There were circumstances in her position which made it impossible that Lizzie Greystock, or Lady Eustace, as we must now call her, should be left altogether to herself in the modest widow’s retreat which she had found at Brighton. It was then April, and it was known that if all things went well with her she would be a mother before the summer was over. On what the Fates might ordain in this matter immense interests were dependent. If a son should be born he would inherit everything, subject, of course, to his mother’s settlement. If a daughter, to her would belong the great personal wealth which Sir Florian had owned at the time of his death. Should there be no son, John Eustace, the brother, would inherit the estates in Yorkshire which had been the backbone of the Eustace wealth. Should no child be born, John Eustace would inherit everything that had not been settled upon or left to the widow. Sir Florian had made a settlement immediately before his marriage, and a will immediately afterwards. Of what he had done then, nothing had been altered in those sad Italian days. The settlement had been very generous. The whole property in Scotland was to belong to Lizzie for her life, and after her death was to go to a second son, if such second son there should be. By the will money was left to her — more than would be needed for any possible temporary emergency. When she knew how it all was arranged, as far as she did know it, she was aware that she was a rich woman. For so clever a woman she was infinitely ignorant as to the possession and value of money and land and income, though, perhaps, not more ignorant than are most young girls under twenty-one. As for the Scotch property, she thought that it was her own forever, because there could not now be a second son, and yet was not quite sure whether it would be her own at all if she had no son. Concerning that sum of money left to her, she did not know whether it was to come out of the Scotch property or be given to her separately, and whether it was to come annually or to come only once. She had received, while still in Naples, a letter from the family lawyer, giving her such details of the will as it was necessary that she should know, and now she longed to ask questions, to have her belongings made plain to her, and to realise her wealth. She had brilliant prospects; and yet, through it all, there was a sense of loneliness that nearly killed her. Would it not have been much better if her husband would have lived, and still worshipped her, and still allowed her to read poetry to him? But she had read no poetry to him after that affair of Messrs. Harter & Benjamin.
This has, or will have, but little to do with these days, and may be hurried on through the twelve, or even twenty-four, months which followed the death of poor Sir Florian. The question of the heirship, however, was very grave; and early in the month of May, Lady Eustace was visited by her husband’s uncle, Bishop Eustace, of Bobsborough. The bishop had been the younger brother of Sir Florian’s father, was at this time about fifty, very active and very popular, and was one who stood high in the world, even among bishops. He suggested to his niece-inlaw that it was very expedient that, during her coming hour of trial, she should not absent herself from her husband’s family, and at last persuaded her to take up her residence at the palace at Bobsborough till such time as the event should be over. Lady Eustace was taken to the palace, and in due time a son was born. John, who was now the uncle of the heir, came down, and, with the frankest good-humour, declared that he would devote himself to the little head of the family. He had been left as guardian, and the management of the great family estates was to be in his hands. Lizzie had read no poetry to him, and he had never liked her, and the bishop did not like her, and the ladies of the bishop’s family disliked her very much, and it was thought by them that the dean’s people — the Dean of Bobsborough was Lizzie’s uncle — were not very fond of Lizzie since Lizzie had so raised herself in the world as to want no assistance from them. But still they were bound to do their duty by her as the widow of the late and the mother of the present baronet. And they did not find much cause of complaining as to Lizzie’s conduct in these days. In that matter of the great family diamond necklace, which certainly should not have been taken to Naples at all, and as to which the jeweller had told the lawyer and the lawyer had told John Eustace that it certainly should not now be detained among the widow’s own private property, the bishop strongly recommended that nothing should be said at present. The mistake, if there was a mistake, could be remedied at any time. And nothing in those very early days was said about the great Eustace necklace which afterwards became so famous.
Why Lizzie should have been so generally disliked by the Eustaces it might be hard to explain. While she remained at the palace she was very discreet, and perhaps demure. It may be said they disliked her expressed determination to cut her aunt, Lady Linlithgow; for they knew that Lady Linlithgow had been, at any rate, a friend to Lizzie Greystock. There are people who can be wise within a certain margin, but beyond that commit great imprudences. Lady Eustace submitted herself to the palace people for that period of her prostration, but she could not hold her tongue as to her future intentions. She would, too, now and then ask of Mrs. Eustace and even of her daughter an eager, anxious question about her own property. “She is dying to handle her money,” said Mrs. Eustace to the bishop. “She is only like the rest of the world in that,” said the bishop. “If she would be really open, I wouldn’t mind it,” said Mrs. Eustace. None of them liked her, and she did not like them.
