Between her son, and her married daughter, and Lucy Morris, poor Lady Fawn’s life had become a burthen to her. Everything was astray, and there was no happiness or tranquillity at Fawn Court. Of all simply human creeds, the strongest existing creed for the present in the minds of the Fawn ladies was that which had reference to the general iniquity of Lizzie Eustace. She had been the cause of all these sorrows, and she was hated so much the more because she had not been proved to be iniquitous before all the world. There had been a time when it seemed to be admitted that she was so wicked in keeping the diamonds in opposition to the continued demands made for them by Mr. Camperdown, that all people would be justified in dropping her, and Lord Fawn among the number. But since the two robberies public opinion had veered round three or four points in Lizzie’s favour and people were beginning to say that she had been ill-used. Then had come Mrs. Hittaway’s evidence as to Lizzie’s wicked doings down in Scotland — the wicked doings which Andy Gowran had described with a vehemence so terribly moral — and that which had been at first, as it were, added to the diamonds, as a supplementary weight thrown into the scale so that Lizzie’s iniquities might bring her absolutely to the ground, had gradually assumed the position of being the first charge against her. Lady Fawn had felt no aversion to discussing the diamonds. When Lizzie was called a “thief,” and a “robber,” and a “swindler,” by one or another of the ladies of the family — who, in using those strong terms, whispered the words as ladies are wont to do when they desire to lessen the impropriety of the strength of their language by the gentleness of the tone in which the words are spoken — when Lizzie was thus described in Lady Fawn’s hearing in her own house, she had felt no repugnance to it. It was well that the fact should be known, so that everybody might be aware that her son was doing right in refusing to marry so wicked a lady. But when the other thing was added to it; when the story was told of what Mr. Gowran had seen among the rocks, and when gradually that became the special crime which was to justify her son in dropping the lady’s acquaintance, then Lady Fawn became very unhappy, and found the subject to be, as Mrs. Hittaway had described it, very distasteful.
And this trouble hit Lucy Morris as hard as it did Lord Fawn. If Lizzie Eustace was unfit to marry Lord Fawn because of these things, then was Frank Greystock not only unfit to marry Lucy, but most unlikely to do so, whether fit or unfit. For a week or two Lady Fawn had allowed herself to share Lucy’s joy, and to believe that Mr. Greystock would prove himself true to the girl whose heart he had made all his own; but she had soon learned to distrust the young member of Parliament who was always behaving insolently to her son, who spent his holidays down with Lizzie Eustace, who never visited and rarely wrote to the girl he had promised to marry, and as to whom all the world agreed in saying that he was far too much in debt to marry any woman who had not means to help him. It was all sorrow and vexation together; and yet when her married daughter would press the subject upon her, and demand her co-operation, she had no power of escaping.
“Mamma,” Mrs. Hittaway had said, “Lady Glencora Palliser has been with her, and everybody is taking her up, and if her conduct down in Scotland isn’t proved, Frederic will be made to marry her.”
“But what can I do, my dear?” Lady Fawn had asked, almost in tears.
“Insist that Frederic shall know the whole truth,” replied Mrs. Hittaway with energy. “Of course it is very disagreeable. Nobody can feel it more than I do. It is horrible to have to talk about such things, and to think of them.”
“Indeed it is, Clara, very horrible.”
“But anything, mamma, is better than that Frederic should be allowed to marry such a woman as that. It must be proved to him — how unfit she is to be his wife.” With the view of carrying out this intention, Mrs. Hittaway had, as we have seen, received Andy Gowran at her own house; and with the same view she took Andy Gowran the following morning down to Richmond.
Mrs. Hittaway, and her mother, and Andy were closeted together for half an hour, and Lady Fawn suffered grievously. Lord Fawn had found that he couldn’t hear the story, and he had not heard it. He had been strong enough to escape, and had, upon the whole, got the best of it in the slight skirmish which had taken place between him and the Scotchman, but poor old Lady Fawn could not escape. Andy was allowed to be eloquent, and the whole story was told to her, though she would almost sooner have been flogged at a cart’s tail than have heard it. Then “rafrashments” were administered to Andy of a nature which made him prefer Fawn Court to Warwick Square, and he was told that he might go back to Portray as soon as he pleased.
When he was gone, Mrs. Hittaway opened her mind to her mother altogether. “The truth is, mamma, that Frederic will marry her.”
“But why? I thought that he had declared that he would give it up. I thought that he had said so to herself.”
“What of that, if he retracts what he said? He is so weak. Lady Glencora Palliser has made him promise to go and see her; and he is to go today. He is there now, probably, at this very moment. If he had been firm, the thing was done. After all that has taken place, nobody would ever have supposed that his engagement need go for anything. But what can he say to her now that he is in with her, except just do the mischief all over again? I call it quite wicked in that woman’s interfering. I do, indeed! She’s a nasty, insolent, impertinent creature; that’s what she is. After all the trouble I’ve taken, she comes and undoes it all with one word.”
