Frank Greystock escaped from the dovecote before Lady Fawn had returned. He had not made his visit to Richmond with any purpose of seeing Lucy Morris, or of saying to her when he did see her anything special — of saying anything that should, or anything that should not, have been said. He had gone there, in truth, simply because his cousin had asked him, and because it was almost a duty on his part to see his cousin on the momentous occasion of this new engagement. But he had declared to himself that old Lady Fawn was a fool, and that to see Lucy again would be very pleasant. “See her; of course I’ll see her,” he had said. “Why should I be prevented from seeing her?” Now he had seen her, and as he returned by the train to London, he acknowledged to himself that it was no longer in his power to promote his fortune by marriage. He had at last said that to Lucy which made it impossible for him to offer his hand to any other woman. He had not, in truth, asked her to be his wife; but he had told her that he loved her, and could never love any other woman. He had asked for no answer to this assurance, and then he had left her.
In the course of that afternoon he did question himself as to his conduct to this girl, and subjected himself to some of the rigours of a cross-examination. He was not a man who could think of a girl as the one human being whom he loved above all others, and yet look forward with equanimity to the idea of doing her an injury. He could understand that a man unable to marry should be reticent as to his feelings, supposing him to have been weak enough to have succumbed to a passion which could only mar his own prospects. He was frank enough in owning to himself that he had been thus weak. The weakness had come upon himself early in life, and was there, an established fact. The girl was to him unlike any other girl, or any man. There was to him a sweetness in her companionship which he could not analyse. She was not beautiful. She had none of the charms of fashion. He had never seen her well dressed, according to the ideas of dress which he found to be prevailing in the world. She was a little thing, who, as a man’s wife, could attract no attention by figure, form, or outward manner; one who had quietly submitted herself to the position of a governess, and who did not seem to think that in doing so she obtained less than her due. But yet he knew her to be better than all the rest. For him, at any rate, she was better than all the rest. Her little hand was cool and sweet to him. Sometimes, when he was heated and hard at work, he would fancy how it would be with him if she were by him, and would lay it on his brow. There was a sparkle in her eye that had to him more of sympathy in it than could be conveyed by all the other eyes in the world. There was an expression in her mouth when she smiled which was more eloquent to him than any sound. There was a reality and a truth about her which came home to him, and made themselves known to him as firm rocks which could not be shaken. He had never declared to himself that deceit or hypocrisy in a woman was especially abominable. As a rule he looked for it in women, and would say that some amount of affectation was necessary to a woman’s character. He knew that his cousin Lizzie was a little liar — that she was, as Lucy had said, a pretty animal that would turn and bite; and yet he liked his cousin Lizzie. He did not want women to be perfect, so he would say. But Lucy Morris, in his eyes, was perfect, and when he told her that she was ever the queen who reigned in those castles in the air which he built, as others build them, he told her no more than the truth.
He had fallen into these feelings, and could not now avoid them, or be quit of them; but he could have been silent respecting them. He knew that in former days, down at Bobsborough, he had not been altogether silent. When he had first seen her at Fawn Court he had not been altogether silent. But he had been warned away from Fawn Court, and in that very warning there was conveyed, as it were, an absolution from the effect of words hitherto spoken. Though he had called Lady Fawn an old fool, he had known that it was so — had, after a fashion, perceived her wisdom — and had regarded himself as a man free to decide, without disgrace, that he might abandon ideas of ecstatic love and look out for a rich wife. Presuming himself to be reticent for the future in reference to his darling Lucy, he might do as he pleased with himself. Thus there had come a moment in which he had determined that he would ask his rich cousin to marry him. In that little project he had been interrupted, and the reader knows what had come of it. Lord Fawn’s success had not in the least annoyed him. He had only half resolved in regard to his cousin. She was very beautiful no doubt, and there was her income; but he also knew that those teeth would bite and that those claws would scratch. But Lord Fawn’s success had given a turn to his thoughts, and had made him think, for a moment, that if a man loved, he should be true to his love. The reader also knows what had come of that — how at last he had not been reticent. He had not asked Lucy to be his wife; but he had said that which made it impossible that he should marry any other woman without dishonour.
