In the mean time Mrs. Hittaway was diligently spreading a report that Lizzie Eustace either was engaged to marry her cousin Frank, or ought to be so engaged. This she did, no doubt, with the sole object of saving her brother; but she did it with a zeal that dealt as freely with Frank’s name as with Lizzie’s. They, with all their friends, were her enemies, and she was quite sure that they were, altogether, a wicked degraded set of people. Of Lord George and Mrs. Carbuncle, of Miss Roanoke and Sir Griffin Tewett she believed all manner of evil. She had theories of her own about the jewels, stories — probably of her own manufacture in part, although no doubt she believed them to be true — as to the manner of living at Portray, little histories of Lizzie’s debts, and the great fact of the scene which Mr. Gowran had seen with his own eyes. Lizzie Eustace was an abomination to her, and this abominable woman her brother was again in danger of marrying! She was very loud in her denunciations, and took care that they should reach even Lady Linlithgow, so that poor Lucy Morris might know of what sort was the lover in whom she trusted. Andy Gowran had been sent for to town, and was on his journey while Mr. Gager was engaged at Ramsgate. It was at present the great object of Mrs. Hittaway’s life to induce her brother to see Mr. Gowran before he kept his appointment with Lady Eustace.
Poor Lucy received the wound which was intended for her. The enemy’s weapons had repeatedly struck her, but hitherto they had alighted on the strong shield of her faith. But let a shield be never so strong, it may at last be battered out of all form and service. On Lucy’s shield there had been much of such batterings, and the blows which had come from him in whom she most trusted had not been the lightest. She had not seen him for months, and his letters were short, unsatisfactory, and rare. She had declared to herself and to her friend Lady Fawn that no concurrence of circumstances, no absence, however long, no rumours that might reach her ears, would make her doubt the man she loved. She was still steadfast in the same resolution; but in spite of her resolution her heart began to fail her. She became weary, unhappy, and ill at ease, and though she would never acknowledge to herself that she doubted, she did doubt.
“So, after all, your Mr. Greystock is to marry my niece, Lizzie Greystock.” This good-natured speech was made one morning to poor Lucy by her present patroness, Lady Linlithgow.
“I rather think not,” said Lucy, plucking up her spirits and smiling as she spoke.
“Everybody says so. As for Lizzie, she has become quite a heroine. What with her necklace, and her two robberies, and her hunting, and her various lovers — two lords and a member of Parliament, my dear — there is nothing to equal her. Lady Glencora Palliser has been calling on her. She took care to let me know that. And I’m told that she certainly is engaged to her cousin.”
“According to your own showing, Lady Linlithgow, she has got two other lovers. Couldn’t you oblige me by letting her marry one of the lords?”
“I’m afraid, my dear, that Mr. Greystock is to be the chosen one.” Then after a pause the old woman became serious. “What is the use, Miss Morris, of not looking the truth in the face? Mr. Greystock is neglecting you.”
“He is not neglecting me. You won’t let him come to see me.”
“Certainly not; but if he were not neglecting you, you would not be here. And there he is with Lizzie Eustace every day of his life. He can’t afford to marry you, and he can afford to marry her. It’s a deal better that you should look it all in the face and know what it must all come to.”
“I shall just wait, and never believe a word till he speaks it.”
“You hardly know what men are, my dear.”
“Very likely not, Lady Linlithgow. It may be that I shall have to pay dear for learning. Of course I may be mistaken as well as another, only I don’t believe I am mistaken.”
When this little scene took place, only a month remained of the time for which Lucy’s services were engaged to Lady Linlithgow, and no definite arrangement had been made as to her future residence. Lady Fawn was prepared to give her a home, and to Lady Fawn, as it seemed, she must go. Lady Linlithgow had declared herself unwilling to continue the existing arrangement because, as she said, it did not suit her that her companion should be engaged to marry her late sister’s nephew. Not a word had been said about the deanery for the last month or two, and Lucy, though her hopes in that direction had once been good, was far too high spirited to make any suggestion herself as to her reception by her lover’s family. In the ordinary course of things she would have to look out for another situation, like any other governess in want of a place; but she could do this only by consulting Lady Fawn; and Lady Fawn when consulted would always settle the whole matter by simply bidding her young friend to come to Fawn Court.
