There were two persons in the court who heard the statement of the Solicitor-General with equal interest — and perhaps with equal disapprobation — whose motives and ideas on the subject were exactly opposite. These two were the Rev. Mr Lovel, the uncle of the plaintiff, and Daniel Thwaite, the tailor, whose whole life had been passed in furthering the cause of the defendants. The parson, from the moment in which he had heard that the young lady whom he had entertained in his house had engaged herself to marry the tailor, had reverted to his old suspicions — suspicions which, indeed, he had never altogether laid aside. It had been very grievous to him to prefer a doubtful Lady Anna to a most indubitable Lady Fitzwarren. He liked the old-established things — things which had always been unsuspected, which were not only respectable but firm-rooted. For twenty years he had been certain that the Countess was a false countess; and he, too, had lamented with deep inward lamentation over the loss of the wealth which ought to have gone to support the family earldom. It was monstrous to him that the property of one Earl Lovel should not appertain to the next Earl. He would on the moment have had the laws with reference to the succession of personal property altered, with retrospective action, so that so great an iniquity should be impossible. When the case against the so-called Countess was, as it were, abandoned by the Solicitor-General, and the great interests at stake thrown up, he would have put the conduct of the matter into other hands. Then had come upon him the bitterness of having to entertain in his own house the now almost undisputed — though by him still suspected — heiress, on behalf of his nephew, of a nephew who did not treat him well. And now the heiress had shown what she really was by declaring her intention of marrying a tailor! When that became known, he did hope that the Solicitor-General would change his purpose and fight the cause.
The ladies of the family, the two aunts, had affected to disbelieve the paragraph which Lady Fitzwarren had shown them with so much triumph. The rector had declared that it was just the kind of thing that he had expected. Aunt Julia, speaking freely, had said it was just the kind of thing which she, knowing the girl, could not believe. Then the rector had come up to town to hear the trial, and on the day preceding it had asked his nephew as to the truth of the rumour which had reached him. “It is true,” said the young lord, knitting his brow, “but it had better not be talked about.”
“Why not talked about? All the world knows it. It has been in the newspapers.”
“Anyone wishing to oblige me will not mention it,” said the Earl. This was too bad. It could not be possible — for the honour of all the Lovels it could not surely be possible — that Lord Lovel was still seeking the hand of a young woman who had confessed that she was engaged to marry a journeyman tailor! And yet to him, the uncle — to him who had not long since been in loco parentis to the lord — the lord would vouchsafe no further reply than that above given! The rector almost made himself believe that, great as might be the sorrow caused by such disruption, it would become his duty to quarrel with the Head of his family!
He listened with most attentive ears to every word spoken by the Solicitor-General, and quarrelled with almost every word. Would not anyone have imagined that this advocate had been paid to plead the cause, not of the Earl, but of the Countess? As regarded the interests of the Earl, everything was surrendered. Appeal was made for the sympathies of all the court — and, through the newspapers, for the sympathies of all England — not on behalf of the Earl who was being defrauded of his rights, but on behalf of the young woman who had disgraced the name which she pretended to call her own — and whose only refuge from that disgrace must be in the fact that to that name she had no righteous claim! Even when this apostate barrister came to a recapitulation of the property at stake, and explained the cause of its being vested, not in land as is now the case with the bulk of the possessions of noble lords — but in shares and funds and ventures of commercial speculation here and there, after the fashion of tradesmen — he said not a word to stir up in the minds of the jury a feeling of the injury which had been done to the present Earl. “Only that I am told that he has a wife of his own I should think that he meant to marry one of the women himself,” said the indignant rector in the letter which he wrote to his sister Julia.