As he thought of what he had done himself, he tried to remember whether Lucy had said a word expressive of affection for himself. She had in truth spoken very few words, and he could remember almost every one of them. “Have I?” she had asked, when he told her that she had ever been the princess reigning in his castles. And there had been a joy in the question which she had not attempted to conceal. She had hesitated not at all. She had not told him that she loved him. But there had been something sweeter than such protestation in the question she had asked him. “Is it indeed true,” she had said, “that I have been placed there where all my joy and all my glory lies?” It was not in her to tell a lie to him, even by a tone. She had intended to say nothing of her love, but he knew that it had all been told. “Have I?” he repeated the words to himself a dozen times, and as he did so, he could hear her voice. Certainly there never was a voice that brought home to the hearer so strong a sense of its own truth!
Why should he not at once make up his mind to marry her? He could do it. There was no doubt of that. It was possible for him to alter the whole manner of his life, to give up his clubs, to give up even Parliament, if the need to do so was there, and to live as a married man on the earnings of his profession. There was no need why he should regard himself as a poor man. Two things, no doubt, were against his regarding himself as a rich man. Ever since he had commenced life in London he had been more or less in debt; and then, unfortunately, he had acquired a seat in Parliament at a period of his career in which the dangers of such a position were greater than the advantages. Nevertheless he could earn an income on which he and his wife, were he to marry, could live in all comfort; and as to his debts, if he would set his shoulder to the work they might be paid off in a twelvemonth. There was nothing in the prospect which would frighten Lucy, though there might be a question whether he possessed the courage needed for so violent a change.
He had chambers in the Temple; he lived in rooms which he hired from month to month in one of the big hotels at the West End; and he dined at his club, or at the House, when he was not dining with a friend. It was an expensive and a luxurious mode of life, and one from the effects of which a man is prone to drift very quickly into selfishness. He was by no means given to drinking, but he was already learning to like good wine. Small economies in reference to cab-hire, gloves, umbrellas, and railway fares, were unknown to him. Sixpences and shillings were things with which, in his mind, it was grievous to have to burden the thoughts. The Greystocks had all lived after that fashion. Even the dean himself was not free from the charge of extravagance. All this Frank knew, and he did not hesitate to tell himself that he must make a great change if he meant to marry Lucy Morris. And he was wise enough to know that the change would become more difficult every day that it was postponed. Hitherto the question had been an open question with him. Could it now be an open question any longer? As a man of honour, was he not bound to share his lot with Lucy Morris?
That evening — that Saturday evening — it so happened that he met John Eustace at a club to which they both belonged, and they dined together. They had long known each other, and had been thrown into closer intimacy by the marriage between Sir Florian and Lizzie. John Eustace had never been fond of Lizzie, and now, in truth, liked her less than ever; but he did like Lizzie’s cousin, and felt that possibly Frank might be of use to him in the growing difficulty of managing the heir’s property and looking after the heir’s interests.
“You’ve let the widow slip through your fingers,” he said to Frank, as they sat together at the table.
“I told you Lord Fawn was to be the lucky man,” said Frank.
“I know you did. I hadn’t seen it. I can only say I wish it had been the other way.”
“Why so? Fawn isn’t a bad fellow.”
“No, not exactly a bad fellow. He isn’t, you know, what I call a good fellow. In the first place, he is marrying her altogether for her money.”
“Which is just what you advised me to do.”
“I thought you really liked her. And then Fawn will be always afraid of her, and won’t be in the least afraid of us. We shall have to fight him, and he won’t fight her. He’s a cantankerous fellow — is Fawn — when he’s not afraid of his adversary.”
“But why should there be any fighting?”
