There had been another “affair” in the house that morning, though of a nature very different to the “rumpus” which had occurred between Lord Fawn and Lady Eustace. Lady Fawn had been closeted with Lucy, and had expressed her opinion of the impropriety of Frank Greystock’s visit. “I suppose he came to see his cousin,” said Lady Fawn, anxious to begin with some apology for such conduct.
“I cannot tell,” said Lucy. “Perhaps he did. I think he said so. I think he cared more to see me.” Then Lady Fawn was obliged to express her opinion, and she did so, uttering many words of wisdom. Frank Greystock, had he intended to sacrifice his prospects by a disinterested marriage, would have spoken out before now. He was old enough to have made up his mind on such a subject, and he had not spoken out. He did not mean marriage. That was quite evident to Lady Fawn; and her dear Lucy was revelling in hopes which would make her miserable. If Lucy could only have known of the letter, which was already her own property though lying in the pillar letter-box in Fleet Street, and which had not already been sent down and delivered simply because it was Sunday morning! But she was very brave. “He does love me,” she said. “He told me so.”
“Oh, Lucy, that is worse and worse. A man to tell you that he loves you, and yet not ask you to be his wife!”
“I am contented,” said Lucy. That assertion, however, could hardly have been true.
“Contented! And did you tell him that you returned his love?”
“He knew it without my telling him,” said Lucy. It was so hard upon her that she should be so interrogated while that letter was lying in the iron box!
“Dear Lucy, this must not be,” said Lady Fawn. “You are preparing for yourself inexpressible misery.”
“I have done nothing wrong, Lady Fawn.”
“No, my dear — no. I do not say you have been wrong. But I think he is wrong — so wrong! I call it wicked. I do indeed. For your own sake you should endeavour to forget him.”
“I will never forget him,” said Lucy. “To think of him is everything to me. He told me I was his Queen, and he shall be my King. I will be loyal to him always.” To poor Lady Fawn this was very dreadful. The girl persisted in declaring her love for the man, and yet did not even pretend to think that the man meant to marry her! And this, too, was Lucy Morris — of whom Lady Fawn was accustomed to say to her intimate friends that she had altogether ceased to look upon her as a governess. “Just one of ourselves, Mrs. Winslow, and almost as dear as one of my own girls!” Thus, in the warmth of her heart, she had described Lucy to a neighbour within the last week. Many more words of wisdom she spoke, and then she left poor Lucy in no mood for church. Would she have been in a better mood for the morning service had she known of the letter in the iron post?
Then Lady Fawn had put on her bonnet and gone down into the hall, and the “rumpus” had come. After that, everybody in the house knew that all things were astray. When the girls came home from church their brother was gone. Half an hour before dinner Lady Fawn sent the note up to Lizzie, with a message to say that they would dine at three — it being Sunday. Lizzie sent down word that as she was unwell she would ask to have just a cup of tea and “something” sent to her own room. If Lady Fawn would allow her, she would remain up-stairs with her child. She always made use of her child when troubles came.
The afternoon was very sad and dreary. Lady Fawn had an interview with Lady Eustace, but Lizzie altogether refused to listen to any advice on the subject of the necklace. “It is an affair,” she said haughtily, “in which I must judge for myself — or with the advice of my own particular friends. Had Lord Fawn waited until we were married; then indeed —!”
“But that would have been too late,” said Lady Fawn severely.
“He is, at any rate, premature now in laying his commands upon me,” said Lizzie. Lady Fawn, who was perhaps more anxious that the marriage should be broken off than that the jewels should be restored, then withdrew; and as she left the room Lizzie clasped her boy to her bosom. “He, at any rate, is left to me,” she said. Lucy and the Fawn girls went to evening church, and afterwards Lizzie came down among them when they were at tea. Before she went to bed Lizzie declared her intention of returning to her own house in Mount Street on the following day. To this Lady Fawn of course made no objection.
On the next morning there came an event which robbed Lizzie’s departure of some of the importance which might otherwise have been attached to it. The post-office, with that accuracy in the performance of its duties for which it is conspicuous among all offices, caused Lucy’s letter to be delivered to her while the members of the family were sitting round the breakfast table. Lizzie, indeed, was not there. She had expressed her intention of breakfasting in her own room, and had requested that a conveyance might be ready to take her to the 11:30 train. Augusta had been with her, asking whether anything could be done for her. “I care for nothing now, except my child,” Lizzie had replied. As the nurse and the lady’s maid were both in the room, Augusta, of course, could say nothing further. That occurred after prayers, and while the tea was being made. When Augusta reached the breakfast-room Lucy was cutting up the loaf of bread, and at the same moment the old butler was placing a letter immediately under her eyes. She saw the handwriting and recognised it, but yet she finished cutting the bread. “Lucy, do give me that hunchy bit,” said Nina.
