As that Saturday afternoon wore itself away, there was much excitement at Fawn Court. When Lady Fawn returned with the carriage, she heard that Frank Greystock had been at Fawn Court; and she heard also, from Augusta, that he had been rambling about the grounds alone with Lucy Morris. At any exhibition of old ladies, held before a competent jury, Lady Fawn would have taken a prize on the score of good-humour. No mother of daughters was ever less addicted to scold and to be fretful. But just now she was a little unhappy. Lizzie’s visit had not been a success, and she looked forward to her son’s marriage with almost unmixed dismay. Mrs. Hittaway had written daily, and in all Mrs. Hittaway’s letters some addition was made to the evil things already known. In her last letter Mrs. Hittaway had expressed her opinion that even yet “Frederic” would escape. All this Lady Fawn had, of course, not told to her daughters generally. To the eldest, Augusta, it was thought expedient to say nothing, because Augusta had been selected as the companion of the, alas, too probable future Lady Fawn. But to Amelia something did leak out, and it became apparent that the household was uneasy. Now, as an evil added to this, Frank Greystock had been there in Lady Fawn’s absence, walking about the grounds alone with Lucy Morris. Lady Fawn could hardly restrain herself. “How could Lucy be so very wrong?” she said, in the hearing both of Augusta and Amelia.
Lizzie Eustace did not hear this; but knowing very well that a governess should not receive a lover in the absence of the lady of the house, she made her little speech about it. “Dear Lady Fawn,” she said, “my cousin Frank came to see me while you were out.”
“So I hear,” said Lady Fawn.
“Frank and I are more like brother and sister than anything else. I had so much to say to him; so much to ask him to do! I have no one else, you know, and I had especially told him to come here.”
“Of course he was welcome to come.”
“Only I was afraid you might think that there was some little lover’s trick — on dear Lucy’s part, you know.”
“I never suspect anything of that kind,” said Lady Fawn, bridling up. “Lucy Morris is above any sort of trick. We don’t have any tricks here, Lady Eustace.” Lady Fawn herself might say that Lucy was “wrong,” but no one else in that house should even suggest evil of Lucy. Lizzie retreated smiling. To have “put Lady Fawn’s back up,” as she called it, was to her an achievement and a pleasure.
But the great excitement of the evening consisted in the expected coming of Lord Fawn. Of what nature would be the meeting between Lord Fawn and his promised bride? Was there anything of truth in the opinion expressed by Mrs. Hittaway that her brother was beginning to become tired of his bargain? That Lady Fawn was tired of it herself — that she disliked Lizzie and was afraid of her, and averse to the idea of regarding her as a daughter-inlaw-she did not now attempt to hide from herself. But there was the engagement, known to all the world, and how could its fulfilment now be avoided? The poor dear old woman began to repeat to herself the first half of the Quaker’s advice, “Doan’t thou marry for munny.”
Lord Fawn was to come down only in time for a late dinner. An ardent lover, one would have thought, might have left his work somewhat earlier on a Saturday, so as to have enjoyed with his sweetheart something of the sweetness of the Saturday summer afternoon; but it was seven before he reached Fawn Court, and the ladies were at that time in their rooms dressing. Lizzie had affected to understand all his reasons for being so late, and had expressed herself as perfectly satisfied. “He has more to do than any of the others,” she had said to Augusta. “Indeed the whole of our vast Indian empire may be said to hang upon him just at present;” which was not complimentary to Lord Fawn’s chief, the Right Honourable Legge Wilson, who at the present time represented the interests of India in the Cabinet. “He is terribly overworked, and it is a shame; but what can one do?”
“I think he likes work,” Augusta had replied.
“But I don’t like it, not so much of it; and so I shall make him understand, my dear. But I don’t complain. As long as he tells me everything, I will never really complain.” Perhaps it might some day be as she desired; perhaps as a husband he would be thoroughly confidential and communicative; perhaps when they two were one flesh he would tell her everything about India; but as yet he certainly had not told her much.
“How had they better meet?” Amelia asked her mother.