Eustace paused a minute, and rubbed his face and considered the matter before he answered. “She is troublesome, you know,” he said.
“Yes; and I begin to be afraid she’ll give us as much as we know how to do. I was with Camperdown today. I’m blessed if she hasn’t begun to cut down a whole side of a forest at Portray. She has no more right to touch the timber, except for repairs about the place, than you have.”
“And if she lives for fifty years,” asked Greystock, “is none to be cut?”
“Yes — by consent. Of course, the regular cutting for the year is done, year by year. That’s as regular as the rents, and the produce is sold by the acre. But she is marking the old oaks. What the deuce can she want money for?”
“Fawn will put all that right.”
“He’ll have to do it,” said Eustace. “Since she has been down with old Lady Fawn, she has written a note to Camperdown — after leaving all his letters unanswered for the last twelve-month — to tell him that Lord Fawn is to have nothing to do with her property, and that certain people, called Mowbray & Mopus, are her lawyers. Camperdown is in an awful way about it.”
“Lord Fawn will put it all right,” said Frank.
“Camperdown is afraid that he won’t. They’ve met twice since the engagement was made, and Camperdown says that, at the last meeting, Fawn gave himself airs, or was, at any rate, unpleasant. There were words about those diamonds.”
“You don’t mean to say that Lord Fawn wants to keep your brother’s family jewels?”
“Camperdown didn’t say that exactly; but Fawn made no offer of giving them up. I wasn’t there, and only heard what Camperdown told me. Camperdown thinks he’s afraid of her.”
“I shouldn’t wonder at that in the least,” said Frank.
“I know there’ll be trouble,” continued Eustace, “and Fawn won’t be able to help us through it. She’s a strong-willed, cunning, obstinate, clever little creature. Camperdown swears he’ll be too many for her, but I almost doubt it.”
“And therefore you wish I were going to marry her?”
“Yes, I do. You might manage her. The money comes from the Eustace property, and I’d sooner it should go to you than a half-hearted, numb-fingered, cold-blooded Whig like Fawn.”
“I don’t like cunning women,” said Frank.
“As bargains go, it wouldn’t be a bad one,” said Eustace. “She’s very young, has a noble jointure, and is as handsome as she can stand. It’s too good a thing for Fawn; too good for any Whig.”
When Eustace left him, Greystock lit his cigar and walked with it in his mouth from Pall Mall to the Temple. He often worked there at night when he was not bound to be in the House, or when the House was not sitting; and he was now intent on mastering the mysteries of some much-complicated legal case which had been confided to him, in order that he might present it to a jury enveloped in increased mystery. But, as he went, he thought rather of matrimony than of law; and he thought especially of matrimony as it was about to affect Lord Fawn. Could a man be justified in marrying for money, or have rational ground for expecting that he might make himself happy by doing so? He kept muttering to himself as he went the Quaker’s advice to the old farmer, “Doan’t thou marry for munny, but goa where munny is!” But he muttered it as condemning the advice rather than accepting it.
He could look out and see two altogether different kinds of life before him, both of which had their allurements. There was the Belgravia-cum-Pimlico life, the scene of which might extend itself to South Kensington, enveloping the parks and coming round over Park Lane, and through Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square back to Piccadilly. Within this he might live with lords and countesses and rich folk generally, going out to the very best dinner parties, avoiding stupid people, having everything the world could give, except a wife and family and home of his own. All this he could achieve by the work which would certainly fall in his way, and by means of that position in the world which he had already attained by his wits. And the wife, with the family and house of his own, might be forthcoming, should it ever come in his way to form an attachment with a wealthy woman. He knew how dangerous were the charms of such a life as this to a man growing old among the flesh-pots, without any one to depend upon him. He had seen what becomes of the man who is always dining out at sixty. But he might avoid that. “Doan’t thou marry for munny, but goa where munny is.” And then there was that other outlook, the scene of which was laid somewhere north of Oxford Street, and the glory of which consisted in Lucy’s smile, and Lucy’s hand, and Lucy’s kiss, as he returned home weary from his work.