She remained at the palace for six months, and at the end of that time she went to her own place in Scotland. Mrs. Eustace had strongly advised her to ask her aunt, Lady Linlithgow, to accompany her, but in refusing to do this Lizzie was quite firm. She had endured Lady Linlithgow for that year between her father’s death and her marriage; she was now beginning to dare to hope for the enjoyment of the good things which she had won, and the presence of the dowager countess, “the vulturess,” was certainly not one of these good things. In what her enjoyment was to consist, she had not as yet quite formed a definite conclusion. She liked jewels. She liked admiration. She liked the power of being arrogant to those around her. And she liked good things to eat. But there were other matters that were also dear to her. She did like music, though it may be doubted whether she would ever play it or even listen to it alone. She did like reading, and especially the reading of poetry, though even in this she was false and pretentious, skipping, pretending to have read, lying about books, and making up her market of literature for outside admiration at the easiest possible cost of trouble. And she had some dream of being in love, and would take delight even in building castles in the air, which she would people with friends and lovers whom she would make happy with the most open-hearted benevolence. She had theoretical ideas of life which were not bad, but in practice she had gained her objects, and she was in a hurry to have liberty to enjoy them.
There was considerable anxiety in the palace in reference to the future mode of life of Lady Eustace. Had it not been for that baby-heir, of course there would have been no cause for interference; but the rights of that baby were so serious and important that it was almost impossible not to interfere. The mother, however, gave some little signs that she did not intend to submit to much interference, and there was no real reason why she should not be as free as air. But did she really intend to go down to Portray Castle all alone — that is, with her baby and nurses? This was ended by an arrangement in accordance with which she was accompanied by her eldest cousin, Ellinor Greystock, a lady who was just ten years her senior. There could hardly be a better woman than Ellinor Greystock, or a more good-humoured, kindly being. After many debates in the deanery and in the palace, for there was much friendship between the two ecclesiastical establishments, the offer was made and the advice given. Ellinor had accepted the martyrdom on the understanding that if the advice were accepted she was to remain at Portray Castle for three months. After a long discussion between Lady Eustace and the bishop’s wife the offer was accepted, and the two ladies went to Scotland together.
During those three months the widow still bided her time. Of her future ideas of life she said not a word to her companion. Of her infant she said very little. She would talk of books, choosing such books as her cousin did not read; and she would interlard her conversation with much Italian, because her cousin did not know the language. There was a carriage kept by the widow, and they had themselves driven out together. Of real companionship there was none. Lizzie was biding her time, and at the end of the three months Miss Greystock thankfully, and, indeed, of necessity, returned to Bobsborough. “I’ve done no good,” she said to her mother, “and have been very uncomfortable.” “My dear,” said her mother, “we have disposed of three months out of a two years’ period of danger. In two years from Sir Florian’s death she will be married again.”
When this was said Lizzie had been a widow nearly a year, and had bided her time upon the whole discreetly. Some foolish letters she had written, chiefly to the lawyer about her money and property; and some foolish things she had said, as when she told Ellinor Greystock that the Portray property was her own forever, to do what she liked with it. The sum of money left to her by her husband had by that time been paid into her own hands, and she had opened a banker’s account. The revenues from the Scotch estate, some £4,000 a year, were clearly her own for life. The family diamond necklace was still in her possession, and no answer had been given by her to a postscript to a lawyer’s letter in which a little advice had been given respecting it. At the end of another year, when she had just reached the age of twenty-two, and had completed her second year of widowhood, she was still Lady Eustace, thus contradicting the prophecy made by the dean’s wife. It was then spring, and she had a house of her own in London. She had broken openly with Lady Linlithgow. She had opposed, though not absolutely refused, all overtures of brotherly care from John Eustace. She had declined a further invitation, both for herself and for her child, to the palace. And she had positively asserted her intention of keeping the diamonds. Her late husband, she said, had given the diamonds to her. As they were supposed to be worth £10,000, and were really family diamonds, the matter was felt by all concerned to be one of much importance. And she was oppressed by a heavy load of ignorance, which became serious from the isolation of her position. She had learned to draw cheques, but she had no other correct notion as to business. She knew nothing as to spending money, saving it, or investing it. Though she was clever, sharp, and greedy, she had no idea what her money would do, and what it would not; and there was no one whom she would trust to tell her. She had a young cousin, a barrister, a son of the dean’s, whom she perhaps liked better than any other of her relations, but she declined advice even from her friend the barrister. She would have no dealings on her own behalf with the old family solicitor of the Eustaces, the gentleman who had now applied very formally for the restitution of the diamonds, but had appointed other solicitors to act for her. Messrs. Mowbray & Mopus were of opinion that as the diamonds had been given into her hands by her husband without any terms as to their surrender, no one could claim them. Of the manner in which the diamonds had been placed in her hands no one knew more than she chose to tell.
