Although the first two chapters of this new history have been devoted to the fortunes and personal attributes of Lady Eustace, the historian begs his readers not to believe that that opulent and aristocratic Becky Sharp is to assume the dignity of heroine in the forthcoming pages. That there shall be any heroine the historian will not take upon himself to assert; but if there be a heroine, that heroine shall not be Lady Eustace.
Poor Lizzie Greystock! as men double her own age, and who had known her as a forward, capricious, spoiled child in her father’s lifetime, would still call her. She did so many things, made so many efforts, caused so much suffering to others, and suffered so much herself throughout the scenes with which we are about to deal, that the story can hardly be told without giving her that prominence of place which has been assigned to her in the last two chapters.
Nor does the chronicler dare to put forward Lucy Morris as a heroine. The real heroine, if it be found possible to arrange her drapery for her becomingly, and to put that part which she enacted into properly heroic words, shall stalk in among us at some considerably later period in the narrative, when the writer shall have accustomed himself to the flow of words, and have worked himself up to a state of mind fit for the reception of noble acting and noble speaking. In the meantime, let it be understood that poor little Lucy Morris was a governess in the house of old Lady Fawn when our beautiful young widow established herself in Mount street.
Lady Eustace and Lucy Morris had known each other for many years — had indeed been children together, there having been some old family friendship between the Greystocks and the Morrises. When the admiral’s wife was living, Lucy had, as a little girl of eight or nine, been her guest. She had often been a guest at the deanery. When Lady Eustace had gone down to the bishop’s palace at Bobsborough, in order that an heir to the Eustaces might be born under an auspicious roof, Lucy Morris was with the Greystocks. Lucy, who was a year younger than Lizzie, had at that time been an orphan for the last four years. She too had been left penniless, but no such brilliant future awaited her as that which Lizzie had earned for herself. There was no countess-aunt to take her into her London house. The dean and the dean’s wife and the dean’s daughters had been her best friends, but they were not friends on whom she could be dependent. They were in no way connected with her by blood. Therefore at the age of eighteen she had gone out to be a child’s governess. Then old Lady Fawn had heard of her virtues — Lady Fawn who had seven unmarried daughters running down from seven-and-twenty to thirteen, and Lucy Morris had been hired to teach English, French, German, and something of music to the two youngest Misses Fawn.
During that visit at the deanery, when the heir of the Eustaces was being born, Lucy was undergoing a sort of probation for the Fawn establishment. The proposed engagement with Lady Fawn was thought to be a great thing for her. Lady Fawn was known as a miracle of Virtue, Benevolence, and Persistency. Every good quality she possessed was so marked as to be worthy of being expressed with a capital. But her virtues were of that extraordinary high character that there was no weakness in them; no getting over them; no perverting them with follies, or even exaggerations. When she heard of the excellencies of Miss Morris from the dean’s wife, and then, after minutest investigation, learned the exact qualities of the young lady, she expressed herself willing to take Lucy into her house on special conditions. She must be able to teach music up to a certain point.
“Then it’s all over,” said Lucy to the dean with her pretty smile — that smile which caused all the old and middle-aged men to fall in love with her.
“It’s not over at all,” said the dean. “You’ve got four months. Our organist is about as good a teacher as there is in England. You are clever and quick, and he shall teach you.”
So Lucy went to Bobsborough and was afterwards accepted by Lady Fawn.
While she was at the deanery there sprung up a renewed friendship between her and Lizzie. It was indeed chiefly a one-sided friendship; for Lucy, who was quick and unconsciously capable of reading that book to which we alluded in a previous chapter, was somewhat afraid of the rich widow. And when Lizzie talked to her of their old childish days, and quoted poetry, and spoke of things romantic — as she was much given to do — Lucy felt that the metal did not ring true. And then Lizzie had an ugly habit of abusing all her other friends behind their backs. Now Lucy did not like to hear the Greystocks abused, and would say so. “That’s all very well, you little minx,” Lizzie would say playfully, “but you know they are all asses.” Lucy by no means thought that the Greystocks were asses, and was very strongly of opinion that one of them was as far removed from being an ass as any human being she had ever known. This one was Frank Greystock the barrister. Of Frank Greystock some special — but, let it be hoped, very short — description must be given by and by. For the present it will be sufficient to declare that, during that short Easter holiday which he spent at his father’s house in Bobsborough, he found Lucy Morris to be a most agreeable companion.
