“They sent for me, Lady Lovel, to bid me come to your ladyship and ask your ladyship whether you would consent to a marriage between the two young people.” It was thus that the tailor repeated for the second time the message which had been confided to him, showing the gall and also the pride which were at work about his heart by the repeated titles which he gave to his old friend.
“They desire that Anna should marry the young lord!”
“Yes, my lady. That’s the meaning of it.”
“And what am I to be?”
“Just the Countess Lovel — with a third of the Property as your own. I suppose it would be a third; but you might trust the lawyers to settle that properly. When once they take your daughter among them they won’t scrimp you in your honours. They’ll all swear that the marriage was good enough then. They know that already, and have made this offer because they know it. Your ladyship needn’t fear now but what all the world will own you as the Countess Lovel. I don’t suppose I’ll be troubled to come up to London any more.”
“Oh, my friend!” The ejaculation she made feeling the necessity of saying something to soothe the tailor’s pride; but her heart was fixed upon the fruition of that for which she had spent so many years in struggling. Was it to come to her at last? Could it be that now, now at once, people throughout the world would call her the Countess Lovel, and would own her daughter to be the Lady Anna — till she also should become a countess? Of the young man she had heard nothing but good, and it was impossible that she should have fear in that direction, even had she been timorous by nature. But she was bold and eager, hopeful in spite of all that she had suffered, full of ambition, and not prone to feminine scruples. She had been fighting all her life in order that she and her daughter might be acknowledged to be among the aristocrats of her country. She was so far a loving, devoted mother that in all her battles she thought more of her child than of herself. She would have consented to carry on the battle in poverty to the last gasp of her own breath, could she thereby have ensured success for her surviving daughter. But she was not a woman likely to be dismayed at the idea of giving her girl in marriage to an absolute stranger, when that stranger was such a one as the young Earl Lovel. She herself had been a countess, but a wretched, unacknowledged, poverty-stricken countess, for the last half of her eventful life. This marriage would make her daughter a countess, prosperous, accepted by all, and very wealthy. What better end could there be to her long struggles? Of course she would assent.
“I don’t know why they should have troubled themselves to send for me,” said the tailor.
“Because you are the best friend that I have in the world. Whom else could I have trusted as I do you? Has the Earl agreed to it?”
“They didn’t tell me that, my lady.”
“They would hardly have sent, unless he had agreed. Don’t you think so, Mr Thwaite?”
“I don’t know much about such things, my lady.”
“You have told — Daniel?”
“No, my lady.”
“Oh, Mr Thwaite, do not talk to me in that way. It sounds as though you were deserting me.”
“There’ll be no reason for not deserting now. You’ll have friends by the score more fit to see you through this than old Thomas Thwaite. And, to own the truth, now that the matter is coming to an end, I am getting weary of it. I’m not so young as I was, and I’d be better left at home to my business.”
“I hope that you may disregard your business now without imprudence, Mr Thwaite.”
“No, my lady — a man should always stick to his business. I hope that Daniel will do so better than his father before him — so that his son may never have to go out to be servant to another man.”
“You are speaking daggers to me.”
“I have not meant it then. I am rough by nature, I know, and perhaps a little low just at present. There is something sad in the parting of old friends.”
“Old friends needn’t be parted, Mr Thwaite.”
“When your ladyship was good enough to point out to me my boy’s improper manner of speech to Lady Anna, I knew how it must be. You were quite right, my lady. There can be no becoming friendship between the future Lady Lovel and a journeyman tailor. I was wrong from the beginning.”
“Oh, Mr Thwaite! without such wrong where should we have been?”
“There can be no holding ground of friendship between such as you and such as we. Lords and ladies, earls and countesses, are our enemies, and we are theirs. We may make their robes and take their money, and deal with them as the Jew dealt with the Christians in the play; but we cannot eat with them or drink with them.”
“How often have I eaten and drunk at your table, when no other table was spread for me?”
“You were a Jew almost as ourselves then. We cannot now well stand shoulder to shoulder and arm to arm as friends should do.”
“How often has my child lain in your arms when she was a baby, and been quieter there than she would be even in her mother’s?”
“That has all gone by. Other arms will be open to receive her.” As the tailor said this he remembered how his boy used to take the little child out to the mountainside, and how the two would ramble away together through the long summer evenings; and he reflected that the memory of those days was no doubt still strong in the heart of his son. Some shadow of the grief which would surely fall upon the young man now fell upon the father, and caused him almost to repent of the work of his life. “Tailors should consort with tailors,” he said, and lords and ladies should consort together.”