There must be some end of her living at Fawn Court. So much Lucy told herself over and over again. It could be but a temporary measure. If — if it was to be her fate to be taken away from Fawn Court a happy, glorious, triumphant bride, then the additional obligation put upon her by her dear friends would not be more than she could bear. But to go to Fawn Court, and, by degrees, to have it acknowledged that another place must be found for her, would be very bad. She would infinitely prefer any intermediate hardship. How, then, should she know? As soon as she was able to escape from the countess, she went up to her own room, and wrote the following letter. She studied the words with great care as she wrote them — sitting and thinking before she allowed her pen to run on the paper.
“MY DEAR FRANK: It is a long time since we met — is it not? I do not write this as a reproach, but because my friends tell me that I should not continue to think myself engaged to you. They say that, situated as you are, you cannot afford to marry a penniless girl, and that I ought not to wish you to sacrifice yourself. I do understand enough of your affairs to know that an imprudent marriage may ruin you, and I certainly do not wish to be the cause of injury to you. All I ask is that you should tell me the truth. It is not that I am impatient; but that I must decide what to do with myself when I leave Lady Linlithgow. Your most affectionate friend,
“March 2, 18 —.”
She read this letter over and over again, thinking of all that it said and of all that it omitted to say. She was at first half disposed to make protestations of forgiveness, to assure him that not even within her own heart would she reproach him, should he feel himself bound to retract the promise he had made her. She longed to break out into love, but so to express her love that her lover should know that it was strong enough even to sacrifice itself for his sake. But though her heart longed to speak freely, her judgment told her that it would be better that she should be reticent and tranquil in her language. Any warmth on her part would be in itself a reproach to him. If she really wished to assist him in extricating himself from a difficulty into which he had fallen in her behalf, she would best do so by offering him his freedom in the fewest and plainest words which she could select.
But even when the letter was written she doubted as to the wisdom of sending it. She kept it that she might sleep upon it. She did sleep upon it, and when the morning came she would not send it. Had not absolute faith in her lover been the rock on which she had declared to herself that she would build the house of her future hopes? Had not she protested again and again that no caution from others should induce her to waver in her belief? Was it not her great doctrine to trust, to trust implicitly, even though all should be lost if her trust should be misplaced? And was it well that she should depart from all this, merely because it might be convenient for her to make arrangements as to the coming months? If it were to be her fate to be rejected, thrown over, and deceived, of what use to her could be any future arrangements? All to her would be ruin, and it would matter to her nothing whither she should be taken. And then, why should she lie to him as she would lie in sending such a letter? If he did throw her over he would be a traitor, and her heart would be full of reproaches. Whatever might be his future lot in life, he owed it to her to share it with her, and if he evaded his debt he would be a traitor and a miscreant. She would never tell him so. She would be far too proud to condescend to spoken or written reproaches. But she would know that it would be so, and why should she lie to him by saying that it would not be so? Thinking of all this, when the morning came, she left the letter lying within her desk.