“What can we do, Clara?”
“Well; I do believe that if Frederic could be made to act as he ought to do, just for a while, she would marry her cousin, Mr. Greystock, and then there would be an end of it altogether. I really think that she likes him best, and from all that I can hear she would take him now, if Frederic would only keep out of the way. As for him, of course he is doing his very best to get her. He has not one shilling to rub against another, and is over head and ears in debt.”
“Poor Lucy!” ejaculated Lady Fawn.
“Well, yes; but really that is a matter of course. I always thought, mamma, that you and Amelia were a little wrong to coax her up in that belief.”
“But, my dear, the man proposed for her in the plainest possible manner. I saw his letter.”
“No doubt; men do propose. We all know that. I’m sure I don’t know what they get by it, but I suppose it amuses them. There used to be a sort of feeling that if a man behaved badly something would be done to him; but that’s all over now. A man may propose to whom he likes, and if he chooses to say afterwards that it doesn’t mean anything, there’s nothing in the world to bring him to book.”
“That’s very hard,” said the elder lady, of whom everybody said that she did not understand the world as well as her daughter.
“The girls — they all know that it is so, and I suppose it comes to the same thing in the long run. The men have to marry, and what one girl loses another girl gets.”
“It will kill Lucy.”
“Girls ain’t killed so easy, mamma — not now-a-days. Saying that it will kill her won’t change the man’s nature. It wasn’t to be expected that such a man as Frank Greystock, in debt, and in Parliament, and going to all the best houses, should marry your governess. What was he to get by it? That’s what I want to know.”
“I suppose he loved her.”
“Laws, mamma, how antediluvian you are! No doubt he did like her — after his fashion; though what he saw in her, I never could tell. I think Miss Morris would make a very nice wife for a country clergyman who didn’t care how poor things were. But she has no style; and as far as I can see she has no beauty. Why should such a man as Frank Greystock tie himself by the leg for ever to such a girl as that? But, mamma, he doesn’t mean to marry Lucy Morris. Would he have been going on in that way with his cousin down in Scotland had he meant it? He means nothing of the kind. He means to marry Lady Eustace’s income if he can get it; and she would marry him before the summer, if only we could keep Frederic away from her.”
Mrs. Hittaway demanded from her mother that in season and out of season she should be urgent with Lord Fawn, impressing upon him the necessity of waiting, in order that he might see how false Lady Eustace was to him; and also that she should teach Lucy Morris how vain were all her hopes. If Lucy Morris would withdraw her claims altogether the thing might probably be more quickly and more surely managed. If Lucy could be induced to tell Frank that she withdrew her claim, and that she saw how impossible it was that they should ever be man and wife, then — so argued Mrs. Hittaway — Frank would at once throw himself at his cousin’s feet, and all the difficulty would be over. The abominable, unjustifiable, and insolent interference of Lady Glencora just at the present moment would be the means of undoing all the good that had been done, unless it could be neutralised by some such activity as this. The necklace had absolutely faded away into nothing. The sly creature was almost becoming a heroine on the strength of the necklace. The very mystery with which the robberies were pervaded was acting in her favour. Lord Fawn would absolutely be made to marry her — forced into it by Lady Glencora and that set — unless the love affair between her and her cousin, of which Andy Gowran was able to give such sufficient testimony, could in some way be made available to prevent it.
The theory of life and system on which social matters should be managed, as displayed by her married daughter, was very painful to poor old Lady Fawn. When she was told that under the new order of things promises from gentlemen were not to be looked upon as binding, that love was to go for nothing, that girls were to be made contented by being told that when one lover was lost another could be found, she was very unhappy. She could not disbelieve it all, and throw herself back upon her faith in virtue, constancy, and honesty. She rather thought that things had changed for the worse since she was young, and that promises were not now as binding as they used to be. She herself had married into a Liberal family, had a Liberal son, and would have called herself a Liberal; but she could not fail to hear from others, her neighbours, that the English manners, and English principles, and English society were all going to destruction in consequence of the so-called liberality of the age. Gentlemen, she thought, certainly did do things which gentlemen would not have done forty years ago; and as for ladies — they, doubtless, were changed altogether. Most assuredly she could not have brought an Andy Gowran to her mother to tell such tales in their joint presence as this man had told!