And the tailor was as indignant as the rector. He was summoned as a witness and was therefore bound to attend — at the loss of his day’s work. When he reached the court, which he did long before the judge had taken his seat, he found it to be almost impossible to effect an entrance. He gave his name to some officer about the place, but learned that his name was altogether unknown. He showed his subpoena and was told that he must wait till he was called. “Where must I wait?” asked the angry radical. “Anywhere,” said the man in authority; but you can’t force your way in here.” Then he remembered that no one had as yet paid so dearly for this struggle, no one had suffered so much, no one had been so instrumental in bringing the truth to light, as he, and this was the way in which he was treated! Had there been any justice in those concerned a seat would have been provided for him in the court, even though his attendance had not been required. There were hundreds there, brought thither by simple curiosity, to whom priority of entrance into the court had been accorded by favour, because they were wealthy, or because they were men of rank, or because they had friends high in office. All his wealth had been expended in this case; it was he who had been the most constant friend of this Countess; but for him and his father there might probably have been no question of a trial at this day. And yet he was allowed to beg for admittance, and to be shoved out of court because he had no friends. “The court is a public court, and is open to the public,” he said, as he thrust his shoulders forward with a resolution that he would effect an entrance. Then he was taken in hand by two constables and pushed back through the doorway — to the great detriment of the apple-woman who sat there in those days.
But by pluck and resolution he succeeded in making good some inch of standing-room within the court before the Solicitor-General began his statement, and he was able to hear every word that was said. That statement was not more pleasing to him than to the rector of Yoxham. His first quarrel was with the assertion that titles of nobility are in England the outward emblem of noble conduct. No words that might have been uttered could have been more directly antagonistic to his feelings and political creed. It had been the accident of his life that he should have been concerned with ladies who were noble by marriage and birth, and that it had become a duty to him to help to claim on their behalf empty names which were in themselves odious to him. It had been the woman’s right to be acknowledged as the wife of the man who had disowned her, and the girl’s right to be known as his legitimate daughter. Therefore had he been concerned. But he had declared to himself, from his first crude conception of an opinion on the subject, that it would be hard to touch pitch and not be defiled. The lords of whom he heard were, or were believed by him to be, bloated with luxury, were both rich and idle, were gamblers, debauchers of other men’s wives, deniers of all rights of citizenship, drones who were positively authorised to eat the honey collected by the working bees. With his half-knowledge, his ill-gotten and ill-digested information, with his reading which had all been on one side, he had been unable as yet to catch a glimpse of the fact that from the ranks of the nobility are taken the greater proportion of the hard-working servants of the State. His eyes saw merely the power, the privileges, the titles, the ribbons, and the money — and he hated a lord. When therefore the Solicitor-General spoke of the recognised virtue of titles in England, the tailor uttered words of scorn to his stranger neighbour. “And yet this man calls himself a Liberal, and voted for the Reform Bill,” he said. “Of course he did, replied the stranger; “that was the way of his party.” There isn’t an honest man among them all,” said the tailor to himself. This was at the beginning of the speech, and he listened on through five long hours, not losing a word of the argument, not missing a single point made in favour of the Countess and her daughter. It became clear to him at any rate that the daughter would inherit the money. When the Solicitor-General came to speak of the nature of the evidence collected in Italy, Daniel Thwaite was unconsciously carried away into a firm conviction that all those concerned in the matter in Italy were swindlers. The girl was no doubt the heiress. The feeling of all the court was with her — as he could well perceive. But in all that speech not one single word was said of the friend who had been true to the girl and to her mother through all their struggles and adversity. The name of Thomas Thwaite was not once mentioned. It might have been expedient for them to ignore him, Daniel, the son; but surely had there been any honour among them, any feeling of common honesty towards folk so low in the scale of humanity as tailors, some word would have been spoken to tell of the friendship of the old man who had gone to his grave almost a pauper because of his truth and constancy. But no — there was not a word!
And he listened, with anxious ears, to learn whether anything would be said as to that proposed “alliance’ — he had always heard it called an alliance with a grim smile — between the two noble cousins. Heaven and earth had been moved to promote “the alliance’. But the Solicitor-General said not a word on the subject — any more than he did of that other disreputable social arrangement, which would have been no more than a marriage. All the audience might suppose from anything that was said there that the young lady was fancy free and had never yet dreamed of a husband. Nevertheless there was hardly one there who had not heard something of the story of the Earl’s suit — and something also of the tailor’s success.