Lord Fawn was to call upon Lady Eustace on the Saturday, and on Friday afternoon Mr. Andrew Gowran was in Mrs. Hittaway’s back parlour in Warwick Square. After many efforts, and with much persuasion, the brother had agreed to see his sister’s great witness. Lord Fawn had felt that he would lower himself by any intercourse with such a one as Andy Gowran in regard to the conduct of the woman whom he had proposed to make his wife, and had endeavoured to avoid the meeting. He had been angry, piteous, haughty, and sullen by turns; but Mrs. Hittaway had overcome him by dogged perseverance; and poor Lord Fawn had at last consented. He was to come to Warwick Square as soon as the House was up on Friday evening, and dine there. Before dinner he was to be introduced to Mr. Gowran. Andy arrived at the house at half-past five, and after some conversation with Mrs. Hittaway, was left there all alone to await the coming of Lord Fawn. He was in appearance and manners very different from the Andy Gowran familiarly known among the braes and crofts of Portray. He had a heavy stiff hat, which he carried in his hand. He wore a black swallow-tail coat and black trousers, and a heavy red waistcoat buttoned up nearly to his throat, round which was lightly tied a dingy black silk handkerchief. At Portray no man was more voluble, no man more self-confident, no man more equal to his daily occupations than Andy Gowran; but the unaccustomed clothes, and the journey to London, and the town houses overcame him, and for a while almost silenced him. Mrs. Hittaway found him silent, cautious, and timid. Not knowing what to do with him, fearing to ask him to go and eat in the kitchen, and not liking to have meat and unlimited drink brought for him into the parlour, she directed the servant to supply him with a glass of sherry and a couple of biscuits. He had come an hour before the time named, and there, with nothing to cheer him beyond these slight creature comforts, he was left to wait all alone till Lord Fawn should be ready to see him.
Andy had seen lords before. Lords are not rarer in Ayrshire than in other Scotch counties; and then, had not Lord George de Bruce Carruthers been staying at Portray half the winter? But Lord George was not to Andy a real lord, and then a lord down in his own county was so much less to him than a lord up in London. And this lord was a lord of Parliament, and a government lord, and might probably have the power of hanging such a one as Andy Gowran were he to commit perjury, or say anything which the lord might choose to call perjury. What it was that Lord Fawn wished him to say, he could not make himself sure. That the lord’s sister wished him to prove Lady Eustace to be all that was bad, he knew very well. But he thought that he was able to perceive that the brother and sister were not at one, and more than once during his journey up to London he had almost made up his mind that he would turn tail and go back to Portray. No doubt there was enmity between him and his mistress; but then his mistress did not attempt to hurt him even though he had insulted her grossly; and were she to tell him to leave her service, it would be from Mr. John Eustace, and not from Mrs. Hittaway, that he must look for the continuation of his employment. Nevertheless he had taken Mrs. Hittaway’s money and there he was.
At half-past seven Lord Fawn was brought into the room by his sister, and Andy Gowran, rising from his chair, three times ducked his head. “Mr. Gowran,” said Mrs. Hittaway, “my brother is desirous that you should tell him exactly what you have seen of Lady Eustace’s conduct down at Portray. You may speak quite freely, and I know you will speak truly.” Andy again ducked his head. “Frederic,” continued the lady, “I am sure that you may implicitly believe all that Mr. Gowran will say to you.” Then Mrs. Hittaway left the room, as her brother had expressly stipulated that she should do.
Lord Fawn was quite at a loss how to begin, and Andy was by no means prepared to help him. “If I am rightly informed,” said the lord, “you have been for many years employed on the Portray property?”
“A’ my life, so please your lairdship.”
“Just so; just so. And of course interested in the welfare of the Eustace family?”
“Nae doobt, my laird, nae doobt; vera interasted indeed.”
“And being an honest man, have felt sorrow that the Portray property should — should — should — that anything bad should happen to it.” Andy nodded his head, and Lord Fawn perceived that he was nowhere near the beginning of his matter. “Lady Eustace is at present your mistress?”
“Just in a fawshion, my laird, as a mon may say. That is she is, and she is nae. There’s a mony things at Portray as ha’ to be lookit after.”
“She pays you your wages?” said Lord Fawn shortly.
“Eh — wages! Yes, my laird, she does a’ that.”
“Then she’s your mistress.” Andy again nodded his head, and Lord Fawn again struggled to find some way in which he might approach the subject. “Her cousin, Mr. Greystock, has been staying at Portray lately?”
“More coothie than coosinly,” said Andy, winking his eye.