Something of the same feeling struck the Countess also. If it were not for the son, the father, after all that he had done for them, might be almost as near and as dear to them as ever. He might have called the Lady Anna by her Christian name, at any rate till she had been carried away as a bride by the Earl. But, though all this was so exquisitely painful, it had been absolutely necessary to check the son. “Ah, well,” she said; it is hardly to be hoped that so many crooked things should be made straight without much pain. If you knew, Mr Thwaite, how little it is that I expect for myself!”
“It is because I have known it that I am here.”
“It will be well for her — will it not — to be the wife of her cousin?”
“If he be a good man. A woman will not always make herself happy by marrying an Earl.”
“How many daggers you can use, Mr Thwaite! But this young man is good. You yourself have said that you have heard so.”
“I have heard nothing to the contrary, my lady.”
“And what shall I do?”
“Just explain it all to Lady Anna. I think it will be clear then.”
“You believe that she will be so easily pleased?”
“Why should she not be pleased? She’ll have some maiden scruples, doubtless. What maid would not? But she’ll exult at such an end to all her troubles — and what maid would not? Let them meet as soon as may be and have it over. When he shall have placed the ring on her finger, your battle will have been won.”
Then the tailor felt that his commission was done and he might take his leave. It had been arranged that in the event of the Countess consenting to the proposed marriage, he should call upon Mr Flick to explain that it was so. Had she dissented, a short note would have been sufficient. Had such been the case, the Solicitor-General would have instigated the young lord to go and try what he himself could do with the Countess and her daughter. The tailor had suggested to the mother that she should at once make the proposition known to Lady Anna, but the Countess felt that one other word was necessary as her old friend left her. “Will you go back at once to Keswick, Mr Thwaite?”
“Tomorrow morning, my lady.”
“Perhaps you will not tell your son of this — yet?”
“No, my lady. I will not tell my son of this — yet. My son is high-minded and stiff-necked, and of great heart. If he saw aught to object to in this marriage, it might be that he would express himself loudly.” Then the tailor took his leave without even shaking hands with the Countess.
The woman sat alone for the next two hours, thinking of what had passed. There had sprung up in these days a sort of friendship between Mrs Bluestone and the two Miss Bluestones and the Lady Anna, arising rather from the forlorn condition of the young lady than from any positive choice of affection. Mrs Bluestone was kind and motherly. The girls were girlish and good. The father was the Jupiter Tonans of the household — as was of course proper — and was worshipped in everything. To the world at large Serjeant Bluestone was a thundering, blundering, sanguine, energetic lawyer, whom nobody disliked very much though he was so big and noisy. But at home Serjeant Bluestone was all the judges of the land rolled into one. But he was a kind-hearted man, and he had sent his wife and girls to call upon the disconsolate Countess. The disconsolate Lady Anna having no other friends, had found the companionship of the Bluestone girls to be pleasant to her, and she was now with them at the Serjeant’s house in Bedford Square. Mrs Bluestone talked of the wrongs and coming rights of the Countess Lovel wherever she went, and the Bluestone girls had all the case at their fingers’ ends. To doubt that the Serjeant would succeed, or to doubt that the success of the Countess and her daughter would have had any other source than the Serjeant’s eloquence and the Serjeant’s zeal, would have been heresy in Bedford Square. The grand idea that young Jack Bluestone, who was up at Brasenose, should marry the Lady Anna, had occurred only to the mother.
Lady Anna was away with her friends as the Countess sat brooding over the new hopes that had been opened to her. At first, she could not tear her mind away from the position which she herself would occupy as soon as her daughter should have been married and taken away from her. The young Earl would not want his mother-in-law — a mother-in-law who had spent the best years of her life in the society of a tailor. And the daughter, who would still be young enough to begin a new life in a new sphere, would no longer want her mother to help her. As regarded herself, the Countess was aware that the life she had led so long, and the condition of agonising struggling to which she had been brought, had unfitted her for smiling, happy, prosperous, aristocratic luxury. There was but one joy left for her, and that was to be the joy of success. When that cup should have been drained, there would be nothing left to her. She would have her rank, of course — and money enough to support it. She no longer feared that anyone would do her material injury. Her daughter’s husband no doubt would see that she had a fitting home, with all the appanages and paraphernalia suited to a dowager Countess. But who would share her home with her, and where should she find her friends? Even now the two Miss Bluestones were more to her daughter than she was. When she should be established in her new luxurious home, with servants calling her my lady, with none to contradict her right, she would no longer be enabled to sit late into the night discussing matters with her friend the tailor. As regarded herself, it would have been better for her, perhaps, if the fight had been carried on.