“Remember her position,” said Mrs. Dean to her son.
“Her position! Well, and what is her position, mother?”
“You know what I mean, Frank. She is as sweet a girl as ever lived, and a perfect lady. But with a governess, unless you mean to marry her, you should be more careful than with another girl, because you may do her such a world of mischief.”
“I don’t see that at all.”
“If Lady Fawn knew that she had an admirer, Lady Fawn would not let her come into her house.”
“Then Lady Fawn is an idiot. If a girl be admirable, of course she will be admired. Who can hinder it?”
“You know what I mean, Frank.”
“Yes, I do; well. I don’t suppose I can afford to marry Lucy Morris. At any rate, mother, I will never say a word to raise a hope in her — if it would be a hope —”
“Of course it would be a hope.”
“I don’t know that at all. But I will never say any such word to her, unless I make up my mind that I can afford to marry her.”
“Oh, Frank, it would be impossible,” said Mrs. Dean.
Mrs. Dean was a very good woman, but she had aspirations in the direction of filthy lucre on behalf of her children, or at least on behalf of this special child, and she did think it would be very nice if Frank would marry an heiress. This, however, was a long time ago — nearly two years ago; and many grave things had got themselves transacted since Lucy’s visit to the deanery. She had become quite an old and an accustomed member of Lady Fawn’s family. The youngest Fawn girl was not yet fifteen, and it was understood that Lucy was to remain with the Fawns for some quite indefinite time to come. Lady Fawn’s eldest daughter, Mrs. Hittaway, had a family of her own, having been married ten or twelve years, and it was quite probable that Lucy might be transferred. Lady Fawn fully appreciated her treasure, and was, and ever had been, conscientiously anxious to make Lucy’s life happy. But she thought that a governess should not be desirous of marrying, at any rate till a somewhat advanced period of life. A governess, if she were given to falling in love, could hardly perform her duties in life. No doubt, not to be a governess, but a young lady free from the embarrassing necessity of earning bread, free to have a lover and a husband, would be upon the whole nicer. So it is nicer to be born to £10,000 a year than to have to wish for £500. Lady Fawn could talk excellent sense on this subject by the hour, and always admitted that much was due to a governess who knew her place and did her duty. She was very fond of Lucy Morris, and treated her dependent with affectionate consideration; but she did not approve of visits from Mr. Frank Greystock. Lucy, blushing up to the eyes, had once declared that she desired to have no personal visitors at Lady Fawn’s house; but that, as regarded her own friendships, the matter was one for her own bosom. “Dear Miss Morris,” Lady Fawn had said, “we understand each other so perfectly, and you are so good, that I am quite sure everything will be as it ought to be.” Lady Fawn lived down at Richmond, all the year through, in a large old-fashioned house with a large old-fashioned garden, called Fawn Court. After that speech of hers to Lucy, Frank Greystock did not call again at Fawn Court for many months, and it is possible that her ladyship had said a word also to him. But Lady Eustace, with her pretty little pair of gray ponies, would sometimes drive down to Richmond to see her “dear little old friend” Lucy, and her visits were allowed. Lady Fawn had expressed an opinion among her daughters that she did not see any harm in Lady Eustace. She thought that she rather liked Lady Eustace. But then Lady Fawn hated Lady Linlithgow as only two old women can hate each other; and she had not heard the story of the diamond necklace.