It was dreadful to Lord Fawn that the man should wink his eye at him. He did not quite understand what Andy had last said, but he did understand that some accusation as to indecent familiarity with her cousin was intended to be brought by this Scotch steward against the woman to whom he had engaged himself. Every feeling of his nature revolted against the task before him, and he found that on trial it became absolutely impracticable. He could not bring himself to inquire minutely as to poor Lizzie’s flirting down among the rocks. He was weak and foolish, and in many respects ignorant, but he was a gentleman. As he got nearer to the point which it had been intended that he should reach, the more he hated Andy Gowran, and the more he hated himself for having submitted to such contact. He paused a moment and then he declared that the conversation was at an end. “I think that will do, Mr. Gowran,” he said. “I don’t know that you can tell me anything I want to hear. I think you had better go back to Scotland.” So saying, he left Andy alone and stalked up to the drawing-room. When he entered it both Mr. Hittaway and his sister were there. “Clara,” he said very sternly, “you had better send some one to dismiss that man. I shall not speak to him again.”
Lord Fawn did not speak to Andy Gowran again, but Mrs. Hittaway did. After a faint and futile endeavour made by her to ascertain what had taken place in the parlour down-stairs, she descended and found Andy seated in his chair, still holding his hat in his hand, as stiff as a wax figure. He had been afraid of the lord, but as soon as the lord had left him he was very angry with the lord. He had been brought up all that way to tell his story to the lord, and the lord had gone away without hearing a word of it, had gone away and had absolutely insulted him, had asked him who paid him his wages, and had then told him that Lady Eustace was his mistress. Andy Gowran felt strongly that this was not that kind of confidential usage which he had had a right to expect. And after his experience of the last hour and a half, he did not at all relish his renewed solitude in that room. “A drap of puir thin liquor-poored out too-in a weeny glass nae deeper than an egg shell, and twa cookies; that’s what she ca’ed rafrashment!” It was thus that Andy afterwards spoke to his wife of the hospitalities offered to him in Warwick Square, regarding which his anger was especially hot, in that he had been treated like a child or a common labourer, instead of having the decanter left with him to be used at his own discretion. When, therefore, Mrs. Hittaway returned to him, the awe with which new circumstances and the lord had filled him was fast vanishing and giving place to that stubborn indignation against people in general, which was his normal condition. “I suppose I’m jist to gang bock again to Portray, Mrs. Heetaway, and that’ll be a’ you’ll want o’ me?” This he said the moment the lady entered the room.
But Mrs. Hittaway did not want to lose his services quite so soon. She expressed regret that her brother should have found himself unable to discuss a subject that was naturally so very distasteful to him, and begged Mr. Gowran to come to her again the next morning. “What I saw wi’ my ain twa e’es, Mrs. Heetaway, I saw, and nane the less because his lairdship may nae find it jist tasteful, as your leddyship was saying. There were them twa a-colloguing, and a-seetting ilk in ither’s laps a’ o’er, and a-keessing — yes, my leddy, a-keessing as females, not to say males, ought nae to keess unless they be mon and wife — and then not amang the rocks, my leddy; and if his lairdship does nae care to hear tell o’ it, and finds it nae tasteful, as your leddyship was saying, he should nae ha’ sent for Andy Gowran a’ the way from Portray, jist to tell him what he wanna hear, now I’m come to tell’t to him!”
All this was said with so much unction that even Mrs. Hittaway herself found it to be not “tasteful.” She shrunk and shivered under Mr. Gowran’s eloquence, and almost repented of her zeal. But women, perhaps, feel less repugnance than men do at using ignoble assistance in the achievement of good purposes. Though Mrs. Hittaway shrunk and shivered under the strong action with which Mr. Gowran garnished his strong words, still she was sure of the excellence of her purpose; and believing that useful aid might still be obtained from Andy Gowran, and perhaps prudently anxious to get value in return for the cost of the journey up from Ayrshire, she made the man promise to return to her on the following morning.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01