When Lord Fawn gave a sudden jump and stalked away towards the house on that Sunday morning before breakfast, Lucy Morris was a very unhappy girl. She had a second time accused Lord Fawn of speaking an untruth. She did not quite understand the usages of the world in the matter; but she did know that the one offence which a gentleman is supposed never to commit is that of speaking an untruth. The offence may be one committed oftener than any other by gentlemen — as also by all other people; but, nevertheless, it is regarded by the usages of society as being the one thing which a gentleman never does. Of all this Lucy understood something. The word “lie” she knew to be utterly abominable. That Lizzie Eustace was a little liar had been acknowledged between herself and the Fawn girls very often; but to have told Lady Eustace that any word spoken by her was a lie would have been a worse crime than the lie itself. To have brought such an accusation, in that form, against Lord Fawn, would have been to degrade herself forever. Was there any difference between a lie and an untruth? That one must be, and that the other need not be, intentional, she did feel; but she felt also that the less offensive word had come to mean a lie — the world having been driven so to use it because the world did not dare to talk about lies; and this word, bearing such a meaning in common parlance, she had twice applied to Lord Fawn. And yet, as she was well aware, Lord Fawn had told no lie. He had himself believed every word that he had spoken against Frank Greystock. That he had been guilty of unmanly cruelty in so speaking of her lover in her presence Lucy still thought, but she should not therefore have accused him of falsehood. “It was untrue all the same,” she said to herself, as she stood still on the gravel walk, watching the rapid disappearance of Lord Fawn, and endeavouring to think what she had better now do with herself. Of course Lord Fawn, like a great child, would at once go and tell his mother what that wicked governess had said to him.
In the hall she met her friend Lydia. “Oh, Lucy, what is the matter with Frederic?” she asked.
“Lord Fawn is very angry indeed.”
“Yes; with me. He is so angry that I am sure he would not sit down to breakfast with me. So I won’t come down. Will you tell your mamma? If she likes to send to me, of course I’ll go to her at once.”
“What have you done, Lucy?”
“I’ve told him again that what he said wasn’t true.”
“Because — oh, how can I say why? Why does any person do everything that she ought not to do? It’s the fall of Adam, I suppose.”
“You shouldn’t make a joke of it, Lucy.”
“You can have no conception how unhappy I am about it. Of course Lady Fawn will tell me to go away. I went out on purpose to beg his pardon for what I said last night, and I just said the very same thing again.”
“But why did you say it?”
“And I should say it again and again and again, if he were to go on telling me that Mr. Greystock isn’t a gentleman. I don’t think he ought to have done it. Of course I have been very wrong; I know that. But I think he has been wrong too. But I must own it and he needn’t. I’ll go up now and stay in my own room till your mamma sends for me.”
“And I’ll get Jane to bring you some breakfast.”
“I don’t care a bit about breakfast,” said Lucy.
Lord Fawn did tell his mother, and Lady Fawn was perplexed in the extreme. She was divided in her judgment and feelings between the privilege due to Lucy as a girl possessed of an authorised lover — a privilege which no doubt existed, but which was not extensive — and the very much greater privilege which attached to Lord Fawn as a man, as a peer, as an Under-Secretary of State, but which attached to him especially as the head and only man belonging to the Fawn family. Such a one, when, moved by filial duty, he condescends to come once a week to his mother’s house, is entitled to say whatever he pleases, and should on no account be contradicted by any one. Lucy no doubt had a lover, an authorised lover; but perhaps that fact could not be taken as more than a balancing weight against the inferiority of her position as a governess. Lady Fawn was of course obliged to take her son’s part and would scold Lucy. Lucy must be scolded very seriously. But it would be a thing so desirable if Lucy could be induced to accept her scolding and have done with it, and not to make matters worse by talking of going away! “You don’t mean that she came out into the shrubbery, having made up her mind to be rude to you?” said Lady Fawn to her son.
“No; I do not think that. But her temper is so ungovernable, and she has, if I may say so, been so spoiled among you here — I mean by the girls, of course — that she does not know how to restrain herself.”
“She is as good as gold, you know, Frederic.” He shrugged his shoulders and declared that he had not a word more to say about it. He could of course remain in London till it should suit Mr. Greystock to take his bride. “You’ll break my heart if you say that,” exclaimed the unhappy mother. “Of course she shall leave the house if you wish it.”
“I wish nothing,” said Lord Fawn. “But I peculiarly object to be told that I am a — liar.” Then he stalked away along the corridor and went down to breakfast as black as a thundercloud.
Lady Fawn and Lucy sat opposite to each other in church, but ihey did not speak till the afternoon. Lady Fawn went to church in the carriage and Lucy walked, and as Lucy retired to her room immediately on her return to the house, there had not been an opportunity even for a word. After lunch Amelia came up to her and sat down for a long discussion. “Now, Lucy, something must be done, you know,” said Amelia.
