Mrs. Carbuncle and Lady Eustace had now been up in town between six and seven weeks, and the record of their doings has necessarily dealt chiefly with robberies and the rumours of robberies. But at intervals the minds of the two ladies had been intent on other things. The former was still intent on marrying her niece, Lucinda Roanoke, to Sir Griffin, and the latter had never for a moment forgotten the imperative duty which lay upon her of revenging herself upon Lord Fawn. The match between Sir Griffin and Lucinda was still to be a match. Mrs. Carbuncle persevered in the teeth both of the gentleman and or the lady, and still promised herself success. And our Lizzie, in the midst of all her troubles, had not been idle. In doing her justice we must acknowledge that she had almost abandoned the hope of becoming Lady Fawn. Other hopes and other ambitions had come upon her. Latterly the Corsair had been all in all to her, with exceptional moments in which she told herself that her heart belonged exclusively to her cousin Frank. But Lord Fawn’s offences were not to be forgotten, and she continually urged upon her cousin the depth of the wrongs which she had suffered.
On the part of Frank Greystock there was certainly no desire to let the Under-Secretary escape. It is hoped that the reader, to whom every tittle of this story has been told without reserve, and every secret unfolded, will remember that others were not treated with so much open candour. The reader knows much more of Lizzie Eustace than did her cousin Frank. He, indeed, was not quite in love with Lizzie; but to him she was a pretty, graceful young woman, to whom he was bound by many ties, and who had been cruelly injured. Dangerous she was doubtless, and perhaps a little artificial. To have had her married to Lord Fawn would have been a good thing, and would still be a good thing. According to all the rules known in such matters Lord Fawn was bound to marry her. He had become engaged to her, and Lizzie had done nothing to forfeit her engagement. As to the necklace, the plea made for jilting her on that ground was a disgraceful pretext. Everybody was beginning to perceive that Mr. Camperdown would never have succeeded in getting the diamonds from her, even if they had not been stolen. It was “preposterous,” as Frank said over and over again to his friend Herriot, that a man when he was engaged to a lady, should take upon himself to judge her conduct as Lord Fawn had done, and then ride out of his engagement on a verdict found by himself. Frank had therefore willingly displayed alacrity in persecuting his lordship, and had not been altogether without hope that he might drive the two into a marriage yet, in spite of the protestations made by Lizzie at Portray.
Lord Fawn had certainly not spent a happy winter. Between Mrs. Hittaway on one side and Frank Greystock on the other, his life had been a burthen to him. It had been suggested to him by various people that he was behaving badly to the lady, who was represented as having been cruelly misused by fortune and by himself. On the other hand it had been hinted to him, that nothing was too bad to believe of Lizzie Eustace, and that no calamity could be so great as that by which he would be overwhelmed were he still to allow himself to be forced into that marriage. “It would be better,” Mrs. Hittaway had said, “to retire to Ireland at once and cultivate your demesne in Tipperary.” This was a grievous sentence, and one which had greatly excited the brother’s wrath; but it had shown how very strong was his sister’s opinion against the lady to whom he had unfortunately offered his hand. Then there came to him a letter from Mr. Greystock, in which he was asked for his “written explanation.” If there be a proceeding which an official man dislikes worse than another, it is a demand for a written explanation. “It is impossible,” Frank had said, “that your conduct to my cousin should be allowed to drop without further notice. Hers has been without reproach. Your engagement with her has been made public, chiefly by you, and it is out of the question that she should be treated as you are treating her, and that your lordship should escape without punishment.” What the punishment was to be he did not say; but there did come a punishment on Lord Fawn from the eyes of every man whose eyes met his own, and in the tones of every voice that addressed him. The looks of the very clerks in the India Office accused him of behaving badly to a young woman, and the doorkeeper at the House of Lords seemed to glance askance at him. And now Lady Glencora, who was the social leader of his own party, the feminine pole-star of the Liberal heavens, the most popular and the most daring woman in London, had attacked him personally, and told him that he ought to call on Lady Eustace!
