After the scene which was described in the last chapter there was a very sad time indeed in Keppel Street. The Countess had been advised by the Serjeant and Mrs Bluestone to take her daughter immediately abroad, in the event of the interview with Daniel Thwaite being unsatisfactory. It was believed by all concerned, by the Bluestones, and the Goffes, by Sir William Patterson who had been told of the coming interview and by the Countess herself, that this would not be the case. They had all thought that Lady Anna would come out from that meeting disengaged and free to marry whom she would — and they thought also that within a very few weeks of her emancipation she would accept her cousin’s hand. The Solicitor-General had communicated with the Earl, who was still in town, and the Earl again believed he might win the heiress. But should the girl prove obstinate — “take her away at once — very far away — to Rome, or some such place as that’. Such had been Mrs Bluestone’s advice, and in those days Rome was much more distant than it is now. “And don’t let anybody know where you are going,” added the Serjeant — “except Mr Goffe. The Countess had assented — but when the moment came, there were reasons against her sudden departure. Mr Goffe told her that she must wait at any rate for another fortnight. The presence of herself and her daughter was necessary in London for the signing of deeds and for the completion of the now merely formal proofs of identity. And money was again scarce. A great deal of money had been spent lately, and unless money was borrowed without security and at a great cost — to which Mr Goffe was averse — the sum needed could hardly be provided at once. Mr Goffe recommended that no day earlier than the 20th December should be fixed for their departure.
It was now the end of November; and it became a question how the intermediate time should be passed. The Countess was resolved that she would hold no pleasant intercourse at all with her daughter. She would not even tell the girl of her purpose of going abroad. From hour to hour she assured herself with still increasing obduracy that nothing but severity could avail anything. The girl must be cowed and frightened into absolute submission — even though at the expense of her health. Even though it was to be effected by the absolute crushing of her spirits — this must be done. Though at the cost of her life, it must be done. This woman had lived for the last twenty years with but one object before her eyes — an object sometimes seeming to be near, more often distant and not unfrequently altogether beyond her reach, but which had so grown upon her imagination as to become the heaven to which her very soul aspired. To be and to be known to be among the highly born, the so-called noble, the titled from old dates — to be of those who were purely aristocratic, had been all the world to her. As a child — the child of well-born but poor parents, she had received the idea. In following it out she had thrown all thoughts of love to the wind and had married a reprobate earl. Then had come her punishment — or, as she had conceived it, her most unmerited misfortunes. For many years of her life her high courage and persistent demeanour had almost atoned for the vice of her youth. The love of rank was strong in her bosom as ever, but it was fostered for her child rather than for herself. Through long, tedious, friendless, poverty-stricken years she had endured all, still assuring herself that the day would come when the world should call the sweet plant that grew by her side by its proper name. The little children hooted after her daughter, calling her girl in derision The Lady Anna — when Lady Anna had been more poorly clad and blessed with less of the comforts of home than any of them. Years would roll by, and they should live to know that the Lady Anna — the sport of their infantine cruelty — was Lady Anna indeed. And as the girl became a woman the dream was becoming a reality. The rank, the title, the general acknowledgment and the wealth would all be there. Then came the first great decisive triumph. Overtures of love and friendship were made from the other side. Would Lady Anna consent to become the Countess Lovel, all animosities might be buried, and everything be made pleasant, prosperous, noble, and triumphant!
It is easy to fill with air a half-inflated bladder. It is already so buoyant with its own lightness, that it yields itself with ease to receive the generous air. The imagination of the woman flew higher than ever it had flown when the proposition came home to her in all its bearings. Of course it had been in her mind that her daughter should marry well — but there had been natural fears. Her child had not been educated, had not lived, had not been surrounded in her young days, as are those girls from whom the curled darlings are wont to choose their wives. She would too probably be rough in manner, ungentle in speech, ungifted in accomplishments, as compared with those who from their very cradles are encompassed by the blessings of wealth and high social standing. But when she looked at her child’s beauty, she would hope. And then her child was soft, sweet-humoured, winning in all her little ways, pretty even in the poor duds which were supplied to her mainly by the generosity of the tailor. And so she would hope, and sometimes despair — and then hope again. But she had never hoped for anything so good as this. Such a marriage would not only put her daughter as high as a Lovel ought to be, but would make it known in a remarkable manner to all coming ages that she, she herself, she the despised and slandered one — who had been treated almost as woman had never been treated before — was in very truth the Countess Lovel by whose income the family had been restored to its old splendour.