“I suppose so.”
“Of course mamma must see you. She can’t allow things to go on in this way. Mamma is very unhappy, and didn’t eat a morsel of breakfast.” By this latter assertion Amelia simply intended to imply that her mother had refused to be helped a second time to fried bacon, as was customary.
“Of course I shall go to her the moment she sends for me. Oh, I am so unhappy!”
“I don’t wonder at that, Lucy. So is my brother unhappy. These things make people unhappy. It is what the world calls temper, you know, Lucy.”
“Why did he tell me that Mr. Greystock isn’t a gentleman? Mr. Greystock is a gentleman. I meant to say nothing more than that.”
“But you did say more, Lucy.”
“When he said that Mr. Greystock wasn’t a gentleman I told him it wasn’t true. Why did he say it? He knows all about it. Everybody knows. Would you think it wise to come and abuse him to me when you know what he is to me? I can’t bear it, and I won’t. I’ll go away tomorrow if your mamma wishes it.” But that going away was just what Lady Fawn did not wish.
“I think you know, Lucy, you should express your deep sorrow at what has passed.”
“To your brother?”
“Then he would abuse Mr. Greystock again, and it would all be as bad as ever. I’ll beg Lord Fawn’s pardon if he’ll promise beforehand not to say a word about Mr. Greystock.”
“You can’t expect him to make a bargain like that, Lucy.”
“I suppose not. I dare say I’m very wicked, and I must be left wicked. I’m too wicked to stay here. That’s the long and the short of it.”
“I’m afraid you’re proud, Lucy.”
“I suppose I am. If it wasn’t for all that I owe to everybody here, and that I love you all so much, I should be proud of being proud, because of Mr. Greystock. Only it kills me to make Lady Fawn unhappy.”
Amelia left the culprit, feeling that no good had been done, and Lady Fawn did not see the delinquent till late in the afternoon. Lord Fawn had in the mean time wandered out along the river all alone to brood over the condition of his affairs. It had been an evil day for him in which he had first seen Lady Eustace. From the first moment of his engagement to her he had been an unhappy man. Her treatment of him, the stories which reached his ears from Mrs. Hittaway and others, Mr. Camperdown’s threats of law in regard to the diamonds, and Frank Greystock’s insults, altogether made him aware that he could not possibly marry Lady Eustace. But yet he had no proper and becoming way of escaping from the bonds of his engagement. He was a man with a conscience, and was made miserable by the idea of behaving badly to a woman. Perhaps it might have been difficult to analyse his misery and to decide how much arose from the feeling that he was behaving badly, and how much from the conviction that the world would accuse him of doing so; but between the two he was wretched enough. The punishment of the offence had been commenced by Greystock’s unavenged insults, and it now seemed to him that this girl’s conduct was a continuation of it. The world was already beginning to treat him with that want of respect which he so greatly dreaded. He knew that he was too weak to stand up against a widely-spread expression of opinion that he had behaved badly. There are men who can walk about the streets with composed countenances, take their seats in Parliament if they happened to have seats, work in their offices or their chambers or their counting-houses with diligence, and go about the world serenely, even though everybody be saying evil of them behind their backs. Such men can live down temporary calumny, and almost take a delight in the isolation which it will produce. Lord Fawn knew well that he was not such a man. He would have described his own weakness as caused, perhaps, by a too thin-skinned sensitiveness. Those who knew him were inclined to say that he lacked strength of character, and perhaps courage.
He had certainly engaged himself to marry this widow, and he was most desirous to do what was right. He had said that he would not marry her unless she would give up the necklace, and he was most desirous to be true to his word. He had been twice insulted, and he was anxious to support these injuries with dignity. Poor Lucy’s little offence against him rankled in his mind with the other great offences. That this humble friend of his mother’s should have been so insolent was a terrible thing to him. He was not sure even whether his own sisters did not treat him with scantier reverence than of yore. And yet he was so anxious to do right, and do his duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call him! As to much he was in doubt; but of two things he was quite sure — that Frank Greystock was a scoundrel, and that Lucy Morris was the most impertinent young woman in England.
“What would you wish to have done, Frederic?” his mother said to him on his return.
“In what respect, mother?”
“About Lucy Morris? I have not seen her yet. I have thought it better that she should be left to herself for a while before I did so. I suppose she must come down to dinner. She always does.”
“I do not wish to interfere with the young lady’s meals.”
“No; but about meeting her? If there is to be no talking, it will be so very unpleasant. It will be unpleasant to us all, but I am thinking chiefly of you.”
“I do not wish anybody to be disturbed for my comfort.” A young woman coming down to dinner as though in disgrace, and not being spoken to by any one, would in truth have had rather a soothing effect upon Lord Fawn, who would have felt that the general silence and dullness had been produced as a sacrifice in his honour.
“I can, of course, insist that she should apologise; but if she refuses, what shall I do then?”
“Let there be no more apologies, if you please, mother.”