But the fight had been not for herself but for her child; and the victory for her girl would have been won by her own perseverance. Her whole life had been devoted to establishing the rights of her daughter, and it should be so devoted to the end. It had been her great resolve that the world should acknowledge the rank of her girl, and now it would be acknowledged. Not only would she become the Countess Lovel by marriage, but the name which had been assumed for her amidst the ridicule of many, and in opposition to the belief of nearly all, would be proved to have been her just and proper title. And then, at last, it would be known by all men that she herself, the ill-used, suffering mother, had gone to the house of that wicked man, not as his mistress, but as his true wife!
Hardly a thought troubled her, then, as to the acquiescence of her daughter. She had no faintest idea that the girl’s heart had been touched by the young tailor. She had so lived that she knew but little of lovers and their love, and in her fear regarding Daniel Thwaite she had not conceived danger such as that. It had to her simply been unfitting that there should be close familiarity between the two. She expected that her daughter would be ambitious, as she was ambitious, and would rejoice greatly at such perfect success. She herself had been preaching ambition and practising ambition all her life. It had been the necessity of her career that she should think more of her right to a noble name than of any other good thing under the sun. It was only natural that she should believe that her daughter shared the feeling.
And then Lady Anna came in. “They wanted me to stay and dine, mamma, but I did not like to think that you should be left alone.”
“I must get used to that, my dear.”
“Why, mamma? Wherever we have been, we have always been together. Mrs Bluestone was quite unhappy because you would not come. They are so good-natured! I wish you would go there.”
“I am better here, my dear.” Then there was a pause for a few moments. “But I am glad that you have come home this evening.”
“Of course, I should come home.”
“I have something special to say to you.”
“To me, mamma! What is it, mamma?”
“I think we will wait till after dinner. The things are here now. Go upstairs and take off your hat, and I will tell you after dinner.”
“Mamma,” Lady Anna said, as soon as the maid had left the room, “has old Mr Thwaite been here?”
“Yes, my dear, he was here.”
“I thought so, because you have something to tell me. It is something from him?”
“Not from himself, Anna — though he was the messenger. Come and sit here, my dear — close to me. Have you ever thought, Anna, that it would be good for you to be married?”
“No, mamma; why should I?” But that surely was a lie! How often had she thought that it would be good to be married to Daniel Thwaite and to have done with this weary searching after rank! And now what could her mother mean? Thomas Thwaite had been there, but it was impossible that her mother should think that Daniel Thwaite would be a fit husband for her daughter. “No, mamma — why should I?”
“It must be thought of, my dearest.”
“Why now?” She could understand perfectly that there was some special cause for her mother’s manner of speech.
“After all that we have gone through, we are about to succeed at last. They are willing to own everything, to give us all our rights — on one condition.”
“What condition, mamma?”
“Come nearer to me, dearest. It would not make you unhappy to think that you were going to be the wife of a man you could love?”
“No — not if I really loved him.”
“You have heard of your cousin — the young Earl?”
“Yes mamma — I have heard of him.”
“They say that he is everything that is good. What should you think of having him for your husband?”
“That would be impossible, mamma.”
“Impossible! — why impossible? What could be more fitting? Your rank is equal to his — higher even in this, that your father was himself the Earl. In fortune you will be much more than his equal. In age you are exactly suited. Why should it be impossible?”
“Oh, mamma, it is impossible!”
“What makes you say so, Anna?”
“We have never seen each other.”
“Tush! my child. Why should you not see each other?”
“And then we are his enemies.”
“We are no longer enemies, dearest. They have sent to say that if we — you and I— will consent to this marriage, then will they consent to it also. It is their wish, and it comes from them. There can be no more proper ending to all this weary lawsuit. It is quite right that the title and the name should be supported. It is quite right that the fortune which your father left should in this way go to support your father’s family. You will be the Countess Lovel; and all will have been conceded to us. There cannot possibly be any fitter way out of our difficulties.” Lady Anna sat looking at her mother in dismay, but could say nothing. “You need have no fear about the young man. Everyone tells me that he is just the man that a mother would welcome as a husband for her daughter. Will you not be glad to see him?” But the Lady Anna would only say that it was impossible. “Why impossible, my dear — what do you mean by impossible?”
“Oh, mamma, it is impossible!”
The Countess found that she was obliged to give the subject up for that night, and could only comfort herself by endeavouring to believe that the suddenness of the tidings had confused her child.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01