“Hunchy is not in the dictionary,” said Cecilia.
“I want it in my plate, and not in the dictionary,” said Nina.
Lucy did as she was asked, but her hand trembled as she gave the hunch, and Lady Fawn saw that her face was crimson. She took the letter and broke the envelope, and as she drew out the sheet of paper she looked up at Lady Fawn. The fate of her whole life was in her hands, and there she was standing with all their eyes fixed upon her. She did not even know how to sit down, but, still standing, she read the first and last words, “Dear, dear Lucy,”—“Yours ever and always, if you will have me, F. G.” She did not want to read any more of it then. She sat down slowly, put the precious paper back into its envelope, looked round upon them all, and knew that she was crimson to the roots of her hair, blushing like a guilty thing.
“Lucy, my dear,” said Lady Fawn — and Lucy at once turned her face full upon her old friend —“you have got a letter that agitates you.”
“Yes, I have,” she said.
“Go into the book-room. You can come back to breakfast when you have read it, you know.” Thereupon Lucy rose from her seat, and retired with her treasure into the book-room. But even when she was there she could not at once read her letter. When the door was closed and she knew that she was alone she looked at it, and then clasped it tight between her hands. She was almost afraid to read it least the letter itself should contradict the promise which the last words of it had seemed to convey to her. She went up to the window and stood there gazing out upon the gravel road, with her hand containing the letter pressed upon her heart. Lady Fawn had told her that she was preparing for herself inexpressible misery; and now there had come to her joy so absolutely inexpressible! “A man to tell you that he loves you, and yet not ask you to be his wife!” She repeated to herself Lady Fawn’s words, and then those other words, “Yours ever and always, if you will have me!” Have him, indeed! She threw from her, at once, as vain and wicked and false, all idea of coying her love. She would leap at his neck if he were there, and tell him that for years he had been almost her god. And of course he knew it. “If I will have him! Traitor!” she said to herself, smiling through her tears. Then she reflected that after all it would be well that she should read the letter. There might be conditions; though what conditions could he propose with which she would not comply? However, she seated herself in a corner of the room and did read the letter. As she read it, she hardly understood it all; but she understood what she wanted to understand. He asked her to share with him his home. He had spoken to her that day without forethought; but mustn’t such speech be the truest and the sweetest of all speeches? “And now I write to you to ask you to be my wife.” Oh, how wrong some people can be in their judgments! How wrong Lady Fawn had been in hers about Frank Greystock! “For the last year or two I have lived with this hope before me.” “And so have I,” said Lucy. “And so have I; with that and no other.” “Too great confidence! Traitor,” she said again, smiling and weeping, “yes, traitor; when of course you knew it.” “Is his happiness in my hands? Oh, then he shall be happy.” “Of course I will tell Lady Fawn at once — instantly. Dear Lady Fawn! But yet she has been so wrong. I suppose she will let him come here. But what does it matter, now that I know it? “Yours ever and always, if you will have me. F. G.” Traitor, traitor, traitor!” Then she got up and walked about the room, not knowing what she did, holding the letter now between her hands, and then pressing it to her lips.
She was still walking about the room when there came a low tap at the door, and Lady Fawn entered. “There is nothing the matter, Lucy?” Lucy stood stock still, with her treasure still clasped, smiling, almost laughing, while the tears ran down her cheeks. “Won’t you eat your breakfast, my dear?” said Lady Fawn.
“Oh, Lady Fawn! Oh, Lady Fawn!” said Lucy, rushing into her friend’s arms.
“What is it, Lucy? I think our little wise one has lost her wits.”
“Oh, Lady Fawn, he has asked me!”
“Is it Mr. Greystock?”
“Yes; Mr. Greystock. He has asked me. He has asked me to be his wife. I thought he loved me. I hoped he did at least. Oh dear, I did so hope it. And he does.”
“Has he proposed to you?”
“Yes, Lady Fawn. I told you what he said to me. And then he went and wrote this. Is he not noble and good, and so kind? You shall read it, but you’ll give it me back, Lady Fawn?”
“Certainly I’ll give it you back. You don’t think I’d rob you of your lover’s letter?”
“Perhaps you might think it right.”
“If it is really an offer of marriage — — ” said Lady Fawn very seriously.
“It couldn’t be more of an offer if he had sat writing it for ever,” said Lucy as she gave up her letter with confidence. Lady Fawn read it with leisurely attention, and smiled as she put the paper back into the envelope. “All the men in the world couldn’t say it more plainly,” said Lucy, nodding her head forward.
“I don’t think they could,” said Lady Fawn. “I never read anything plainer in my life. I wish you joy with all my heart, Lucy. There is not a word to be said against him.”
