am so glad that you have come, Lord Lovel.”
“Thank you — well; yes. I know you will not mind my saying so outright. Though the papers say that we are enemies, we have many things in common between us.”
“I will send her to you. My dear, we will go to the dining-room. You will find lunch ready when you come down, Lord Lovel.” Then she left him, and he stood looking for a while at books that were laid about the table.
It seemed to him to be an age, but at last the door was opened and his cousin crept into the room. When he had parted from her at Yoxham he had called her Lady Anna; but he was determined that she should at any rate be again his cousin. “I could hardly speak to you yesterday,” he said, while he held her hand.
“No — Lord Lovel.”
“People never can, I think, at small parties like that. Dear Anna, you surprised me so much by what you told me on the banks of the Wharfe!” She did not know how to answer him even a word. “I know that I was unkind to you.”
“I did not think so, my lord.”
“I will tell you just the plain truth. Even though it may be bitter, the truth will be best between us, dearest. When first I heard what you said, I believed that all must be over between you and me.”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“But I have thought about it since, and I will not have it so. I have not come to reproach you.”
“You may if you will.”
“I have no right to do so, and would not if I had. I can understand your feelings of deep gratitude and can respect them.”
“But I love him, my lord,” said Lady Anna, holding her head on high and speaking with much dignity. She could hardly herself understand the feeling which induced her so to address him. When she was alone thinking of him and of her other lover, her heart was inclined to regret in that she had not known her cousin in her early days — as she had known Daniel Thwaite. She could tell herself, though she could not tell any other human being, that when she had thought that she was giving her heart to the young tailor, she had not quite known what it was to have a heart to give. The young lord was as a god to her; whereas Daniel was but a man — to whom she owed so deep a debt of gratitude that she must sacrifice herself, if needs be, on his behalf. And yet when the Earl spoke to her of her gratitude to this man — praising it, and professing that he also understood those very feelings which had governed her conduct — she blazed up almost in wrath, and swore that she loved the tailor.
The Earl’s task was certainly difficult. It was his first impulse to rush away again, as he had rushed away before. To rush away and leave the country, and let the lawyers settle it all as they would. Could it be possible that such a girl as this should love a journeyman tailor, and should be proud of her love! He turned from her and walked to the door and back again, during which time she had almost repented of her audacity.
“It is right that you should love him — as a friend,” he said.
“But I have sworn to be his wife.”
“And must you keep your oath?” As she did not answer him he pressed on with his suit. “If he loves you I am sure he cannot wish to hurt you, and you know that such a marriage as that would be very hurtful. Can it be right that you should descend from your position to pay a debt of gratitude, and that you should do it at the expense of all those who belong to you? Would you break your mother’s heart, and mine, and bring disgrace upon your family merely because he was good to you?”
“He was good to my mother as well as me.”
“Will it not break her heart? Has she not told you so? But perhaps you do not believe in my love.”
“I do not know,” she said.
“Ah, dearest, you may believe. To my eyes you are the sweetest of all God’s creatures. Perhaps you think I say so only for the money’s sake.”
“No, my lord, I do not think that.”
“Of course much is due to him.”
“He wants nothing but that I should be his wife. He has said so, and he is never false. I can trust him at any rate, even though I should betray him. But I will not betray him. I will go away with him and they shall not hear of me, and nobody will remember that I was my father’s daughter.”
“You are doubting even now, dear.”
“But I ought not to doubt. If I doubt it is because I am weak.”
“Then still be weak. Surely such weakness will be good when it will please all those who must be dearest to you.”
“It will not please him, Lord Lovel.”
“Will you do this, dearest — will you take one week to consider and then write to me? You cannot refuse me that, knowing that the happiness and the honour and the welfare of every Lovel depends upon your answer.”
She felt that she could not refuse, and she gave him the promise. On that day week she would write to him, and tell him then to what resolve she should have brought herself. He came up close to her, meaning to kiss her if she would let him; but she stood aloof, and merely touched his hand. She would obey her betrothed — at any rate till she should have made up her mind that she would be untrue to him. Lord Lovel could not press his wish, and left the house unmindful of Mrs Bluestone’s luncheon.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01