Let it not for a moment be supposed that Lord Fawn was without conscience in the matter or indifferent to moral obligations. There was not a man in London less willing to behave badly to a young woman than Lord Fawn; or one who would more diligently struggle to get back to the right path, if convinced that he was astray. But he was one who detested interference in his private matters, and who was nearly driven mad between his sister and Frank Greystock. When he left Lady Glencora’s house he walked toward his own abode with a dark cloud upon his brow. He was at first very angry with Lady Glencora. Even her position gave her no right to meddle with his most private affairs as she had done. He would resent it, and would quarrel with Lady Glencora. What right could she have to advise him to call upon any woman? But by degrees this wrath died away, and gave place to fears, and qualms, and inward questions. He, too, had found a change in general opinion about the diamonds. When he had taken upon himself with a high hand to dissolve his own engagement, everybody had, as he thought, acknowledged that Lizzie Eustace was keeping property which did not belong to her. Now people talked of her losses as though the diamonds had been undoubtedly her own. On the next morning Lord Fawn took an opportunity of seeing Mr. Camperdown.
“My dear lord,” said Mr. Camperdown, “I shall wash my hands of the matter altogether. The diamonds are gone, and the questions now are, who stole them, and where are they? In our business we can’t meddle with such questions as those.”
“You will drop the bill in Chancery then?”
“What good can the bill do us when the diamonds are gone? If Lady Eustace had anything to do with the robbery ——”
“You suspect her, then?”
“No, my lord; no. I cannot say that. I have no right to say that. Indeed it is not Lady Eustace that I suspect. She has got into bad hands, perhaps; but I do not think that she is a thief.”
“You were suggesting that, if she had anything to do with the robbery ——”
“Well; yes; if she had, it would not be for us to take steps against her in the matter. In fact, the trustees have decided that they will do nothing more, and my hands are tied. If the minor, when he comes of age, claims the property from them, they will prefer to replace it. It isn’t very likely; but that’s what they say.”
“But if it was an heirloom — ” suggested Lord Fawn, going back to the old claim.
“That’s exploded,” said Mr. Camperdown. “Mr. Dove was quite clear about that.”
This was the end of the filing of that bill in Chancery as to which Mr. Camperdown had been so very enthusiastic! Now it certainly was the case that poor Lord Fawn in his conduct toward Lizzie had trusted greatly to the support of Mr. Camperdown’s legal proceeding. The world could hardly have expected him to marry a woman against whom a bill in Chancery was being carried on for the recovery of diamonds which did not belong to her. But that support was now altogether withdrawn from him. It was acknowledged that the necklace was not an heirloom, clearly acknowledged by Mr. Camperdown! And even Mr. Camperdown would not express an opinion that the lady had stolen her own diamonds.
How would it go with him, if, after all, he were to marry her? The bone of contention between them had at any rate been made to vanish. The income was still there, and Lady Glencora Palliser had all but promised her friendship. As he entered the India Office on his return from Mr. Camperdown’s chambers, he almost thought that that would be the best way out of his difficulty. In his room he found his brother-inlaw, Mr. Hittaway, waiting for him. It is almost necessary that a man should have some friend whom he can trust in delicate affairs, and Mr. Hittaway was selected as Lord Fawn’s friend. He was not at all points the man whom Lord Fawn would have chosen, but for their close connection. Mr. Hittaway was talkative, perhaps a little loud, and too apt to make capital out of every incident of his life. But confidential friends are not easily found, and one does not wish to increase the circle to whom one’s family secrets must become known. Mr. Hittaway was at any rate zealous for the Fawn family, and then his character as an official man stood high. He had been asked on the previous evening to step across from the Civil Appeal Office to give his opinion respecting that letter from Frank Greystock demanding a written explanation. The letter had been sent to him; and Mr. Hittaway had carried it home and shown it to his wife. “He’s a cantankerous Tory, and determined to make himself disagreeable,” said Mr. Hittaway, taking the letter from his pocket and beginning the conversation. Lord Fawn seated himself in his great armchair, and buried his face in his hands. “I am disposed, after much consideration, to advise you to take no notice of the letter,” said Mr. Hittaway, giving his counsel in accordance with instructions received from his wife. Lord Fawn still buried his face. “Of course the thing is painful, very painful. But out of two evils one should choose the least. The writer of this letter is altogether unable to carry out his threat.”
“What can the man do to him!” Mrs. Hittaway had asked, almost snapping at her husband as she did so.
“And then,” continued Mr. Hittaway, “we all know that public opinion is with you altogether. The conduct of Lady Eustace is notorious.”
“Everybody is taking her part,” said Lord Fawn, almost crying.
“Yes; they are. The bill in Chancery has been withdrawn, and it’s my belief that if the necklace were found tomorrow, there would be nothing to prevent her keeping it, just as she did before.”