“Oh, I don’t know; anyhow; just as they like. We can’t arrange anything for her. If she had chosen to dress herself early, she might have seen him as he came in; but it was impossible to tell her so.” No arrangement was therefore made, and as all the other ladies were in the drawing-room before Lizzie came down, she had to give him his welcome in the midst of the family circle. She did it very well. Perhaps she had thought of it, and made her arrangements. When he came forward to greet her, she put her cheek up, just a little, so that he might see that he was expected to kiss it; but so little that should he omit to do so, there might be no visible awkwardness. It must be acknowledged on Lizzie’s behalf, that she could always avoid awkwardness. He did touch her cheek with his lips, blushing as he did so. She had her ungloved hand in his, and, still holding him, returned into the circle. She said not a word; and what he said was of no moment; but they had met as lovers, and any of the family who had allowed themselves to imagine that even yet the match might be broken, now unconsciously abandoned that hope.
“Was he always such a truant, Lady Fawn?” Lizzie asked, when it seemed to her that no one else would speak a word.
“I don’t know that there is much difference,” said Lady Fawn. “Here is dinner. Frederic, will you give — Lady Eustace your arm?” Poor Lady Fawn! It often came to pass that she was awkward.
There were no less than ten females sitting round the board at the bottom of which Lord Fawn took his place. Lady Fawn had especially asked Lucy to come in to dinner, and with Lucy had come the two younger girls. At Lord Fawn’s right hand sat Lizzie, and Augusta at his left. Lady Fawn had Amelia on one side and Lucy on the other. “So Mr. Greystock was here today,” Lady Fawn whispered into Lucy’s ear.
“Yes; he was here.”
“I did not bid him come, Lady Fawn.”
“I am sure of that, my dear; but — but ——” Then there was no more said on that subject on that occasion.
During the whole of the dinner the conversation was kept up at the other end of the table by Lizzie talking to Augusta across her lover. This was done in such a manner as to seem to include Lord Fawn in every topic discussed. Parliament, India, the Sawab, Ireland, the special privileges of the House of Lords, the ease of a bachelor life, and the delight of having at his elbow just such a rural retreat as Fawn Court — these were the fruitful themes of Lizzie’s eloquence. Augusta did her part at any rate with patience; and as for Lizzie herself, she worked with that superhuman energy which women can so often display in making conversation under unfavourable circumstances. The circumstances were unfavourable, for Lord Fawn himself would hardly open his mouth; but Lizzie persevered, and the hour of dinner passed over without any show of ill-humour or of sullen silence. When the hour was over, Lord Fawn left the room with the ladies, and was soon closeted with his mother, while the girls strolled out upon the lawn. Would Lizzie play croquet? No; Lizzie would not play croquet. She thought it probable that she might catch her lover and force him to walk with her through the shrubberies; but Lord Fawn was not seen upon the lawn that evening, and Lizzie was forced to content herself with Augusta as a companion. In the course of the evening, however, her lover did say a word to her in private. “Give me ten minutes tomorrow between breakfast and church, Lizzie.” Lizzie promised that she would do so, smiling sweetly. Then there was a little music, and then Lord Fawn retired to his studies.
“What is he going to say to me?” Lizzie asked Augusta the next morning. There existed in her bosom a sort of craving after confidential friendship, but with it there existed something that was altogether incompatible with confidence. She thoroughly despised Augusta Fawn, and yet would have been willing — in want of a better friend — to press Augusta to her bosom and swear that there should ever be between them the tenderest friendship. She desired to be the possessor of the outward shows of all those things of which the inward facts are valued by the good and steadfast ones of the earth. She knew what were the aspirations, what the ambition, of an honest woman; and she knew, too, how rich were the probable rewards of such honesty. True love, true friendship, true benevolence, true tenderness, were beautiful to her, qualities on which she could descant almost with eloquence; and therefore she was always shamming love and friendship and benevolence and tenderness. She could tell you, with words most appropriate to the subject, how horrible were all shams, and in saying so would be not altogether insincere. Yet she knew that she herself was ever shamming, and she satisfied herself with shams. “What is he going to say to me?” she asked Augusta, with her hands clasped, when she went up to put her bonnet on after breakfast.
