The idea of this further compromise, of this something more than compromise, of this half acknowledgement of their own weakness, came from Mr Flick, of the firm of Norton and Flick, the solicitors who were employed in substantiating the Earl’s position. When Mr Flick mentioned it to Sir William Patterson, the great barrister, who was at that time Solicitor-General and leading counsel on behalf of Lord Lovel, Sir William Patterson stood aghast and was dismayed. Sir William intended to make mincemeat of the Countess. It was said of him that he intended to cross-examine the Countess off her legs, right out of her claim, and almost into her grave. He certainly did believe her to be an impostor, who had not thought herself to be entitled to her name when she first assumed it.
“I should be sorry, Mr Flick, to be driven to think that anything of that kind could be expedient.”
“It would make sure of the fortune to the family,” said Mr Flick.
“And what about our friend, the Countess?”
“Let her call herself Countess Lovel, Sir William. That will break no bones. As to the formality of her own marriage, there can be no doubt about that.”
“We can prove by Grogram that she was told that another wife was living,” said Sir William. Grogram was an old butler who had been in the old Earl’s service for thirty years.
“I believe we can, Sir William; but — . It is quite clear that we shall never get the other wife to come over and face an English jury. It is of no use blinking it. The gentleman whom we have sent over doubts her altogether. That there was a marriage is certain, but he fears that this woman is not the old Countess. There were two sisters, and it may be that this was the other sister.”
Sir William was a good deal dismayed, but he recovered himself. The stakes were so high that it was quite possible that the gentleman who had been sent over might have been induced to open his eyes to the possibility of such personation by overtures from the other side. Sir William was of opinion that Mr Flick himself should go to Sicily. He was not sure that he, Sir William, her Majesty’s Solicitor-General, would not make the journey in person. He was by no means disposed to give way. “They tell me that the girl is no better than she should be,” he said to Mr Flick.
“I don’t think so bad as that of her,” said Mr Flick. “Is she a lady — or anything like a lady?”
“I am told she is very beautiful.”
“I daresay — and so was her mother before her. I never saw a handsomer woman of her age than our friend the Countess. But I could not recommend the young lord to marry an underbred, bad girl, and a bastard who claims to be his cousin — and support my proposition merely on the ground of her looks.”
“Thirty-five thousand a year, Sir William!” pleaded the attorney.
“I hope we can get the thirty-five thousand a year for our client without paying so dear for them.”
It had been presumed that the real Countess, the original Countess, the Italian lady whom the Earl had married in early life, would be brought over, with properly attested documentary evidence in her pocket, to prove that she was the existing Countess, and that any other Countess must be either an impostor or a deluded dupe. No doubt the old Earl had declared, when first informing Josephine Murray that she was not his wife, that his real wife had died during the few months which had intervened since his mock marriage; but it was acknowledged on all sides that the old Earl had been a villain and a liar. It was no part of the duty of the young Earl, or of those who acted for him, to defend the character of the old Earl. To wash that blackamoor white, or even to make him whity-brown, was not necessary to anybody. No one was now concerned to account for his crooked courses. But if it could be shown that he had married the lady in Italy — as to which there was no doubt — and that the lady was still alive, or that she had been alive when the second marriage took place, then the Lady Anna could not inherit the property which had been freed from the grasp of the Italian mistress. But it seemed that the lady, if she lived, could not be made to come. Mr Flick did go to Sicily, and came back renewing his advice to Sir William that Lord Lovel should be advised to marry the Lady Anna.