And so the longing grew upon her. Then, almost for the first time, did she begin to feel that it was necessary for the purposes of her life that the girl whom she loved so thoroughly, should be a creature in her hands, to be dealt with as she pleased. She would have had her daughter accede to the proposed marriage even before she had seen Lord Lovel, and was petulant when her daughter would not be as clay in the sculptor’s hand. But still the girl’s refusal had been as the refusal of a girl. She should not have been as other girls. She should have known better. She should have understood what the peculiarity of her position demanded. But it had not been so with her. She had not soared as she should have done, above the love-laden dreams of common maidens. And so the visit to Coxham was permitted. Then came the great blow — struck as it were by a third hand, and that the hand of an attorney. The Countess Lovel learned through Mr Goffe — who had heard the tale from other lawyers — that her daughter Lady Anna Lovel had, with her own mouth, told her noble lover that she was betrothed to a tailor! She felt at the moment that she could have died — cursing this child for her black ingratitude.
But there might still be hope. The trial was going on — or the work which was progressing towards the trial, and she was surrounded by those who could advise her. Doubtless what had happened was a great misfortune. But there was room for hope — room for most assured hope. The Earl was not disposed to abandon the match, though he had, of course, been greatly annoyed — nay, disgusted and degraded by the girl’s communication. But he had consented to see the matter in the proper light. The young tailor had got an influence over the girl when she was a child, was doubtless in pursuit of money, and must be paid. The folly of a child might be forgiven, and the Earl would perservere. No one would know what had occurred, and the thing would be forgotten as a freak of childhood. The Countess had succumbed to the policy of all this — but she was not deceived by the benevolent falsehood. Lady Anna had been over twenty when she had been receiving lover’s vows from this man, reeking from his tailor’s board. And her girl, her daughter, had deceived her. That the girl had deceived her, saying there was no other lover, was much; but it was much more and worse and more damnable that there had been thorough deception as to the girl’s own appreciation of her rank. The sympathy tendered through so many years must have been always pretended sympathy. With these feelings hot within her bosom, she could not bring herself to speak one kindly word to Lady Anna after the return from Yoxham. The girl was asked to abandon her odious lover with stern severity. It was demanded of her that she should do so with cruel threats. She would never quite yield, though she had then no strength of purpose sufficient to enable her to declare that she would not yield. We know how she was banished to Bedford Square, and transferred from the ruthless persistency of her mother, to the less stern but not less fixed manoeuvres of Mrs Bluestone. At that moment of her existence she was herself in doubt. In Wyndham Street and at Yoxham she had almost more than doubted. The softness of the new Elysium had well nigh unnerved her. When that young man had caught her from stone to stone as she passed over the ford at Bolton, she was almost ready to give herself to him. But then had come upon her the sense of sickness, that faint, overdone flavour of sugared sweetness, which arises when sweet things become too luscious to the eater. She had struggled to be honest and strong, and had just not fallen into the pot of treacle.
But, notwithstanding all this, they who saw her and knew the story, were still sure that the lord must at last win the day. There was not one who believed that such a girl could be true to such a troth as she had made. Even the Solicitor-General, when he told the tale which the amorous steward had remembered to his own encouragement, did not think but what the girl and the girl’s fortune would fall into the hands of his client. Human nature demanded that it should be so. That it should be as he wished it, was so absolutely consonant with all nature as he had known it, that he had preferred trusting to this result, in his client’s behalf, to leaving the case in a jury’s hands. At this moment he was sure he was right in his judgment. And indeed he was right — for no jury could have done anything for his client.