When the court broke up, Daniel Thwaite had reached standing-room, which brought him near to the seat that was occupied by Serjeant Bluestone. He lingered as long as he could, and saw all the barristers concerned standing with their heads together laughing, chatting, and well pleased, as though the day had been for them a day of pleasure. “I fancy the speculation is too bad for anyone to take it up,” he heard the Serjeant say, among whose various gifts was not that of being able to moderate his voice. “I daresay not,” said Daniel to himself as he left the court; “and yet we took it up when the risk was greater, and when there was nothing to be gained.” He had as yet received no explicit answer to the note which he had written to the Countess when he had sent her the copy of his father’s will. He had, indeed, received a notice from Mr Goffe that the matter would receive immediate attention, and that the Countess hoped to be able to settle the claim in a very short time. But that he thought was not such a letter as should have been sent to him on an occasion so full of interest to him! But they were all hard and unjust and bad. The Countess was bad because she was a Countess — the lawyers because they were lawyers — the whole Lovel family because they were Lovels. At this moment poor Daniel Thwaite was very bitter against all mankind. He would, he thought, go at once to the Western world of which he was always dreaming, if he could only get that sum of £500 which was manifestly due to him.
But as he wandered away after the court was up, getting some wretched solitary meal at a cheap eating-house on his road, he endeavoured to fix his thoughts on the question of the girl’s affection to himself. Taking all that had been said in that courtly lawyer’s speech this morning as the groundwork of his present judgment, what should he judge to be her condition at the moment? He had heard on all sides that it was intended that she should marry the young Earl, and it had been said in his hearing that such would be declared before the judge. No such declaration had been made. Not a word had been uttered to signify that such an “alliance” was contemplated. Efforts had been made with him to induce him to withdraw his claim to the girl’s hand. The Countess had urged him, and the lawyers had urged him. Most assuredly they would not have done so — would have in no wise troubled themselves with him at all — had they been able to prevail with Lady Anna. And why had they not so prevailed? The girl, doubtless, had been subjected to every temptation. She was kept secure from his interference. Hitherto he had not even made an effort to see her since she had left the house in which he himself lived. She had nothing to fear from him. She had been sojourning among those Lovels, who would doubtless have made the way to deceit and luxury easy for her. He could not doubt but that she had been solicited to enter into this alliance. Could he be justified in flattering himself that she had hitherto resisted temptation because in her heart of hearts she was true to her first love? He was true. He was conscious of his own constancy. He was sure of himself that he was bound to her by his love, and not by the hope of any worldly advantage. And why should he think that she was weaker, vainer, less noble than himself? Had he not evidence to show him that she was strong enough to resist a temptation to which he had never been subjected? He had read of women who were above the gilt and glitter of the world. When he was disposed to think that she would be false, no terms of reproach seemed to him too severe to heap upon her name; and yet, when he found that he had no ground on which to accuse her, even in his own thoughts, of treachery to himself, he could hardly bring himself to think it possible that she should not be treacherous. She had sworn to him, as he had sworn to her, and was he not bound to believe her oath?
Then he remembered what the poet had said to him. The poet had advised him to desist altogether, and had told him that it would certainly be best for the girl that he should do so. The poet had not based his advice on the ground that the girl would prove false, but that it would be good for the girl to be allowed to be false — good for the girl that she should be encouraged to be false, in order that she might become an earl’s wife! But he thought that it would be bad for any woman to be an earl’s wife; and so thinking, how could he abandon his love in order that he might hand her over to a fashion of life which he himself despised? The poet must be wrong. He would cling to his love till he should know that his love was false to him. Should he ever learn that, then his love should be troubled with him no further.
But something must be done. Even, on her behalf, if she were true to him, something must be done. Was it not pusillanimous in him to make no attempt to see his love and to tell her that he at any rate was true to her? These people, who were now his enemies, the lawyers and the Lovels, with the Countess at the head of them, had used him like a dog, had repudiated him without remorse, had not a word even to say of the services which his father had rendered. Was he bound by honour or duty to stand on any terms with them? Could there be anything due to them from him? Did it not behove him as a man to find his way into the girl’s presence and to assist her with his courage? He did not fear them. What cause had he to fear them? In all that had been between them his actions to them had been kind and good, whereas they were treating him with the basest ingratitude.
But how should he see Lady Anna? As he thought of all this he wandered up from Westminster, where he had eaten his dinner, to Russell Square and into Keppel Street, hesitating whether he would at once knock at the door and ask to see Lady Anna Lovel. Lady Anna was still staying with Mrs Bluestone; but Daniel Thwaite had not believed the Countess when she told him that her daughter was not living with her. He doubted, however, and did not knock at the door.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01