Mrs. Hittaway had ridiculed her for saying that poor Lucy would die when forced to give up her lover. Mrs. Hittaway had spoken of the necessity of breaking up that engagement without a word of anger against Frank Greystock. According to Mrs. Hittaway’s views Frank Greystock had amused himself in the most natural way in the world when he asked Lucy to be his wife. A governess like Lucy had been quite foolish to expect that such a man as Greystock was in earnest. Of course she must give up her lover; and if there must be blame she, must blame herself for her folly! Nevertheless, Lady Fawn was so soft-hearted that she believed that the sorrow would crush Lucy, even if it did not kill her.
But not the less was it her duty to tell Lucy what she thought to be the truth. The story of what had occurred among the rocks at Portray was very disagreeable, but she believed it to be true. The man had been making love to his cousin after his engagement to Lucy. And then, was it not quite manifest that he was neglecting poor Lucy in every way? He had not seen her for nearly six months. Had he intended to marry her, would he not have found a home for her at the deanery? Did he in any respect treat her as he would treat the girl whom he intended to marry? Putting all these things together, Lady Fawn thought that she saw that Lucy’s case was hopeless; and, so thinking, wrote to her the following letter:
“FAWN COURT, 3d March, 18 —
“DEAREST LUCY: I have so much to say to you that I did think of getting Lady Linlithgow to let you come to us here for a day, but I believe it will perhaps be better that I should write. I think you leave Lady Linlithgow after the first week in April, and it is quite necessary that you should come to some fixed arrangement as to the future. If that were all, there need not be any trouble, as you will come here, of course. Indeed, this is your natural home, as we all feel; and I must say that we have missed you most terribly since you went, not only for Cecilia and Nina, but for all of us. And I don’t know that I should write at all if it wasn’t for something else, that must be said sooner or later; because, as to your coming here in April, that is so much a matter of course. The only mistake was, that you should ever have gone away. So we shall expect you here on whatever day you may arrange with Lady Linlithgow as to leaving her.” (The poor, dear lady went on repeating her affectionate invitation, because of the difficulty she encountered in finding words with which to give the cruel counsel which she thought that it was her duty to offer.)
“And now, dearest Lucy, I must say what I believe to be the truth about Mr. Greystock. I think that you should teach yourself to forget him, or at any rate, that you should teach yourself to forget the offer which he made to you last autumn. Whether he was or was not in earnest then, I think that he has now determined to forget it. I fear there is no doubt that he has been making love to his cousin, Lady Eustace. You well know that I should not mention such a thing, if I had not the strongest possible grounds to convince me that I ought to do so. But, independent of this, his conduct to you during the last six months has been such as to make us all feel sure that the engagement is distasteful to him. He has probably found himself so placed that he cannot marry without money, and has wanted the firmness, or perhaps you will say the hardness of heart, to say so openly. I am sure of this, and so is Amelia, that it will be better for you to give the matter up altogether, and to come here and recover the blow among friends who will be as kind to you as possible. I know all that you will feel, and you have my fullest sympathy; but even such sorrows as that are cured by time, and by the mercy of God, which is not only infinite, but all-powerful.
“Your most affectionate friend,
Lady Fawn, when she had written her letter, discussed it with Amelia, and the two together agreed that Lucy would never surmount the ill effects of the blow which was thus prophesied. “As to saying it will kill her, mamma,” said Amelia, “I don’t believe in that. If I were to break my leg, the accident might shorten my life, and this may shorten hers. It won’t kill her in any other way. But it will alter her altogether. Nobody ever used to make herself happy so easily as Lucy Morris, but all that will be gone now.”
When Lucy received the letter, the immediate effect upon her, the effect which came from the first reading of it, was not very great. She succeeded for some half-hour in putting it aside, as referring to a subject on which she had quite made up her mind in a direction contrary to that indicated by her correspondent’s advice. Lady Fawn told her that her lover intended to be false to her. She had thought the matter over very carefully within the last day or two, and had altogether made up her mind that she would continue to trust her lover. She had abstained from sending to him the letter which she had written, and had abstained on that resolution. Lady Fawn, of course, was as kind and friendly as a friend could be. She loved Lady Fawn dearly. But she was not bound to think Lady Fawn right, and in this instance she did not think Lady Fawn right. So she folded up the letter and put it in her pocket.
But by putting the letter into her pocket she could not put it out of her mind. Though she had resolved, of what use to her was a resolution in which she could not trust? Day had passed by after day, week after week, and month after month, and her very soul within her had become sad for want of seeing this man, who was living almost in the next street to her. She was ashamed to own to herself how many hours she had sat at the window, thinking that, perhaps, he might walk before the house in which he knew that she was immured. And, even had it been impossible that he should come to her, the post was open to him. She had scorned to write to him oftener than he would write to her, and now their correspondence had dwindled almost to nothing. He knew as well as did Lady Fawn when the period of her incarceration in Lady Linlithgow’s dungeon would come to an end; and he knew, too, how great had been her hope that she might be accepted as a guest at the deanery when that period should arrive. He knew that she must look for a new home, unless he would tell her where she should live. Was it likely, was it possible, that he should be silent so long if he still intended to make her his wife? No doubt he had come to remember his debts, to remember his ambition, to think of his cousin’s wealth, and to think also of his cousin’s beauty. What right had she ever had to hope for such a position as that of his wife, she who had neither money nor beauty, she who had nothing to give him in return for his name and the shelter of his house beyond her mind and her heart? As she thought of it all, she looked down upon her faded gray frock, and stood up that she might glance at her features in the glass; and she saw how small she was and insignificant, and reminded herself that all she had in the world was a few pounds which she had saved and was still saving in order that she might go to him with decent clothes upon her back. Was it reasonable that she should expect it?