At this time the Countess, with her daughter, had moved their residence from Keswick up to London, and was living in very humble lodgings in a small street turning out of the New Road, near the Yorkshire Stingo. Old Thomas Thwaite had accompanied them from Cumberland, but the rooms had been taken for them by his son, Daniel Thwaite, who was at this time foreman to a somewhat celebrated tailor who carried on his business in Wigmore Street; and he, Daniel Thwaite, had a bedroom in the house in which the Countess lodged. The arrangement was not a wise one, as reports had already been spread abroad as to the partiality of the Lady Anna for the young tailor. But how should she not have been partial both to the father and to the son, feeling as she did that they were the only two men who befriended her cause and her mother’s? As to the Countess herself, she, perhaps, alone of all those who interested themselves in her daughter’s cause, had heard no word of these insinuations against her child. To her both Thomas and Daniel Thwaite were dear friends, to repay whom for their exertions with lavish generosity — should the means to do so ever come within their reach — was one of the dreams of her existence. But she was an ambitious woman, thinking much of her rank, thinking much even of the blood of her own ancestors, constantly urgent with her daughter in teaching her the duties and privileges of wealth and rank. For the Countess never doubted that she would at last attain success. That the Lady Anna should throw herself away upon Daniel Thwaite did not occur to her as a possibility. She had not even dreamed that Daniel Thwaite would aspire to her daughter’s hand. And yet every shop-boy and every shop-girl in Keswick had been so saying for the last twelvemonth, and rumours which had hitherto been confined to Keswick and its neighbourhood were now common in London. For the case was becoming one of the celebrated causes of the age, and all the world was talking of the Countess and her daughter. No momentary suspicion had crossed the mind of the Countess till after their arrival in London; and then when the suspicion did touch her it was not love that she suspected — but rather an unbecoming familiarity which she attributed to her child’s ignorance of the great life which awaited her. “My dear,” she said one day when Daniel Thwaite had left them, “you should be less free in your manner with that young man.”
“What do you mean, mamma?” said the daughter, blushing.
“You had better call him Mr Thwaite.”
“But I have called him Daniel ever since I was born.”
“He always calls you Lady Anna.”
“Sometimes he does, mamma.”
“I never heard him call you anything else,” said the Countess, almost with indignation. “It is all very well for the old man, because he is an old man and has done so much for us.”
“So has Daniel — quite as much, mamma. They have both done everything.”
“True; they have both been warm friends; and if ever I forget them may God forget me. I trust that we may both live to show them that they are not forgotten. But it is not fitting that there should exist between you and him the intimacy of equal positions. You are not and cannot be his equal. He has been born to be a tailor, and you are the daughter and heiress of an Earl.”
These last words were spoken in a tone that was almost awful to the Lady Anna. She had heard so much of her father’s rank and her father’s wealth — rank and wealth which were always to be hers, but which had never as yet reached her, which had been a perpetual trouble to her, and a crushing weight upon her young life, that she had almost learned to hate the title and the claim. Of course it was a part of the religion of her life that her mother had been duly married to her father. It was beyond a doubt to her that such was the case. But the constant battling for denied rights, the assumption of a position which could not be attained, the use of titles which were simply ridiculous in themselves as connected with the kind of life which she was obliged to lead — these things had all become odious to her. She lacked the ambition which gave her mother strength, and would gladly have become Anna Murray or Anna Lovel, with a girl’s ordinary privilege of loving her lover, had such an easy life been possible to her.
In person she was very lovely, less tall and robust than her mother had been, but with a sweeter, softer face. Her hair was less dark, and her eyes were neither blue nor bold. But they were bright and soft and very eloquent, and when laden with tears would have softened the heart, almost, of her father. She was as yet less powerful than her mother, both in body and mind, but probably better calculated to make a happy home for a husband and children. She was affectionate, self-denying, and feminine. Had that offer of compromise for thirty, twenty, or for ten thousand pounds been made to her, she would have accepted it willingly — caring little for her name, little even for fame, so that she might have been happy and quiet, and at liberty to think of a lover as are other girls. In her present condition, how could she have any happy love? She was the Lady Anna Lovel, heir to a ducal fortune — but she lived in small close lodgings in Wyndham Street, New Road. She did not believe in the good time coming as did her mother. Their enemy was an undoubted Earl, undoubtedly owner of Lovel Grange of which she had heard all her life. Would it not be better to take what the young lord chose to give them and to be at rest? But she did not dare to express such thoughts to her mother. Her mother would have crushed her with a look.
“I have told Mr Thwaite’, the mother said to her daughter, “what we were saying this morning.”
“About his son?”
“Yes — about his son.”
“I was bound to do so.”
“And what did he say, mamma?”
“He did not like it, and told me that he did not like it — but he admitted that it was true. He admitted that his son was no fitting intimate for Lady Anna Lovel.”
“What should we have done without him?”
“Badly indeed; but that cannot change his duty, or ours. He is helping us to struggle for that which is our own; but he would mar his generosity if he put a taint on that which he is endeavouring to restore to us.”
“Put a taint, mamma!”
“Yes — a taint would rest upon your rank if you as Lady Anna Lovel were familiar with Daniel Thwaite as with an equal. His father understands it, and will speak to him.”
“Mamma, Daniel will be very angry.”
“Then he will be very unreasonable — but, Anna, I will not have you call him Daniel any more.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01