It went on till at last the wise men decided that the girl only wanted to be relieved by her old lover, that she might take a new lover with his permission. The girl was no doubt peculiar;, but as far as the wise ones could learn from her manner — for with words she would say nothing — that was her state of mind. So the interview was planned — to the infinite disgust of the Countess, who, however, believed that it might avail; and we know what was the result. Lady Anna, who long had doubted — who had at last almost begun to doubt whether Daniel Thwaite was true to her — had renewed her pledges, strengthened her former promises, and was now more firmly betrothed than ever to him whom the Countess hated as a very fiend upon earth. But there certainly should be no marriage! Though she pistolled the man at the altar, there should be no marriage.
And then there came upon her the infinite disgust arising from the necessity of having to tell her sorrows to others — who could not sympathize with her, though their wishes were as hers. It was hard upon her that no step could be taken in reference to her daughter without the knowledge of Mr Goffe and Serjeant Bluestone — and the consequent knowledge of Mr Flick and the Solicitor-General. It was necessary, too, that Lord Lovel should know all. His conduct in many things must depend on the reception which might probably be accorded to a renewal of his suit. Of course he must be told. He had already been told that the tailor was to be admitted to see his love, in order that she might be absolved by the tailor from her first vow. It had not been pleasant — but he had acceded. Mr Flick had taken upon himself to say that he was sure that everything would be made pleasant. The Earl had frowned, and had been very short with Mr Flick. These confidences with lawyers about his lovesuit, and his love’s tone with her low-born lover, had not been pleasant to Lord Lovel. But he had endured it — and now he must be told of the result. Oh, heavens — what a hell of misery was this girl making for her high-born relatives! But the story of the tailor’s visit to Keppel Street did not reach the unhappy ones at Yoxham till months had passed away.
Mr Goffe was very injudicious in postponing the departure of the two ladies — as the Solicitor-General told Mr Flick afterwards very plainly, when he heard of what had been done. “Money; she might have had any money. I would have advanced it. You would have advanced it!” “Oh certainly, said Mr Flick, not, however, at all relishing the idea of advancing money to his client’s adversary. “I never heard of such folly,” continued Sir William. “That comes of trusting people who should not be trusted.” But it was too late then. Lady Anna was lying ill in bed, in fever; and three doctors doubted whether she would ever get up again. “Would it not be better that she should die?” said her mother to herself, standing over her and looking at her. It would — so thought the mother then — be better that she should die than get up to become the wife of Daniel Thwaite. But how much better that she should live and become the Countess Lovel! She still loved her child, as only a mother can love her only child — as only a mother can love who has no hope of joy in the world, but what is founded on her child. But the other passion had become so strong in her bosom that it almost conquered her mother’s yearnings. Was she to fight for long years that she might be beaten at last when the prize was so near her — when the cup was almost at her lips? Were the girl now to be taken to her grave, there would be an end at any rate of the fear which now most heavily oppressed her. But the three doctors were called in, one after another; and Lady Anna was tended as though her life was as precious as that of any other daughter.
These new tidings caused new perturbation among the lawyers. “They say that Clerke and Holland have given her over,” said Mr Flick to Sir William.
“I am sorry to hear it,” said Mr Solicitor; but girls do live sometimes in spite of the doctors.”
“Yes; very true, Sir William; very true. But if it should go in that way it might not perhaps be amiss for our client.”
“God forbid that he should prosper by his cousin’s death, Mr Flick. But the Countess would be the heir.”
“The Countess is devoted to the Earl. We ought to do something, Sir William. I don’t think that we could claim above eight or ten thousand at most as real property. He put his money everywhere, did that old man. There are shares in iron mines in the Alleghanies, worth ever so much.”
“They are no good to us,” said the Solicitor-General, alluding to his client’s interests.
“Not worth a halfpenny to us, though they are paying twenty percent. on the paid-up capital. He seems to have determined that the real heir should get nothing, even if there were no will. A wicked old man!”
“Very wicked, Mr Flick.”