But when she started with her house in town — a modest little house in Mount Street, near the park — just two years after her husband’s death, she had a large circle of acquaintances. The Eustace people, and the Greystock people, and even the Linlithgow people, did not entirely turn their backs upon her. The countess, indeed, was very venomous, as she well might be; but then the countess was known for her venom. The dean and his family were still anxious that she should be encouraged to discreet living, and, though they feared many things, thought that they had no ground for open complaint. The Eustace people were forbearing, and hoped the best. “D—— the necklace,” John Eustace had said, and the bishop unfortunately had heard him say it! “John,” said the prelate, “whatever is to become of the bauble you might express your opinion in more sensible language.” “I beg your lordship’s pardon,” said John, “I only mean to say that I think we shouldn’t trouble ourselves about a few stones.” But the family lawyer, Mr. Camperdown, would by no means take this view of the matter. It was, however, generally thought that the young widow opened her campaign more prudently than had been expected.
And now as so much has been said of the character and fortune and special circumstances of Lizzie Greystock, who became Lady Eustace as a bride, and Lady Eustace as a widow and a mother, all within the space of twelve months, it may be as well to give some description of her person and habits, such as they were at the period in which our story is supposed to have its commencement. It must be understood in the first place that she was very lovely; much more so, indeed, now than when she had fascinated Sir Florian. She was small, but taller than she looked to be, for her form was perfectly symmetrical. Her feet and hands might have been taken as models by a sculptor. Her figure was lithe, and soft, and slim, and slender. If it had a fault it was this, that it had in it too much of movement. There were some who said that she was almost snake-like in her rapid bendings and the almost too easy gestures of her body; for she was much given to action and to the expression of her thought by the motion of her limbs. She might certainly have made her way as an actress, had fortune called upon her to earn her bread in that fashion. And her voice would have suited the stage. It was powerful when she called upon it for power; but, at the same time, flexible and capable of much pretence at feeling. She could bring it to a whisper that would almost melt your heart with tenderness, as she had melted Sir Florian’s, when she sat near to him reading poetry; and then she could raise it to a pitch of indignant wrath befitting a Lady Macbeth when her husband ventured to rebuke her. And her ear was quite correct in modulating these tones. She knew — and it must have been by instinct, for her culture in such matters was small — how to use her voice so that neither its tenderness nor its wrath should be misapplied. There were pieces in verse that she could read, things not wondrously good in themselves, so that she would ravish you; and she would so look at you as she did it that you would hardly dare either to avert your eyes or to return her gaze. Sir Florian had not known whether to do the one thing or the other, and had therefore seized her in his arms. Her face was oval — somewhat longer than an oval — with little in it, perhaps nothing in it, of that brilliancy of colour which we call complexion. And yet the shades of her countenance were ever changing between the softest and most transparent white and the richest, mellowest shades of brown. It was only when she simulated anger — she was almost incapable of real anger — that she would succeed in calling the thinnest streak of pink from her heart, to show that there was blood running in her veins. Her hair, which was nearly black, but in truth with more of softness and of lustre than ever belong to hair that is really black, she wore bound tight round her perfect forehead, with one long lovelock hanging over her shoulder. The form of her head was so good that she could dare to carry it without a chignon or any adventitious adjuncts from an artist’s shop. Very bitter was she in consequence when speaking of the head-gear of other women. Her chin was perfect in its round — not over long, as is the case with so many such faces, utterly spoiling the symmetry of the countenance. But it lacked a dimple, and therefore lacked feminine tenderness. Her mouth was perhaps faulty in being too small, or, at least, her lips were too thin. There was wanting from the mouth that expression of eager-speaking truthfulness which full lips will often convey. Her teeth were without flaw or blemish, even, small, white, and delicate; but perhaps they were shown too often. Her nose was small, but struck many as the prettiest feature of her face, so exquisite was the moulding of it, and so eloquent and so graceful the slight inflations of the transparent nostrils. Her eyes, in which she herself thought that the lustre of her beauty lay, were blue and clear, bright as cerulean waters. They were long, large eyes, but very dangerous. To those who knew how to read a face, there was danger plainly written in them. Poor Sir Florian had not known. But, in truth, the charm of her face did not lie in her eyes. This was felt by many even who could not read the book fluently. They were too expressive, too loud in their demands for attention, and they lacked tenderness. How few there are among women, few perhaps also among men, who know that the sweetest, softest, tenderest, truest eyes which a woman can carry in her head are green in colour. Lizzie’s eyes were not tender, neither were they true. But they were surmounted by the most wonderfully pencilled eyebrows that ever nature unassisted planted on a woman’s face.
We have said she was clever. We must add that she had in truth studied much. She spoke French, understood Italian, and read German. She played well on the harp, and moderately well on the piano. She sang, at least, in good taste and good tune. Of things to be learned by reading she knew much, having really taken diligent trouble with herself. She had learned much poetry by heart, and could apply it. She forgot nothing, listened to everything, understood quickly, and was desirous to show not only as a beauty but as a wit. There were men at this time who declared that she was simply the cleverest and the handsomest woman in England. As an independent young woman she was perhaps one of the richest.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14