There was considerable difficulty in making the overture to the two ladies — or rather in making it to the elder lady; for the suggestion, if made to the daughter, must of course come to her from her mother. It had been decided at last that the Lady Anna could not be invited to the rectory till it had been positively settled that she should be the Lady Anna without further opposition; and that all opposition to the claim should be withdrawn, at any rate till it was found that the young people were not inclined to be engaged to each other. “How can I call her Lady Anna before I have made up my mind to think that she is Lady Anna?” said the parson, almost in tears. As to the rest of the family, it may be said that they had come silently to think that the Countess was the Countess and that the Lady Anna was the Lady Anna — silently in reference to each other, for not one of them except the young lord had positively owned to such a conviction. Sir William Patterson had been too strong for them. It was true that he was a Whig. It was possible that he was a traitor. But he was a man of might, and his opinion had domineered over theirs. To make things as straight as they could be made it would be well that the young people should be married. What would be the Earldom of Lovel without the wealth which the old mad Earl had amassed?
Sir William and Mr Flick were strongly in favour of the marriage, and Mr Hardy at last assented. The worst of it was that something of all this doubt on the part of the Earl and his friends was sure to reach the opposite party. “They are shaking in their shoes,” Serjeant Bluestone said to his junior counsel, Mr Mainsail. “I do believe they are not going to fight at all,” he said to Mr Goffe, the attorney for the Countess. Mr Mainsail rubbed his hands. Mr Goffe shook his head. Mr Goffe was sure that they would fight. Mr Mainsail, who had worked like a horse in getting up and arranging all the evidence on behalf of the Countess, and in sifting, as best he might, the Italian documents, was delighted. All this Sir William feared, and he felt that it was quite possible that the Earl’s Overture might be rejected because the Earl would not be thought to be worth having. “We must count upon his coronet,” said Sir William to Mr Flick. “She could not do better even if the property were undoubtedly her own.”
But how was the first suggestion to be made? Mr Hardy was anxious that everything should be straightforward — and Sir William assented, with a certain inward peevishness at Mr Hardy’s stiff-necked propriety. Sir William was anxious to settle the thing comfortably for all parties. Mr Hardy was determined not only that right should be done, but also that it should be done in a righteous manner. The great question now was whether they could approach the widow and her daughter otherwise than through Serjeant Bluestone. “The Serjeant is such a blunderbuss,” said the Solicitor-General. But the Serjeant was counsel for these ladies, and it was at last settled that there should be a general conference at Sir William’s chambers. A very short note was written by Mr Flick to Mr Goffe, stating that the Solicitor-General thought that a meeting might be for the advantage of all parties — and the meeting was arranged. There were present the two barristers and the one attorney for each side, and many an anxious thought was given to the manner in which the meeting should be conducted. Serjeant Bluestone was fully resolved that he would hold his own against the Solicitor-General, and would speak his mind freely. Mr Mainsail got up little telling questions. Mr Goffe and Mr Flick both felt that it would behove them to hold their peace, unless questioned, but were equally determined to hang fast by their clients. Mr Hardy in his heart of hearts thought that his learned friend was about to fling away his case. Sir William had quite made up his mind as to his line of action. He seated them all most courteously, giving them place according to their rank — a great armchair for Serjeant Bluestone, from which the Serjeant would hardly be able to use his arms with his accustomed energy — and then he began at once. “Gentlemen,” said he, “it would be a great pity that this property should be wasted.”
“No fear of that, Mr Solicitor,” said the Serjeant.
“It would be a great pity that this property should be wasted,” repeated Sir William, bowing to the Serjeant, “and I am disposed to think that the best thing the two young people can do is to marry each other.” Then he paused, and the three gentlemen opposite sat erect, the barristers as speechless as the attorneys. But the Solicitor-General had nothing to add. He had made his proposition, and was desirous of seeing what effect it might have before he spoke another word.
“Then you acknowledge the Countess’s marriage, of course,” said the Serjeant.
“Pardon me, Serjeant, we acknowledge nothing. As a matter of course she is the Countess till it be proved that another wife was living when she as married.”
“Quite as a matter of course,” said the Serjeant.
“Quite as a matter of course, if that will make the case stronger,” continued Sir William. “Her marriage was formal and regular. That she believed her marriage to be a righteous marriage before God, I have never doubted. God forbid that I should have a harsh thought against a poor lady who has suffered so much cruel treatment.”
“Why have things been said then?” asked the Serjeant, beginning to throw about his left arm.
“If I am not mistaken,” said Mr Mainsail, evidence has been prepared to show that the Countess is a party to a contemplated fraud.”
“Then you are mistaken, Mr Mainsail,” said Sir William. “I admit at once and clearly that the lady is not suspected of any fraud. Whether she be actually the Countess Lovel or not it may — I fear it must — take years to prove, if the law be allowed to take its course.”
“We think that we can dispose of any counter-claim in much less time than that,” said the Serjeant.
“It may be so. I myself think that it would not be so. Our evidence in favour of the lady who is now living some two leagues out of Palermo, is very strong. She is a poor creature, old, ignorant — fairly well off through the bounty of the late Earl, but always craving for some trifle more — unwilling to come to this country — childless, and altogether indifferent to the second marriage, except in so far as might interfere with her hopes of getting some further subsidy from the Lovel family. One is not very anxious on her behalf. One is only anxious — can only be anxious — that the vast property at stake should not get into improper hands.”