There are many men, and some women, who pass their lives without knowing what it is to be or to have been in love. They not improbably marry — the men do, at least, and make good average husbands. Their wives are useful to them, and they learn to feel that a woman, being a wife, is entitled to all the respect, protection, and honour which a man can give, or procure for her. Such men, no doubt, often live honest lives, are good Christians, and depart hence with hopes as justifiable as though they had loved as well as Romeo. But yet, as men, they have lacked a something, the want of which has made them small, and poor, and dry. It has never been felt by such a one that there would be triumph in giving away everything belonging to him for one little whispered, yielding word, in which there should be acknowledgment that he had succeeded in making himself master of a human heart. And there are other men, very many men, who have felt this love, and have resisted it, feeling it to be unfit that Love should be lord of all. Frank Greystock had told himself, a score of times, that it would be unbecoming in him to allow a passion to obtain such mastery of him as to interfere with his ambition. Could it be right that he who, as a young man, had already done so much, who might possibly have before him so high and great a career, should miss that, because he could not resist a feeling which a little chit of a girl had created in his bosom — a girl without money, without position, without even beauty; a girl as to whom, were he to marry her, the world would say, “Oh, heaven! there has Frank Greystock gone and married a little governess out of old Lady Fawn’s nursery”? And yet he loved her with all his heart, and today he had told her of his love. What should he do next?
The complicated legal case received neither much ravelling nor unravelling from his brains that night; but before he left his chambers he wrote the following letter:
“All among my books and papers,
“2 Bolt Court, Middle Temple.
“DEAR, DEAR LUCY: I told you today that you ever had been the queen who reigned in those palaces which I have built in Spain. You did not make me much of an answer; but such as it was, only just one muttered doubtful-sounding word, it has made me hope that I may be justified in asking you to share with me a home which will not be palatial. If I am wrong —? But no; I will not think I am wrong, or that I can be wrong. No sound coming from you is really doubtful. You are truth itself, and the muttered word would have been other than it was, if you had not ——! may I say, had you not already learned to love me?
“You will feel, perhaps, that I ought to have said all this to you then, and that a letter in such a matter is but a poor substitute for a spoken assurance of affection. You shall have the whole truth. Though I have long loved you, I did not go down to Fawn Court with the purpose of declaring to you my love. What I said to you was God’s truth; but it was spoken without thought at the moment. I have thought of it much since; and now I write to you to ask you to be my wife. I have lived for the last year or two with this hope before me; and now —. Dear, dear Lucy, I will not write in too great confidence; but I will tell you that all my happiness is in your hands.
“If your answer is what I hope it may be, tell Lady Fawn at once. I shall immediately write to Bobsborough, as I hate secrets in such matters. And if it is to be so, then I shall claim the privilege of going to Fawn Court as soon and as often as I please.
“Yours ever and always, if you will have me,
He sat for an hour at his desk, with his letter lying on the table, before he left his chambers, looking at it. If he should decide on posting it, then would that life in Belgravia-cum-Pimlico, of which in truth he was very fond, be almost closed for him. The lords and countesses, and rich county members, and leading politicians, who were delighted to welcome him, would not care for his wife; nor could he very well take his wife among them. To live with them as a married man, he must live as they lived, and must have his own house in their precincts. Later in life, he might possibly work up to this; but for the present he must retire into dim domestic security and the neighbourhood of Regent’s Park. He sat looking at the letter, telling himself that he was now, at this moment, deciding his own fate in life. And he again muttered the Quaker’s advice, “Doan’t thou marry for munny, but goa where munny is!” It may be said, however, that no man ever writes such a letter, and then omits to send it. He walked out of the Temple with it in his hand, and dropped it into a pillar letter-box just outside the gate. As the envelope slipped through his fingers, he felt that he had now bound himself to his fate.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55