Lucy Morris certainly was a treasure — a treasure though no heroine. She was a sweetly social, genial little human being whose presence in the house was ever felt to be like sunshine. She was never forward, but never bashful. She was always open to familiar intercourse without ever putting herself forward. There was no man or woman with whom she would not so talk as to make the man or woman feel that the conversation was remarkably pleasant, and she could do the same with any child. She was an active, mindful, bright, energetic little thing to whom no work ever came amiss. She had catalogued the library, which had been collected by the late Lord Fawn with peculiar reference to the Christian theology of the third and fourth centuries. She had planned the new flower-garden, though Lady Fawn thought that she had done that herself. She had been invaluable during Clara Fawn’s long illness. She knew every rule at croquet, and could play piquet. When the girls got up charades they had to acknowledge that everything depended on Miss Morris. They were good-natured, plain, unattractive girls, who spoke of her to her face as one who could easily do anything to which she might put her hand. Lady Fawn did really love her. Lord Fawn, the eldest son, a young man of about thirty-five, a peer of Parliament and an Undersecretary of State, very prudent and very diligent, of whom his mother and sisters stood in great awe, consulted her frequently and made no secret of his friendship. The mother knew her awful son well, and was afraid of nothing wrong in that direction. Lord Fawn had suffered a disappointment in love, but he had consoled himself with blue books, and mastered his passion by incessant attendance at the India Board. The lady he had loved had been rich, and Lord Fawn was poor; but nevertheless he had mastered his passion. There was no fear that his feelings toward the governess would become too warm; nor was it likely that Miss Morris should encounter danger in regard to him. It was quite an understood thing in the family that Lord Fawn must marry money.
Lucy Morris was indeed a treasure. No brighter face ever looked into another to seek sympathy there, either in mirth or woe. There was a gleam in her eyes that was almost magnetic, so sure was she to obtain by it that community of interest which she desired, though it were but for a moment. Lord Fawn was pompous, slow, dull, and careful; but even he had given way to it at once. Lady Fawn, too, was very careful, but she had owned to herself long since that she could not bear to look forward to any permanent severance. Of course Lucy would be made over to the Hittaways, whose mother lived in Warwick Square, and whose father was Chairman of the Board of Civil Appeals. The Hittaways were the only grandchildren with whom Lady Fawn had as yet been blessed, and of course Lucy must go the Hittaways.
She was but a little thing; and it cannot be said of her, as of Lady Eustace, that she was a beauty. The charm of her face consisted in the peculiar, watery brightness of her eyes, in the corners of which it would always seem that a diamond of a tear was lurking whenever any matter of excitement was afoot. Her light-brown hair was soft and smooth and pretty. As hair it was very well, but it had no specialty. Her mouth was somewhat large, but full of ever-varying expression. Her forehead was low and broad, with prominent temples, on which it Was her habit to clasp tightly her little outstretched fingers, as she sat listening to you. Of listeners she was the very best, for she would always be saying a word or two, just to help you — the best word that could be spoken — and then again she would be hanging on your lips. There are listeners who show by their mode of listening that they listen as a duty, not because they are interested. Lucy Morris was not such a one. She would take up your subject, whatever it was, and make it her own. There was forward just then a question as to whether the Sawab of Mygawb should have twenty millions of rupees paid to him and be placed upon a throne, or whether he should be kept in prison all his life. The British world generally could not be made to interest itself about the Sawab, but Lucy positively mastered the subject, and almost got Lord Fawn into a difficulty by persuading him to stand up against his chief on behalf of the injured Prince.