“But it was an heirloom?”
“No, it wasn’t. The lawyers were all wrong about it. As far as I can see, lawyers always are wrong. About those nine lacs of rupees for the sawab, Finlay was all wrong. Camperdown owns that he was wrong. If, after all, the diamonds were hers, I’m sure I don’t know what I am to do. Thank you, Hittaway, for coming over. That’ll do for the present. Just leave that ruffian’s letter, and I’ll think about it.”
This was considered by Mrs. Hittaway to be a very bad state of things, and there was great consternation in Warwick Square when Mr. Hittaway told his wife this new story of her brother’s weakness. She was not going to be weak. She did not intend to withdraw her opposition to the marriage. She was not going to be frightened by Lizzie Eustace and Frank Greystock, knowing as she did that they were lovers, and very improper lovers, too. “Of course she stole them herself,” said Mrs. Hittaway; “and I don’t doubt but she stole her own money afterwards There’s nothing she wouldn’t do. I’d sooner see Frederic in his grave than married to such a woman as that. Men don’t know how sly women can be; that’s the truth. And Frederic has been so spoilt among them down at Richmond, that he has no real judgment left. I don’t suppose he means to marry her.”
“Upon my word I don’t know,” said Mr. Hittaway. Then Mrs. Hittaway made up her mind that she would at once write a letter to Scotland.
There was an old lord about London in those days, or rather one who was an old Liberal but a young lord, one Lord Mount Thistle, who had sat in the Cabinet, and had lately been made a peer when his place in the Cabinet was wanted. He was a pompous, would-be important, silly old man, well acquainted with all the traditions of his party, and perhaps on that account useful, but a bore, and very apt to meddle when he was not wanted. Lady Glencora, on the day after her dinner-party, whispered into his ear that Lord Fawn was getting himself into trouble, and that a few words of caution, coming to him from one whom he respected so much as he did Lord Mount Thistle, would be of service to him. Lord Mount Thistle had known Lord Fawn’s father, and declared himself at once to be quite entitled to interfere. “He is really behaving badly to Lady Eustace,” said Lady Glencora, “and I don’t think that he knows it.” Lord Mount Thistle, proud of a commission from the hands of Lady Glencora, went almost at once to his old friend’s son. He found him at the House that night, and whispered his few words of caution in one of the lobbies.
“I know you will excuse me, Fawn,” Lord Mount Thistle said, “but people seem to think that you are not behaving quite well to Lady Eustace.”
“What people?” demanded Lord Fawn.
“My dear fellow, that is a question that cannot be answered. You know that I am the last man to interfere if I didn’t think it my duty as a friend. You were engaged to her?”— Lord Fawn only frowned. “If so,” continued the late cabinet minister, “and if you have broken it off, you ought to give your reasons. She has a right to demand as much as that.”
On the next morning, Friday, there came to him the note which Lady Glencora had recommended Lizzie to write. It was very short. “Had you not better come and see me? You can hardly think that things should be left as they are now. L. E. — Hertford Street, Thursday.” He had hoped — he had ventured to hope — that things might be left, and that they would arrange themselves; that he could throw aside his engagement without further trouble, and that the subject would drop. But it was not so. His enemy, Frank Greystock, had demanded from him a “written explanation” of his conduct. Mr. Camperdown had deserted him. Lady Glencora Palliser, with whom he had not the honour of any intimate acquaintance, had taken upon herself to give him advice. Lord Mount Thistle had found fault with him. And now there had come a note from Lizzie Eustace herself, which he could hardly venture to leave altogether unnoticed. On that Friday he dined at his club, and then went to his sister’s house in Warwick Square. If assistance might be had anywhere, it would be from his sister. She, at any rate, would not want courage in carrying on the battle on his behalf.
“Ill-used!” she said, as soon as they were closeted together. “Who dares to say so?”
“That old fool, Mount Thistle, has been with me.”
“I hope, Frederic, you don’t mind what such a man as that says. He has probably been prompted by some friend of hers. And who else?”
“Camperdown turns round now and says that they don’t mean to do anything more about the necklace. Lady Glencora Palliser told me the other day that all the world believes that the thing was her own.”
“What does Lady Glencora Palliser know about it? If Lady Glencora Palliser would mind her own affairs it would be much better for her. I remember when she had troubles enough of her own, without meddling with other people’s.”