“To fix the day, I suppose,” said Augusta.
“If I thought so, I would endeavour to please him. But it isn’t that. I know his manner so well! I am sure it is not that. Perhaps it is something about my boy. He will not wish to separate a mother from her child.”
“Oh dear, no,” said Augusta. “I am sure Frederic will not want to do that.”
“In anything else I will obey him,” said Lizzie, again clasping her hands. “But I must not keep him waiting, must I? I fear my future lord is somewhat impatient.” Now, if among Lord Fawn’s merits one merit was more conspicuous than another, it was that of patience. When Lizzie descended, he was waiting for her in the hall without a thought that he was being kept too long. “Now, Frederic! I should have been with you two whole minutes since, if I had not had just a word to say to Augusta. I do so love Augusta.”
“She is a very good girl,” said Lord Fawn.
“So true and genuine, and so full of spirit. I will come on the other side because of my parasol and the sun. There, that will do. We have an hour nearly before going to church; haven’t we? I suppose you will go to church.”
“I intend it,” said Lord Fawn.
“It is so nice to go to church,” said Lizzie. Since her widowhood had commenced she had compromised matters with the world. One Sunday she would go to church and the next she would have a headache and a French novel and stay in bed. But she was prepared for stricter conduct during at least the first months of her newly-married life.
“My dear Lizzie,” began Lord Fawn, “since I last saw you I have been twice with Mr. Camperdown.”
“You are not going to talk about Mr. Camperdown today?”
“Well; yes. I could not do so last night, and I shall be back in London either to-night or before you are up tomorrow morning.”
“I hate the very name of Mr. Camperdown,” said Lizzie.
“I am sorry for that, because I am sure you could not find an honester lawyer to manage your affairs for you. He does everything for me, and so he did for Sir Florian Eustace.”
“That is just the reason why I employ some one else,” she answered.
“Very well. I am not going to say a word about that. I may regret it, but I am, just at present, the last person in the world to urge you upon that subject. What I want to say is this. You must restore those diamonds.”
“To whom shall I restore them?”
“To Mr. Garnett the silversmith, if you please, or to Mr. Camperdown; or, if you like it better, to your brother-inlaw, Mr. John Eustace.”
“And why am I to give up my own property?”
Lord Fawn paused for some seconds before he replied. “To satisfy my honour,” he then said. As she made him no immediate answer he continued. “It would not suit my views that my wife should be seen wearing the jewels of the Eustace family.”
“I don’t want to wear them,” said Lizzie.
“Then why should you desire to keep them?”
“Because they are my own. Because I do not choose to be put upon. Because I will not allow such a cunning old snake as Mr. Camperdown to rob me of my property. They are my own, and you should defend my right to them.”
“Do you mean to say that you will not oblige me by doing what I ask you?”
“I will not be robbed of what is my own,” said Lizzie.
“Then I must declare”— and now Lord Fawn spoke very slowly —“then I must declare that under these circumstances, let the consequences be what they may, I must retreat from the enviable position which your favour has given me.” The words were cold and solemn, and were ill-spoken; but they were deliberate, and had been indeed actually learned by heart.
“What do you mean?” said Lizzie, flashing round upon him.
“I mean what I say, exactly. But perhaps it may be well that I should explain my motives more clearly.”
“I don’t know anything about motives, and I don’t care anything about motives. Do you mean to tell me that you have come here to threaten me with deserting me?”
“You had better hear me.”
“I don’t choose to hear a word more after what you have said, unless it be in the way of an apology, or retracting your most injurious accusation.”
“I have said nothing to retract,” said Lord Fawn solemnly.
“Then I will not hear another word from you. I have friends and you shall see them.”
Lord Fawn, who had thought a great deal upon the subject and had well understood that this interview would be for him one of great difficulty, was very anxious to induce her to listen to a few further words of explanation. “Dear Lizzie,” he began.
“I will not be addressed, sir, in that way by a man who is treating me as you are doing,” she said.
“But I want you to understand me.”