“A horrible old man! But we really ought to do something, Mr Solicitor. If the girl won’t marry him there should be some compromise, after all that we have done.”
“How can the girl marry anyone, Mr Flick — if she’s going to die?”
A few days after this, Sir William called in Keppel Street and saw the Countess, not with any idea of promoting a compromise — for the doing which this would not have been the time, nor would he have been the fitting medium — but in order that he might ask after Lady Anna’s health. The whole matter was in truth now going very much against the Earl. Money had been allowed to the Countess and her daughter; and in truth all the money was now their own, to do with it as they listed, though there might be some delay before each was put into absolute possession of her own proportion; but no money had been allowed, or could be allowed, to the Earl. And, that the fact was so, was now becoming known to all men. Hitherto credit had at any rate been easy with the young lord. When the old Earl died, and when the will was set aside, it was thought that he would be the heir. When the lawsuit first came up, it was believed everywhere that some generous compromise would be the worst that could befall him. After that the marriage had been almost a certainty, and then it was known that he had something of his own, so that tradesmen need not fear that their bills would be paid. It can hardly be said that he had been extravagant; but a lord must live, and an earl can hardly live and maintain a house in the country on a thousand a year, even though he has an uncle to keep his hunters for him. Some prudent men in London were already beginning to ask for their money, and the young Earl was in trouble. As Mr Flick had said, it was quite time that something should be done. Sir William still depended upon the panacea of a marriage if only the girl would live. The marriage might be delayed; but, if the cards were played prudently, might still make everything comfortable. Such girls do not marry tailors, and will always prefer lords to tradesmen!
“I hope that you do not think that my calling is intrusive,” he said. The Countess, dressed all in black, with that funereal frown upon her brow which she always now wore, with deep sunk eyes, and care legible in every feature of her handsome face, received him with a courtesy that was as full of woe as it was graceful. She was very glad to make his acquaintance. There was no intrusion. He would forgive her, she thought, if he perceived that circumstances had almost overwhelmed her with sorrow. “I have come to ask after your daughter,” said he.
“She has been very ill, Sir William.”
“Is she better now?”
“I hardly know; I cannot say. They seemed to think this morning that the fever was less violent.”
“Then she will recover, Lady Lovel.”
“They do not say so. But indeed I did not ask them. It is all in God’s hands. I sometimes think that it would be better that she should die and there be an end of it.”
This was the first time that these two had been in each other’s company, and the lawyer could not altogether repress the feeling of horror with which he heard the mother speak in such a way of her only child. “Oh, Lady Lovel, do not say that!”
“But I do say it. Why should I not say it to you, who know all? Of what good will her life be to herself, or to anyone else, if she pollute herself and her family by this marriage? It would be better that she should be dead — much better that she should be dead. She is all that I have, Sir William. It is for her sake that I have been struggling from the first moment in which I knew that I was to be a mother. The whole care of my life has been to prove her to be her father’s daughter in the eye of the law. I doubt whether you can know what it is to pursue one object, and only one, through your whole life, with never-ending solicitude — and to do it all on behalf of another. If you did, you would understand my feeling now. It would be better for her that she should die than become the wife of such a one as Daniel Thwaite.”
“Lady Lovel, not only as a mother, but as a Christian, you should get the better of that feeling.”
“Of course I should. No doubt every clergyman in England would tell me the same thing. It is easy to say all that, sir. Wait till you are tried. Wait till all your ambition is to be betrayed, every hope rolled in the dust, till all the honours you have won are to be soiled and degraded, till you are made a mark for general scorn and public pity — and then tell me how you love the child by whom such evils are brought upon you!”
“I trust that I may never be so tried, Lady Lovel.”
“I hope not; but think of all that before you preach to me. But I do love her; and it is because I love her that I would fain see her removed from the reproaches which her own madness will bring upon her. Let her die — if it be God’s will. I can follow her without one wish for a prolonged life. Then will a noble family again be established, and her sorrowful tale will be told among the Lovels with a tear and without a curse.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01