“Against him!” said Lucy, who thought that this was very insufficient praise.
“What I mean is that when I objected to his coming here I was only afraid that he couldn’t afford, or would think, you know, that in his position he couldn’t afford to marry a wife without a fortune.”
“He may come now, Lady Fawn?”
“Well, yes; I think so. I shall be glad just to say a word to him. Of course you are in my hands, and I do love you so dearly, Lucy! I could not bear that anything but good should happen to you.”
“This is good,” said Lucy.
“It won’t be good, and Mr. Greystock won’t think you good, if you don’t come and eat your breakfast.” So Lucy was led back into the parlour, and sipped her tea and crunched her toast, while Lydia came and stood over her.
“Of course it is from him,” whispered Lydia. Lucy again nodded her head while she was crunching her toast.
The fact that Mr. Greystock had proposed in form to Lucy Morris was soon known to all the family, and the news certainly did take away something from the importance which would otherwise have been attached to Lizzie’s departure. There was not the same awe of the ceremony, the same dread of some scene, which, but for Frank Greystock’s letter, would have existed. Of course Lord Fawn’s future matrimonial prospects were to them all an affair of more moment than those of Lucy; but Lord Fawn himself had gone, and had already quarrelled with the lady before he went. There was at present nothing more to be done by them in regard to Lizzie than just to get rid of her. But Lucy’s good fortune, so unexpected, and by her so frankly owned as the very best fortune in the world that could have befallen her, gave an excitement to them all. There could be no lessons that morning for Nina, and the usual studies of the family were altogether interrupted. Lady Fawn purred, and congratulated, and gave good advice, and declared that any other home for Lucy before her marriage would now be quite out of the question. “Of course it wouldn’t do for you to go, even to Clara,” said Lady Fawn, who seemed to think that there still might be some delay before Frank Greystock would be ready for his wife. “You know, my dear, that he isn’t rich; not for a member of Parliament. I suppose he makes a good income, but I have always heard that he was a little backward when he began. Of course, you know, nobody need be in a hurry.” Then Lucy began to think that if Frank should wish to postpone his marriage, say for three or four years, she might even yet become a burden on her friend. “But don’t you be frightened,” continued Lady Fawn; “you shall never want a home as long as I have one to give you. We shall soon find out what are Mr. Greystock’s ideas; and unless he is very unreasonable we’ll make things fit.”
Then there came a message to Lucy from Lady Eustace. “If you please, Miss, Lady Eustace will be glad to see you for a minute up in her room before she starts.” So Lucy was torn away from the thoughts of her own happiness, and taken upstairs to Lady Eustace. “You have heard that I am going?” said Lizzie.
“Yes; I heard you were to go this morning.”
“And you have heard why? I’m sure you will not deceive me, Lucy. Where am I to look for truth, if not to an old, old friend like you?”
“Why should I deceive you, Lizzie?”
“Why, indeed? Only that all people do. The world is so false, so material, so worldly! One gives out one’s heart and gets in return nothing but dust and ashes — nothing but ashes and dust. Oh, I have been so disappointed in Lady Fawn.”
“You know she is my dearest friend,” said Lucy.
“Pshaw! I know that you have worked for her like a slave, and that she has paid you a bare pittance.”
“She has been more like a mother to me than anything else,” said Lucy angrily.
“Because you have been tame. It does not suit me to be tame. It is not my plan to be tame. Have you heard the cause of the disagreement between Lord Fawn and me?”
“Well — no.”
“Tell the truth, Lucy.”
“How dare you tell me to tell the truth? Of course I tell the truth. I believe it is something about some property which he wants you to give back to somebody; but I don’t know any more.”
“Yes, my dear husband, Sir Florian, who understood me — whom I idolised — who seemed to have been made for me — gave me a present. Lord Fawn is pleased to say that he does not approve of my keeping any gift from my late lord. Considering that he intends to live upon the wealth which Sir Florian was generous enough to bestow upon me, this does seem to be strange! Of course I resented such interference. Would not you have resented it?”
“I don’t know,” said Lucy, who thought that she could bring herself to comply with any request made to her by Frank Greystock.