“Understand you! You understand nothing yourself that a man ought to understand. I wonder that you have the courage to be so insolent. If you knew what you were doing, you would not have the spirit to do it.”
Her words did not quite come home to him, and much of her scorn was lost upon him. He was now chiefly anxious to explain to her that though he must abide by the threat he had made, he was quite willing to go on with his engagement if she would oblige him in the matter of the diamonds. “It was necessary that I should explain to you that I could not allow that necklace to be brought into my house.”
“No one thought of taking it to your house.”
“What were you to do with it, then?”
“Keep it in my own,” said Lizzie stoutly. They were still walking together, and were now altogether out of sight of the house. Lizzie in her excitement had forgotten church, had forgotten the Fawn women — had forgotten everything except the battle which it was necessary that she should fight for herself. She did not mean to allow the marriage to be broken off, but she meant to retain the necklace. The manner in which Lord Fawn had demanded its restitution — in which there had been none of that mock tenderness by which she might have permitted herself to be persuaded — had made her, at any rate for the moment, as firm as steel on this point. It was inconceivable to her that he should think himself at liberty to go back from his promise because she would not render up property which was in her possession, and which no one could prove not to be legally her own! She walked on full of fierce courage, despising him, but determined that she would marry him.
“I am afraid we do not understand each other,” he said at last.
“Certainly I do not understand you, sir.”
“Will you allow my mother to speak to you on the subject?”
“No. If I told your mother to give up her diamonds, what would she say?”
“But they are not yours, Lady Eustace, unless you will submit that question to an arbitrator.”
“I will submit nothing to anybody. You have no right to speak on such a subject till after we are married.”
“I must have it settled first, Lady Eustace.”
“Then, Lord Fawn, you won’t have it settled first. Or rather it is settled already. I shall keep my own necklace, and Mr. Camperdown may do anything he pleases. As for you, if you ill-treat me, I shall know where to go to.”
They had now come out from the shrubbery upon the lawn, and there was the carriage at the door, ready to take the elders of the family to church. Of course in such a condition of affairs it would be understood that Lizzie was one of the elders.
“I shall not go to church now,” she said, as she advanced across the lawn toward the hall door. “You will be pleased, Lord Fawn, to let your mother know that I am detained. I do not suppose that you will dare to tell her why.” Then she sailed round at the back of the carriage and entered the hall, in which several of the girls were standing. Among them was Augusta, waiting to take her seat among the elders; but Lizzie passed on through them all, without a word, and marched up to her bedroom.
“Oh, Frederic, what is the matter?” said Augusta, as soon as her brother entered the house.
“Never mind. Nothing is the matter. You had better go to church. Where is my mother?”
At this moment Lady Fawn appeared at the bottom of the stairs, having passed Lizzie as she was coming down. Not a syllable had then been spoken, but Lady Fawn at once knew that much was wrong. Her son went up to her and whispered a word in her ear. “Oh, certainly,” she said, desisting from the operation of pulling on her gloves. “Augusta, neither your brother nor I will go to church.”
“Nor — Lady Eustace?”
“It seems not,” said Lady Fawn.
“Lady Eustace will not go to church,” said Lord Fawn.
“And where is Lucy?” asked Lydia.
“She will not go to church either,” said Lady Fawn. “I have just been with her.”
“Nobody is going to church,” said Nina. “All the same, I shall go myself.”
“Augusta, my dear, you and the girls had better go. You can take the carriage of course.” But Augusta and the girls chose to walk, and the carriage was sent round into the yard.
“There’s a rumpus already between my lord and the young missus,” said the coachman to the groom; for the coachman had seen the way in which Lady Eustace had returned to the house. And there certainly was a rumpus. During the whole morning Lord Fawn was closeted with his mother, and then he went away to London without saying a word to any one of the family. But he left this note for Lady Eustace:
“DEAREST LIZZIE: Think well of what I have said to you. It is not that I desire to break off our engagement; but that I cannot allow my wife to keep the diamonds which belong of right to her late husband’s family. You may be sure that I should not be thus urgent had I not taken steps to ascertain that I am right in my judgment. In the mean time you had better consult my mother.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14