The news was soon all about London, as Lizzie had intended. She had made a sudden resolve that Lord Fawn should not escape her, and she had gone to work after the fashion we have seen. Frank Greystock had told John Eustace, and John Eustace had told Mr. Camperdown before Lord Fawn himself, in the slow prosecution of his purpose, had consulted the lawyer about the necklace. “God bless my soul; Lord Fawn!” the old lawyer had said when the news was communicated to him. “Well, yes; he wants money. I don’t envy him; that’s all. We shall get the diamonds now, John. Lord Fawn isn’t the man to let his wife keep what doesn’t belong to her.” Then, after a day or two, Lord Fawn had himself gone to Mr. Camperdown’s chambers. “I believe I am to congratulate you, my lord,” said the lawyer. “I’m told you are going to marry — well, I mustn’t really say another of my clients, but the widow of one of them. Lady Eustace is a very beautiful woman, and she has a very pretty income too. She has the whole of the Scotch property for her life.”
“It’s only for her life, I suppose?” said Lord Fawn.
“Oh, no, no; of course not. There’s been some mistake on her part; at least, so I’ve been told. Women never understand. It’s all as clear as daylight. Had there been a second son, the second son would have had it. As it is, it goes with the rest of the property, just as it ought to do, you know. Four thousand a year isn’t so bad, you know, considering that she isn’t more than a girl yet, and that she hadn’t sixpence of her own. When the admiral died, there wasn’t sixpence, Lord Fawn.”
“So I have heard.”
“Not sixpence. It’s all Eustace money. She had six or eight thousand pounds, or something like that, besides. She’s as lovely a young widow as I ever saw, and very clever.”
“Yes, she is clever.”
“By-the-by, Lord Fawn, as you have done me the honour of calling, there’s a stupid mistake about some family diamonds.”
“It is in respect to them that I’ve come,” said Lord Fawn. Then Mr. Camperdown, in his easy, off-hand way, imputing no blame to the lady in the hearing of her future husband, and declaring his opinion that she was doubtless unaware of its value, explained the matter of the necklace. Lord Fawn listened, but said very little. He especially did not say that Lady Eustace had had the stones valued. “They’re real, I suppose?” he asked. Mr. Camperdown assured him that no diamonds more real had ever come from Golconda, or passed through Mr. Garnett’s hands.
“They are as well known as any family diamonds in England,” said Mr. Camperdown. “She has got into bad hands,” continued Mr. Camperdown. “Mowbray & Mopus; horrible people; sharks, that make one blush for one’s profession, and I was really afraid there would have been trouble. But, of course, it’ll be all right now; and if she’ll only come to me, tell her I’ll do everything I can to make things straight and comfortable for her. If she likes to have another lawyer, of course, that’s all right. Only make her understand who Mowbray & Mopus are. It’s quite out of the question, Lord Fawn, that your wife should have anything to do with Mowbray & Mopus.” Every word that Mr. Camperdown said was gospel to Lord Fawn.
And yet, as the reader will understand, Mr. Camperdown had by no means expressed his real opinion in this interview. He had spoken of the widow in friendly terms, declaring that she was simply mistaken in her ideas as to the duration of her interest in the Scotch property, and mistaken again about the diamonds; whereas in truth he regarded her as a dishonest, lying, evil-minded harpy. Had Lord Fawn consulted him simply as a client, and not have come to him an engaged lover, he would have expressed his opinion quite frankly; but it is not the business of a lawyer to tell his client evil things of the lady whom that client is engaged to marry. In regard to the property he spoke the truth, and he spoke what he believed to be the truth when he said that the whole thing would no doubt now be easily arranged. When Lord Fawn took his leave, Mr. Camperdown again declared to himself that as regarded money the match was very well for his lordship; but that, as regarded the woman, Lizzie was dear at the price. “Perhaps he doesn’t mind it,” said Mr. Camperdown to himself, “but I wouldn’t marry such a woman myself, though she owned all Scotland.”
There had been much in the interview to make Lord Fawn unhappy. In the first place, that golden hope as to the perpetuity of the property was at an end. He had never believed that it was so; but a man may hope without believing. And he was quite sure that Lizzie was bound to give up the diamonds, and would ultimately be made to give them up. Of any property in them, as possibly accruing to himself, he had not thought much; but he could not abstain from thinking of the woman’s grasp upon them. Mr. Camperdown’s plain statement, which was gospel to him, was directly at variance with Lizzie’s story. Sir Florian certainly would not have given such diamonds in such a way. Sir Florian would not have ordered a separate iron safe for them, with a view that they might be secure in his wife’s bedroom. And then she had had them valued, and manifestly was always thinking of her treasure. It was very well for a poor, careful peer to be always thinking of his money, but Lord Fawn was well aware that a young woman such as Lady Eustace should have her thoughts elsewhere. As he sat signing letters at the India Board, relieving himself when he was left alone between each batch by standing up with his back to the fireplace, his mind was full of all this. He could not unravel truth quickly, but he could grasp it when it came to him. She was certainly greedy, false, and dishonest. And — worse than all this — she had dared to tell him to his face that he was a poor creature because he would not support her in her greed, and falsehood, and dishonesty! Nevertheless, he was engaged to marry her! Then he thought of one Violet Effingham whom he had loved, and then came over him some suspicion of a fear that he himself was hard and selfish. And yet what was such a one as he to do? It was of course necessary for the maintenance of the very constitution of his country that there should be future Lord Fawns. There could be no future Lord Fawns unless he married; and how could he marry without money? “A peasant can marry whom he pleases,” said Lord Fawn, pressing his hand to his brow, and dropping one flap of his coat, as he thought of his own high and perilous destiny, standing with his back to the fireplace, while a huge pile of letters lay there before him waiting to be signed.
