Miss Lovel, wise and strong-minded as she was, did not dare to come to any decision on the proposition made to her without consulting someone. Strong as she was, she found herself at once to be too weak to speak to her nephew on the subject of her late interview with the great lawyer without asking her brother’s opinion. The parson had accompanied her up to London, in a state of wrath against Sir William, in that he had not been sent for instead of his sister, and to him she told all that had been said. Her brother was away at his club when she got back to her hotel, and she had some hours in which to think of what had taken place. She could not at once bring herself to believe that all her former beliefs were vain and ill founded.
But if the opinion of the Solicitor-General had not prevailed with her, it prevailed still less when it reached her brother second-hand. She had been shaken, but Mr Lovel at first was not shaken at all. Sir William was a Whig and a traitor. He had never known a Whig who was not a traitor. Sir William was throwing them over. The Murray people, who were all Whigs, had got hold of him. He, Mr Lovel, would go at once to Mr Hardy, and tell Mr Hardy what he thought. The case should be immediately taken out of the hands of Messrs. Norton and Flick. Did not all the world know that these impostors were impostors? Sir William should be exposed and degraded — though, in regard to his threatened degradation, Mr Lovel was almost of opinion that his party would like their Solicitor-General better for having shown himself to be a traitor, and therefore proved himself to be a good Whig. He stormed and flew about the room, using language which hardly became his cloth. If his nephew married the girl, he would never own his nephew again. If that swindle was to prevail, let his nephew be poor and honest. He would give half of all he had towards supporting the peerage, and was sure that his boys would thank him for what he had done. But they should never call that woman cousin; and as for himself, might his tongue be blistered if ever he spoke of either of those women as Countess Lovel. He was inclined to think that the whole case should immediately be taken out of the hands of Norton and Flick, without further notice, and another solicitor employed. But at last he consented to call on Mr Norton on the following morning.
Mr Norton was a heavy, honest old man, who attended to simple conveyancing, and sat amidst the tin boxes of his broad-acred clients. He had no alternative but to send for Mr Flick, and Mr Flick came. When Mr Lovel showed his anger, Mr Flick became somewhat indignant. Mr Flick knew how to assert himself, and Mr Lovel was not quite the same man in the lawyer’s chambers that he had been in his own parlour at the hotel. Mr Flick was of opinion that no better counsel was to be had in England than the Solicitor-General, and no opinion more worthy of trust than his. If the Earl chose to put his case into other hands, of course he could do so, but it would behove his lordship to be very careful lest he should prejudice most important interests by showing his own weakness to his opponents. Mr Flick spoke in the interests of his client — so he said — and not in his own. Mr Flick was clearly of opinion that a compromise should be arranged; and having given that opinion, could say nothing more on the present occasion. On the next day the young Earl saw Mr Flick, and also saw Sir William, and was then told by his aunt of the proposition which had been made. The parson retired to Yoxham, and Miss Lovel remained in London with her nephew. By the end of the week Miss Lovel was brought round to think that some compromise was expedient. All this took place in May. The cause had been fixed for trial in the following November, the long interval having been allowed because of the difficulty expected in producing the evidence necessary for rebutting the claims of the late Earl’s daughter.
By the middle of June all the Lovels were again in London — the parson, his sister, the parson’s wife, and the Earl. “I never saw the young woman in my life,” said the Earl to his aunt.
“As for that,” said his aunt, no doubt you could see her if you thought it wise to do so.”
“I suppose she might be asked to the rectory?” said Mrs Lovel.
“That would be giving up altogether,” said the rector.
“Sir William said that it would not be against us at all,” said Aunt Julia.
“You would have to call her Lady Anna,” said Mrs Lovel.
“I couldn’t do it,” said the rector. It would be much better to give her half.”
“But why should she take the half if the whole belongs to her?” said the young lord. “And why should I ask even for the half if nothing belongs to me?” At this time the young lord had become almost despondent as to his alleged rights, and now and again had made everybody belonging to him miserable by talking of withdrawing from his claim. He had come to understand that Sir William believed that the daughter was the real heir, and he thought that Sir William must know better than others. He was downhearted and low in spirits, but not the less determined to be just in all that he did.
“I have made inquiry,” said Aunt Julia, and I do believe that the stories which we heard against the girl were untrue.”
“The tailor and his son have been their most intimate friends,” said Mr Lovel.
“Because they had none others,” said Mrs Lovel.
It had been settled that by the 24th of June the lord was to say whether he would or would not take Sir William’s advice. If he would do so, Sir William was to suggest what step should next be taken as to making the necessary overture to the two ladies. If he would not, then Sir William was to advise how best the case might be carried on. They were all again at Yoxham that day, and the necessary communication was to be made to Mr Flick by post. The young man had been alone the whole morning thinking of his condition, and undoubtedly the desire for the money had grown on him strongly. Why should it not have done so? Is there a nobleman in Great Britain who can say that he could lose the fortune which he possesses or the fortune which he expects without an agony that would almost break his heart? Young Lord Lovel sighed for the wealth without which his title would only be to him a terrible burden, and yet he was resolved that he would take no part in anything that was unjust. This girl, he heard, was beautiful and soft and pleasant, and now they told him that the evil things which had been reported against her had been slanders. He was assured that she was neither coarse, nor vulgar, nor unmaidenly. Two or three old men, of equal rank with his own — men who had been his father’s friends and were allied to the Lovels, and had been taken into confidence by Sir William — told him that the proper way out of the difficulty had been suggested to him. There could be nothing, they said, more fitting than that two cousins so situated should marry. With such an acknowledgment of her rank and birth everybody would visit his wife. There was not a countess or a duchess in London who would not be willing to take her by the hand. His two aunts had gradually given way, and it was clear to him that his uncle would give way — even his uncle — if he would but yield himself. It was explained to him that if the girl came to Yoxham, with the privilege of being called Lady Anna by the inhabitants of the rectory, she would of course do so on the understanding that she should accept her cousin’s hand. “But she might not like me,” said the young Earl to his aunt.
“Not like you!” said Mrs Lovel, putting her hand up to his brow and pushing away his hair. Was it possible that any girl should not like such a man as that, and he an earl?
“And if I did not like her, Aunt Lovel?”
“Then I would not ask her to be my wife.” He thought that there was an injustice in this, and yet before the day was over he had assented.
“I do not think that I can call her Lady Anna,” said the rector. “I don’t think I can bring my tongue to do it.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01