“And that justice should be done,” said Mr Hardy.
“And that justice should be done of course, as my friend observes. Here is a young man who is undoubtedly Earl of Lovel, and who claims a property as heir to the late Earl. And here is a young lady, I am told very beautiful and highly educated, who is the daughter of the late Earl, and who claims that property believing herself to be his legitimate heiress. The question between them is most intricate.”
“The onus probandi lies with you, Mr Solicitor,” said the Serjeant.
“We acknowledge that it does, but the case on that account is none the less intricate. With the view of avoiding litigation and expense, and in the certainty that by such an arrangement the enjoyment of the property will fall to the right owner, we propose that steps shall be taken to bring these two young people together. The lady, whom for the occasion I am quite willing to call the Countess, the mother of the lady whom I hope the young Earl will make his own Countess, has not been sounded on this subject.”
“I should hope not,” said the Serjeant.
“My excellent friend takes me up a little short,” said Sir William, laughing. “You gentlemen will probably consult together on the subject, and whatever may be the advice which you shall consider it to be your duty to give to the mother — and I am sure that you will feel bound to let her know the proposition that has been made; I do not hesitate to say that we have a right to expect that it shall be made known to her — I need hardly remark that were the young lady to accept the young lord’s hand we should all be in a boat together in reference to the mother’s rank, and to the widow’s claim upon the personal property left behind him by her late husband.”
And so the Solicitor-General had made his proposition, and the conference was broken up with a promise that Mr Flick should hear from Mr Goffe upon the subject. But the Serjeant had at once made up his mind against the compromise now proposed. He desired the danger and the dust and the glory of the battle. He was true to his clients’ interests, no doubt — intended to be intensely true; but the personal, doggish love of fighting prevailed in the man, and he was clear as to the necessity of going on. “They know they are beat,” he said to Mr Goffe. “Mr Solicitor knows as well as I do that he has not an inch of ground under his feet.” Therefore Mr Goffe wrote the following letter to Messrs. Norton and Flick:
Raymond’s Buildings, Gray’s Inn, 1st July, 183 — >
In reference to the interview which took place at the chambers of the Solicitor-General on the 27th ult., we are to inform you that we are not disposed, as acting for our clients, the Countess of Lovel and her daughter the Lady Anna Lovel, to listen to the proposition then made. Apart from the very strong feeling we entertain as to the certainty of our client’s success — which certainly was not weakened by what we heard on that occasion — we are of opinion that we could not interfere with propriety in suggesting the marriage of two young persons who have not as yet had any opportunity of becoming acquainted with each other. Should the Earl of Lovel seek the hand of his cousin, the Lady Anna Lovel, and marry her with the consent of the Countess, we should be delighted at such a family arrangement; but we do not think that we, as lawyers — or, if we may be allowed to say so, that you as lawyers — have anything to do with such a matter.
We are, dear Sirs, Yours very faithfully, GOFFE AND GOFFE Messrs. Norton and Flick.
“Balderdash!” said Sir William, when he had read the letter. “We are not going to be done in that way. It was all very well going to that Serjeant as he has the case in hand, though a worse messenger in an affair of love — ”
“Not love, as yet, Mr Solicitor,” said Mr Flick.
“I mean it to be love, and I’m not going to be put off by Serjeant Bluestone. We must get to the lady by some other means. Do you write to that tailor down at Keswick, and say that you want to see him.”
“Will that be regular, Sir William?”
“I’ll stand the racket, Mr Flick.” Mr Flick did write to Thomas Thwaite, and Thomas Thwaite came up to London and called at Mr Flick’s chambers.
When Thomas Thwaite received his commission he was much rejoiced. Injustice would be done him unless so much were owned on his behalf. But, nevertheless, some feeling of disappointment which he could not analyse crept across his heart. If once the girl were married to Earl Lovel there would be an end of his services and of his son’s. He had never really entertained an idea that his son would marry the girl. As the reader will perhaps remember, he had warned his son that he must seek a sweetheart elsewhere. He had told himself over and over again that when the Countess came to her own there must be an end of this intimacy — that there could be nothing in common between him, the radical tailor of Keswick, and a really established Countess. The Countess, while not yet really established, had already begged that his son might be instructed not to call her daughter simply by her Christian name. Old Thwaite on receiving this intimation of the difference of their positions, though he had acknowledged its truth, had felt himself bitterly aggrieved, and now the moment had come. Of course the Countess would grasp at such an offer. Of course it would give her all that she had desired, and much more than she expected. In adjusting his feelings on the occasion the tailor thought but little of the girl herself. Why should she not be satisfied? Of the young Earl he had only heard that he was a handsome, modest, gallant lad, who only wanted a fortune to make him one of the most popular of the golden youth of England. Why should not the girl rejoice at the prospect of winning such a husband? To have a husband must necessarily be in her heart, whether she were the Lady Anna Lovel, or plain Anna Murray. And what espousals could be so auspicious as these? Feeling all this, without much of calculation, the tailor said that he would do as he was bidden. “We have sent for you because we know that you have been so old a friend,” said Mr Flick, who did not quite approve of the emissary whom he had been instructed by Sir William to employ.
“I will do my best, sir,” said Mr Thwaite, making his bow. Thomas Thwaite, as he went along the streets alone, determined that he would perform this new duty imposed upon him without any reference to his son.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55