“What shall I do then, Frederic?”
“Miss Morris’s idea of an apology is a repetition of her offence with increased rudeness. It is not for me to say what you should do. If it be true that she is engaged to that man ——”
“It is true, certainly.”
“No doubt that will make her quite independent of you, and I can understand that her presence here in such circumstances must be very uncomfortable to you all. No doubt she feels her power.”
“Indeed, Frederic, you do not know her.”
“I can hardly say that I desire to know her better. You cannot suppose that I can be anxious for further intimacy with a young lady who has twice given me the lie in your house. Such conduct is, at least, very unusual; and as no absolute punishment can be inflicted, the offender can only be avoided. It is thus, and thus only, that such offences can be punished. I shall be satisfied if you will give her to understand that I should prefer that she should not address me again.”
Poor Lady Fawn was beginning to think that Lucy was right in saying that there was no remedy for all these evils but that she should go away. But whither was she to go? She had no home but such home as she could earn for herself by her services as a governess, and in her present position it was almost out of the question that she should seek another place. Lady Fawn, too, felt that she had pledged herself to Mr. Greystock that till next year Lucy should have a home at Fawn Court. Mr. Greystock, indeed, was now an enemy to the family; but Lucy was not an enemy, and it was out of the question that she should be treated with real enmity. She might be scolded, and scowled at, and put into a kind of drawing-room Coventry for a time, so that all kindly intercourse with her should be confined to schoolroom work and bedroom conferences. She could be generally “sat upon,” as Nina would call it. But as for quarrelling with her, making a real enemy of one whom they all loved, one whom Lady Fawn knew to be “as good as gold,” one who had become so dear to the old lady that actual extrusion from their family affections would be like the cutting off of a limb, that was simply impossible. “I suppose I had better go and see her,” said Lady Fawn, “and I have got such a headache!”
“Do not see her on my account,” said Lord Fawn. The duty, however, was obligatory, and Lady Fawn with slow steps sought Lucy in the schoolroom.
“Lucy,” she said, seating herself, “what is to be the end of all this?”
Lucy came up to her and knelt at her feet. “If you knew how unhappy I am because I have vexed you.”
“I am unhappy, my dear, because I think you have been betrayed by warm temper into misbehaviour.”
“I know I have.”
“Then why do you not control your temper?”
“If anybody were to come to you, Lady Fawn, and make horrible accusations against Lord Fawn or against Augusta, would not you be angry? Would you be able to stand it?”
Lady Fawn was not clear-headed; she was not clever; nor was she even always rational. But she was essentially honest. She knew that she would fly at anybody who should in her presence say such bitter things of any of her children as Lord Fawn had said of Mr. Greystock in Lucy’s hearing; and she knew also that Lucy was entitled to hold Mr. Greystock as dearly as she held her own son and daughters. Lord Fawn, at Fawn Court, could not do wrong. That was a tenet by which she was obliged to hold fast. And yet Lucy had been subjected to great cruelty. She thought awhile for a valid argument. “My dear,” she said, “your youth should make a difference.”
“Of course it should.”
“Though to me and to the girls you are as dear as any friend can be, and may say just what you please. Indeed, we all live here in such a way that we all do say just what we please, young and old together. But you ought to know that Lord Fawn is different.”
“Ought he to say that Mr. Greystock is not a gentleman to me?”
“We are, of course, very sorry that there should be any quarrel. It is all the fault of that — nasty, false young woman.”
“So it is, Lady Fawn. Lady Fawn, I have been thinking about it all the day, and I am quite sure that I had better not stay here while you and the girls think badly of Mr. Greystock. It is not only about Lord Fawn, but because of the whole thing. I am always wanting to say something good about Mr. Greystock, and you are always thinking something bad about him. You have been to me, oh, the very best friend that a girl ever had. Why you should have treated me so generously I never could know.”
“Because we have loved you.”
“But when a girl has got a man whom she loves, and has promised to marry, he must be her best friend of all. Is it not so, Lady Fawn?” The old woman stooped down and kissed the girl who had got the man. “It is not ingratitude to you that makes me think most of him; is it?”
“Certainly not, dear.”
“Then I had better go away.”
“But where will you go, Lucy?”
“I will consult Mr. Greystock.”
“But what can he do, Lucy? It will only be a trouble to him. He can’t find a home for you.”
“Perhaps they would have me at the deanery,” said Lucy slowly. She had evidently been thinking much of it all. “And, Lady Fawn, I will not go down-stairs while Lord Fawn is here; and when he comes, if he does come again while I am here, he shall not be troubled by seeing me. He may be sure of that. And you may tell him that I don’t defend myself, only I shall always think that he ought not to have said that Mr. Greystock wasn’t a gentleman before me.” When Lady Fawn left Lucy the matter was so far settled that Lucy had neither been asked to come down to dinner, nor had she been forbidden to seek another home.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14