“Any woman who had a spark of spirit would resent it, and I have resented it. I have told Lord Fawn that I will on no account part with the rich presents which my adored Florian showered upon me in his generosity. It is not for their richness that I keep them, but because they are, for his sake, so inexpressively dear to me. If Lord Fawn chooses to be jealous of a necklace, he must be jealous.” Lucy, who had in truth heard but a small fragment of the story — just so much of it as Lydia had learned from the discreet Amelia, who herself had but a very hazy idea of the facts — did not quite know how much of the tale, as it was now told to her, might be true and how much false. After a certain fashion she and Lizzie Eustace called themselves friends. But she did not believe her friend to be honest, and was aware that in some matters her friend would condescend — to fib. Lizzie’s poetry, and romance, and high feelings had never had the ring of true soundness in Lucy’s ears. But her imagination was not strong enough to soar to the altitude of the lies which Lizzie was now telling. She did believe that the property which Lizzie was called upon to restore was held to be objectionable by Lord Fawn simply because it had reached Lizzie from the hands of her late husband. “What do you think of such conduct as that?” asked Lady Eustace.
“Won’t it do if you lock them up instead of wearing them?” asked Lucy.
“I have never dreamed of wearing them.”
“I don’t understand about such things,” said Lucy, determined not to impute any blame to one of the Fawn family.
“It is tyranny, sheer tyranny,” continued the other, “and he will find that I am not the woman to yield to it. No. For love I could give up everything — but nothing from fear. He has told me in so many words that he does not intend to go on with his engagement!”
“Has he indeed?”
“But I intend that he shall. If he thinks that I am going to be thrown over because he takes ideas of that kind into his head, he’s mistaken. He shall know that I’m not to be made a plaything of like that. I’ll tell you what you can do for me, Lucy.”
“What can I do for you?”
“There is no one in the world I trust more thoroughly than I do you,” said Lizzie, “and hardly any one that I love so well. Think how long we have known each other! And you may be sure of this: I always have been, and always will be, your friend with my cousin Frank.”
“I don’t want anything of that kind,” said Lucy, “and never did.”
“Nobody has so much influence with Frank as I. Just do you write to me tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after, a mere line, you know, to tell me how the land lies here.”
“There will be nothing to tell.”
“Yes, there will — ever so much. They will be talking about me every hour. If you’ll be true to me, Lucy, in this business, I’ll make you the handsomest present you ever saw in your life. I’ll give you a hundred-guinea brooch; I will, indeed. You shall have the money and buy it yourself.”
“A what!” said Lucy.
“A hundred guineas to do what you please with!”
“You mean thing!” said Lucy. “I didn’t think there was a woman so mean as that in the world. I’m not surprised now at Lord Fawn. Pick up what I hear and send it you in letters, and then be paid money for it!”
“Why not? It’s all to do good.”
“How can you have thought to ask me to do such a thing? How can you bring yourself to think so badly of people? I’d sooner cut my hand off; and as for you, Lizzie, I think you are mean and wicked to conceive such a thing. And now good-by.” So saying, she left the room, giving her dear friend no time for further argument.
Lady Eustace got away that morning, not in time, indeed, for the 11:30 train, but at such an hour as to make it unnecessary that she should appear at the early dinner. The saying of farewell was very cold and ceremonious. Of course there was no word as to any future visit — no word as to any future events whatever. They all shook hands with her, and special injunctions were given to the coachman to drive her safely to the station. At this ceremony Lucy was not present. Lydia had asked her to come down and say good-by; but Lucy refused. “I saw her in her own room,” said Lucy.
“And was it all very affectionate?” Lydia asked.
“Well, no; it was not affectionate at all.” This was all that Lucy said, and thus Lady Eustace completed her visit to Fawn Court.
The letters were taken away for the post at eight o’clock in the evening, and before that time it was necessary that Lucy should write to her lover. “Lady Fawn,” she said in a whisper, “may I tell him to come here?”
“Certainly, my dear. You had better tell him to call on me. Of course he’ll see you, too, when he comes,”
“I think he’d want to see me,” said Lucy, “and I’m sure I should want to see him.” Then she wrote her answer to Frank’s letter. She allowed herself an hour for the happy task; but, though the letter when written was short, the hour hardly sufficed for the writing of it.
“DEAR MR. GREYSTOCK:”— There was matter for her of great consideration before she could get even so far as this; but after biting her pen for ten minutes, during which she pictured to herself how pleasant it would be to call him Frank when he should have told her to do so, and had found, upon repeated whispered trials, that of all names it was the pleasantest to pronounce, she decided upon refraining from writing it now —“Lady Fawn has seen your letter to me — the dearest letter that ever was written — and she says that you may call upon her. But you mustn’t go away without seeing me too.” Then there was great difficulty as to the words to be used by her for the actual rendering herself up to him as his future wife. At last the somewhat too Spartan simplicity of her nature prevailed, and the words were written very plain, and very short. “I love you better than all the world, and I will be your wife. It shall be the happiness of my life to try to deserve you.
“I am, with all my heart,
“Most affectionately your own
When it was written it did not content her. But the hour was over, and the letters must go. “I suppose it’ll do,” she said to herself. “He’ll know what it means.” And so the letter was sent.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01