It was a Saturday evening, and as there was no House there was nothing to hurry him away from the office. He was the occupier for the time of a large, well-furnished official room, looking out into St. James’s Park; and as he glanced round it he told himself that his own happiness must be there, and not in the domesticity of a quiet home. The House of Lords, out of which nobody could turn him, and official life — as long as he could hold to it — must be all in all to him. He had engaged himself to this woman, and he must — marry her. He did not think that he could now see any way of avoiding that event. Her income would supply the needs of her home, and then there might probably be a continuation of Lord Fawns. The world might have done better for him — had he been able to find favour in Violet Effingham’s sight. He was a man capable of love, and very capable of constancy to a woman true to him. Then he wiped away a tear as he sat down to sign the huge batch of letters. As he read some special letter in which instructions were conveyed as to the insufficiency of the Sawab’s claims, he thought of Frank Greystock’s attack upon him, and of Frank Greystock’s cousin. There had been a time in which he had feared that the two cousins would become man and wife. At this moment he uttered a malediction against the member for Bobsborough, which might perhaps have been spared had the member been now willing to take the lady off his hands. Then the door was opened, and the messenger told him that Mrs. Hittaway was in the waiting-room. Mrs. Hittaway was, of course, at once made welcome to the Under — Secretary’s own apartment.
Mrs. Hittaway was a strong-minded woman — the strongest-minded probably of the Fawn family — but she had now come upon a task which taxed all her strength to the utmost. She had told her mother that she would tell “Frederic” what she thought about his proposed bride, and she had now come to carry out her threat. She had asked her brother to come and dine with her, but he had declined. His engagements hardly admitted of his dining with his relatives. She had called upon him at the rooms he occupied in Victoria Street, but of course she had not found him. She could not very well go to his club; so now she had hunted him down at his office. From the very commencement of the interview Mrs. Hittaway was strong-minded. She began the subject of the marriage, and did so without a word of congratulation. “Dear Frederic,” she said, “you know that we have all got to look up to you.”
“Well, Clara, what does that mean?”
“It means this — that you must bear with me, if I am more anxious as to your future career than another sister might be.”
“Now I know you are going to say something unpleasant.”
“Yes, I am, Frederic. I have heard so many bad things about Lady Eustace!”
The Under-Secretary sat silent for a while in his great armchair. “What sort of evil things do you mean, Clara?” he asked at last. “Evil things are said of a great many people — as you know. I am sure you would not wish to repeat slanders.”
Mrs. Hittaway was not to be silenced after this fashion. “Not slanders, certainly, Frederic. But when I hear that you intend to raise this lady to the rank and position of your wife, then of course the truth or falsehood of these reports becomes a matter of great moment to us all. Don’t you think you had better see Mr. Camperdown?”
“I have seen him.”
“And what does he say?”
“What should he say? Lady Eustace has, I believe, made some mistake about the condition of her property, and people who have heard it have been good-natured enough to say that the error has been wilful. That is what I call slander, Clara.”
“And you have heard about her jewels?” Mrs. Hittaway was alluding here to the report which had reached her as to Lizzie’s debt to Harter & Benjamin when she married Sir Florian; but Lord Fawn of course thought of the diamond necklace.
“Yes,” said he, “I have heard all about them. Who told you?”
“I have known it ever so long. Sir Florian never got over it.” Lord Fawn was again in the dark, but he did not choose to commit himself by asking further questions. “And then her treatment of Lady Linlithgow, who was her only friend before she married, was something quite unnatural. Ask the dean’s people what they think of her. I believe even they would tell you.”
“Frank Greystock desired to marry her himself.”
“Yes, for her money, perhaps; because he has not got a farthing in the world. Dear Frederic, I only wish to put you on your guard. Of course this is very unpleasant, and I shouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it my duty. I believe she is artful and very false. She certainly deceived Sir Florian Eustace about her debts; and he never held up his head after he found out what she was. If she told you falsehoods, of course you can break it off. Dear Frederic, I hope you won’t be angry with me.”
“Is that all?” he asked.
“Yes, that is all.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” he said. “Of course it isn’t very pleasant.”
“No, I know it is not pleasant,” said Mrs. Hittaway, rising, and taking her departure with an offer of affectionate sisterly greeting, which was not accepted with cordiality.
It was very unpleasant. That very morning Lord Fawn had received letters from the Dean and the Bishop of Bobsborough congratulating him on his intended marriage, both those worthy dignitaries of the Church having thought it expedient to verify Lizzie’s statements. Lord Fawn was, therefore, well aware that Lady Eustace had published the engagement. It was known to everybody, and could not be broken off without public scandal.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14