But why had he come to her and made her thus wretched? She could acknowledge to herself that she had been foolish, vain, utterly ignorant of her own value in venturing to hope; perhaps unmaidenly in allowing it to be seen that she had hoped; but what was he in having first exalted her before all her friends, and then abasing her so terribly and bringing her to such utter shipwreck? From spoken or written reproaches she could of course abstain. She would neither write or speak any; but from unuttered reproaches how could she abstain? She had called him a traitor once in playful, loving irony, during those few hours in which her love had been to her a luxury that she could enjoy. But now he was a traitor indeed. Had he left her alone she would have loved him in silence, and not have been wretched in her love. She would, she knew, in that case, have had vigour enough and sufficient strength of character to bear her burden without outward signs of suffering, without any inward suffering that would have disturbed the current of her life. But now everything was over with her. She had no thought of dying, but her future life was a blank to her.
She came down-stairs to sit at lunch with Lady Linlithgow, and the old woman did not perceive that anything was amiss with her companion. Further news had been heard of Lizzie Eustace, and of Lord Fawn, and of the robberies, and the countess declared how she had read in the newspapers that one man was already in custody for the burglary at the house in Hertford Street. From that subject she went on to tidings which had reached her from her old friend Lady Clantantram that the Fawn marriage was on again. “Not that I believe it, my dear; because I think that Mr. Greystock has made it quite safe in that quarter.” All this Lucy heard, and never showed by a single sign, or by a motion of a muscle, that she was in pain. Then Lady Linlithgow asked her what she meant to do after the 5th of April. “I don’t see at all why you shouldn’t stay here, if you like it, Miss Morris; that is, if you have abandoned the stupid idea of an engagement with Frank Greystock.” Lucy smiled, and even thanked the countess, and said that she had made up her mind to go back to Richmond for a month or two, till she could get another engagement as a governess. Then she returned to her room and sat again at her window, looking out upon the street.
What did it matter now where she went? And yet she must go somewhere, and do something. There remained to her the wearisome possession of herself, and while she lived she must eat, and have clothes, and require shelter. She could not dawdle out a bitter existence under Lady Fawn’s roof, eating the bread of charity, hanging about the rooms and shrubberies useless and idle. How bitter to her was that possession of herself, as she felt that there was nothing good to be done with the thing so possessed! She doubted even whether ever again she could become serviceable as a governess, and whether the energy would be left to her of earning her bread by teaching adequately the few things that she knew. But she must make the attempt, and must go on making it, till God in his mercy should take her to himself.
And yet but a few months since life had been so sweet to her! As she felt this she was not thinking of those short days of excited feverish bliss, in which she had believed that all the good things of the world were to be showered into her lap; but of previous years in which everything had been with her as it was now — with the one exception that she had not then been deceived. She had been full of smiles, and humour, and mirth, absolutely happy among her friends, though conscious of the necessity of earning her bread by the exercise of a most precarious profession, while elated by no hope. Though she had loved the man and had been hopeless, she was happy. But now, surely, of all maidens, and of all women, she was the most forlorn.
Having once acceded to the truth of Lady Fawn’s views, she abandoned all hope. Everybody said so, and it was so. There was no word from any side to encourage her. The thing was done and over, and she would never mention his name again. She would simply beg of all the Fawns that no allusion might be made to him in her presence. She would never blame him, and certainly she would never praise him. As far as she could rule her tongue, she would never have his name upon her lips again.
She thought for a time that she would send the letter which she had already written. Any other letter she could not bring herself to write. Even to think of him was an agony to her; but to communicate her thoughts to him was worse than agony. It would be almost madness. What need was there for any letter? If the thing was done it was done. Perhaps there remained with her, staying by her without her own knowledge, some faint spark of hope, that even yet he might return to her. At last she resolved that there should be no letter, and she destroyed that which she had written.
But she did write a note to Lady Fawn, in which she gratefully accepted her old friend’s kindness till such time as she could “find a place.” “As to that other subject,” she said, “I know that you are right. Please let it all be as though it had never been.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01