What else can be said of her face or personal appearance that will interest a reader? When she smiled there was the daintiest little dimple on her cheek. And when she laughed, that little nose, which was not as well-shaped a nose as it might have been, would almost change its shape and cock itself up in its mirth. Her hands were very thin and long, and so were her feet — by no means models as were those of her friend Lady Eustace. She was a little, thin, quick, graceful creature, whom it was impossible that you should see without wishing to have near you. A most unselfish little creature she was, but one who had a well-formed idea of her own identity. She was quite resolved to be somebody among her fellow-creatures — not somebody in the way of marrying a lord or a rich man, or somebody in the way of being a beauty, or somebody as a wit, but somebody as having a purpose and a use in life. She was the humblest little thing in the world in regard to any possible putting of herself forward or needful putting of herself back; and yet, to herself; nobody was her superior. What she had was her own, whether it was the old grey silk dress which she had bought with the money she had earned, or the wit which nature had given her. And Lord Fawn’s title was his own, and Lady Fawn’s rank her own. She coveted no man’s possessions, and no woman’s; but she was minded to hold by her own. Of present advantages or disadvantages — whether she had the one or suffered from the other — she thought not at all. It was her fault that she had nothing of feminine vanity. But no man or woman was ever more anxious to be effective, to persuade, to obtain belief, sympathy, and co-operation — not for any result personal to herself, but because by obtaining these things she could be effective in the object then before her, be what it might.
One other thing may be told of her. She had given her heart, for good and all, as she owned to herself, to Frank Greystock. She had owned to herself that it was so, and had owned to herself that nothing could come of it. Frank was becoming a man of mark, but was becoming a man of mark without much money. Of all men he was the last who could afford to marry a governess. And then, moreover, he had never said a word to make her think that he loved her. He had called on her once or twice at Fawn Court, as why should he not? Seeing that there had been friendship between the families for so many years, who could complain of that? Lady Fawn, however, had not complained; but just said a word. A word in season, how good is it? Lucy did not much regard the word spoken to herself; but when she reflected that a word must also have been spoken to Mr. Greystock — otherwise how should it have been that he never came again — that she did not like.
In herself she regarded this passion of hers as a healthy man regards the loss of a leg or an arm. It is a great nuisance, a loss that maims the whole life, a misfortune to be much regretted. But because a leg is gone, everything is not gone. A man with a wooden leg may stump about through much action, and may enjoy the keenest pleasures of humanity. He has his eyes left to him, and his ears, and his intellect. He will not break his heart for the loss of that leg. And so it was with Lucy Morris. She would still stump about and be very active. Eyes, ears, and intellect were left to her. Looking at her position, she told herself that a happy love could hardly have been her lot in life. Lady Fawn, she thought, was right. A governess should make up her mind to do without a lover. She had given away her heart, and yet she would do without a lover. When, on one dull, dark afternoon, as she was thinking of all this, Lord Fawn suddenly put into her hands a cruelly long printed document respecting the Sawab, she went to work upon it immediately. As she read it, she could not refrain from thinking how wonderfully Frank Greystock would plead the cause of the Indian prince, if the privilege of pleading it could be given to him.
The spring had come round, with May and the London butterflies, at the time at which our story begins, and during six months Frank Greystock had not been at Fawn Court. Then one day Lady Eustace came down with her ponies, and her footman, and a new dear friend of hers, Miss Macnulty. While Miss Macnulty was being honoured by Lady Fawn, Lizzie had retreated to a corner with her old dear friend Lucy Morris. It was pretty to see how so wealthy and fashionable a woman as Lady Eustace could show so much friendship to a governess. “Have you seen Frank lately?” said Lady Eustace, referring to her cousin the barrister.
“Not for ever so long,” said Lucy with her cheeriest smile.
“He is not going to prove a false knight?” asked Lady Eustace, in her lowest whisper.
“I don’t know that Mr. Greystock is much given to knighthood at all,” said Lucy, “unless it is to being made Sir Francis by his party.”
“Nonsense, my dear; as if I didn’t know. I suppose Lady Fawn has been interfering, like an old cat as she is.”
“She is not an old cat, Lizzie! and I won’t hear her called so. If you think so, you shouldn’t come here. And she hasn’t interfered. That is, she has done nothing that she ought not to have done.”
“Then she has interfered,” said Lady Eustace, as she got up and walked across the room with a sweet smile to the old cat.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01