“And now I’ve got this note.” Lord Fawn had already shown Lizzie’s few scrawled words to his sister. “I think I must go and see her.”
“Do no such thing, Frederic.”
“Why not? I must answer it, and what can I say?”
“If you go there, that woman will be your wife, you’ll never have a happy day again as long as you live. The match is broken off, and she knows it. I shouldn’t take the slightest notice of her, or of her cousin, or of any of them. If she chooses to bring an action against you, that is another thing.”
Lord Fawn paused for a few moments before he answered. “I think I ought to go,” he said.
“And I am sure that you ought not. It is not only about the diamonds, though that was quite enough to break off any engagement. Have you forgotten what I told you that the man saw at Portray?”
“I don’t know that the man spoke the truth.”
“But he did.”
“And I hate that kind of espionage. It is so very likely that mistakes should be made.”
“When she was sitting in his arms — and kissing him! If you choose to do it, Frederic, of course you must. We can’t prevent it. You are free to marry any one you please.”
“I’m not talking of marrying her.”
“What do you suppose she wants you to go there for? As for political life, I am quite sure it would be the death of you. If I were you I wouldn’t go near her. You have got out of the scrape, and I would remain out.”
“But I haven’t got out,” said Lord Fawn.
On the next day, Saturday, he did nothing in the matter. He went down, as was his custom, to Richmond, and did not once mention Lizzie’s name. Lady Fawn and her daughters never spoke of her now — neither of her, nor in his presence, of poor Lucy Morris. But on his return to London on the Sunday evening he found another note from Lizzie. “You will hardly have the hardihood to leave my note unanswered. Pray let me know when you will come to me.” Some answer must, as he felt, be made to her. For a moment he thought of asking his mother to call; but he at once saw that by doing so he might lay himself open to terrible ridicule. Could he induce Lord Mount Thistle to be his Mercury? It would, he felt, be quite impossible to make Lord Mount Thistle understand all the facts of his position. His sister, Mrs. Hittaway, might have gone, were it not that she herself was violently opposed to any visit. The more he thought of it the more convinced he became that, should it be known that he had received two such notes from a lady and that he had not answered or noticed them, the world would judge him to have behaved badly. So at last he wrote — on that Sunday evening — fixing a somewhat distant day for his visit to Hertford street. His note was as follows:
“Lord Fawn presents his compliments to Lady Eustace. In accordance with the wish expressed in Lady Eustace’s two notes of the 23d instant and this date, Lord Fawn will do himself the honour of waiting upon Lady Eustace on Saturday next, March 3d, at 12, noon. Lord Fawn had thought that under circumstances as they now exist, no further personal interview could lead to the happiness of either party; but as Lady Eustace thinks otherwise, he feels himself constrained to comply with her desire.
“SUNDAY EVENING, February 25, 18 —.”
“I am going to see her in the course of this week,” he said, in answer to a further question from Lady Glencora, who, chancing to meet him in society, had again addressed him on the subject. He lacked the courage to tell Lady Glencora to mind her own business and to allow him to do the same. Had she been a little less great than she was, either as regarded herself or her husband, he would have done so. But Lady Glencora was the social queen of the party to which he belonged, and Mr. Palliser was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would some day be Duke of Omnium.
“As you are great, be merciful, Lord Fawn,” said Lady Glencora. “You men, I believe, never realise what it is that women feel when they love. It is my belief that she will die unless you are reunited to her. And then she is so beautiful.”
“It is a subject that I cannot discuss, Lady Glencora.”
“I dare say not. And I’m sure I am the last person to wish to give you pain. But you see, if the poor lady has done nothing to merit your anger, it does seem rather a strong measure to throw her off and give her no reason whatever. How would you defend yourself, suppose she published it all?” Lady Glencora’s courage was very great, and perhaps we may say her impudence also. This last question Lord Fawn left unanswered, walking away in great dudgeon.
In the course of the week he told his sister of the interview which he had promised, and she endeavoured to induce him to postpone it till a certain man should arrive from Scotland. She had written for Mr. Andrew Gowran — sending down funds for Mr. Gowran’s journey — so that her brother might hear Mr. Gowran’s evidence out of Mr. Gowran’s own mouth. Would not Frederic postpone the interview till he should have seen Mr. Gowran? But to this request Frederic declined to accede. He had fixed a day and an hour. He had made an appointment. Of course he must keep it.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14