It took Lord Fawn a long time to write his letter, but at last he wrote it. The delay must not be taken as throwing any slur on his character as a correspondent or a man of business, for many irritating causes sprang up sufficient to justify him in pleading that it arose from circumstances beyond his own control. It is moreover felt by us all that the time which may fairly be taken in the performance of any task depends, not on the amount of work, but on the importance of it when done. A man is not expected to write a check for a couple of thousand pounds as readily as he would one for five, unless he be a man to whom a couple of thousand pounds is a mere nothing. To Lord Fawn the writing of this letter was everything. He had told Lizzie, with much exactness, what he would put into it. He would again offer his hand — acknowledging himself bound to do so by his former offer — but would give reasons why she should not accept it. If anything should occur in the mean time which would in his opinion justify him in again repudiating her, he would of course take advantage of such circumstance. If asked, himself, what was his prevailing motive in all that he did or intended to do, he would have declared that it was above all things necessary that he should “put himself right in the eye of the British public.”
But he was not able to do this without interference from the judgment of others. Both Mr. and Mrs. Hittaway interfered; and he could not prevent himself from listening to them and believing them, though he would contradict all they said, and snub all their theories. Frank Greystock also continued to interfere, and Lady Glencora Palliser. Even John Eustace had been worked upon to write to Lord Fawn, stating his opinion as trustee for his late brother’s property, that the Eustace family did not think that there was ground of complaint against Lady Eustace in reference to the diamonds which had been stolen. This was a terrible blow to Lord Fawn, and had come no doubt from a general agreement among the Eustace faction — including the bishop, John Eustace, and even Mr. Camperdown — that it would be a good thing to get the widow married and placed under some decent control.
Lady Glencora absolutely had the effrontery to ask him whether the marriage was not going to take place, and when a day would be fixed. He gathered up his courage to give her ladyship a rebuke. “My private affairs do seem to be uncommonly interesting,” he said.
“Why, yes, Lord Fawn,” said Lady Glencora, whom nothing could abash, “most interesting. You see, dear Lady Eustace is so very popular that we all want to know what is to be her fate.”
“I regret to say that I cannot answer your ladyship’s question with any precision,” said Lord Fawn.
But the Hittaway persecution was by far the worst. “You have seen her, Frederic,” said his sister.
“Yes, I have.”
“You have made her no promise?”
“My dear Clara, this is a matter in which I must use my own judgment.”
“But the family, Frederic?”
“I do not think that any member of our family has a just right to complain of my conduct since I have had the honour of being its head. I have endeavoured so to live that my actions should encounter no private or public censure. If I fail to meet with your approbation, I shall grieve; but I cannot on that account act otherwise than in accordance with my own judgment.”
Mrs. Hittaway knew her brother well, and was not afraid of him. “That’s all very well; and I am sure you know, Frederic, how proud we all are of you. But this woman is a nasty, low, scheming, ill-conducted, dishonest little wretch; and if you make her your wife you’ll be miserable all your life. Nothing would make me and Orlando so unhappy as to quarrel with you. But we know that it is so, and to the last minute I shall say so. Why don’t you ask her to her face about that man down in Scotland?”
“My dear Clara, perhaps I know what to ask her and what not to ask her better than you can tell me.”
And his brother-inlaw was quite as bad. “Fawn,” he said, “in this matter of Lady Eustace, don’t you think you ought to put your conduct into the hands of some friend?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I think it is an affair in which a man would have so much comfort in being able to say that he was guided by advice. Of course her people want you to marry her. Now if you could just tell them that the whole thing was in the hands of — say me, or any other friend, you would be relieved, you know, of so much responsibility. They might hammer away at me ever so long and I shouldn’t care twopence.”
“If there is to be any hammering, it cannot be borne vicariously,” said Lord Fawn, and as he said it he was quite pleased by his own sharpness and wit.
He had indeed put himself beyond protection by vicarious endurance of hammering when he promised to write to Lady Eustace, explaining his own conduct and giving reasons. Had anything turned up in Scotland Yard which would have justified him in saying, or even in thinking, that Lizzie had stolen her own diamonds, he would have sent word to her that he must abstain from any communication till that matter had been cleared up; but since the appearance of that mysterious paragraph in the newspapers nothing had been heard of the robbery, and public opinion certainly seemed to be in favour of Lizzie’s innocence. He did think that the Eustace faction was betraying him, as he could not but remember how eager Mr. Camperdown had been in asserting that the widow was keeping an enormous amount of property and claiming it as her own, whereas in truth she had not the slightest title to it. It was, in a great measure, in consequence of the assertions of the Eustace faction, almost in obedience to their advice, that he had resolved to break off the match; and now they turned upon him, and John Eustace absolutely went out of his way to write him a letter which was clearly meant to imply that he, Lord Fawn, was bound to marry the woman to whom he had once engaged himself! Lord Fawn felt that he was ill-used, and that a man might have to undergo a great deal of bad treatment who should strive to put himself right in the eye of the public.
At last he wrote his letter — on a Wednesday, which with him had something of the comfort of a half-holiday, as on that day he was not required to attend Parliament.
“INDIA OFFICE, March 28, 18 —.
“MY DEAR LADY EUSTACE: In accordance with the promise which I made to you when I did myself the honour of waiting upon you in Hertford Street, I take up my pen with the view of communicating to you the result of my deliberations respecting the engagement of marriage which no doubt did exist between us last summer.
“Since that time I have no doubt taken upon myself to say that that engagement was over; and I am free to admit that I did so without any assent or agreement on your part to that effect. Such conduct no doubt requires a valid and strong defence. My defence is as follows:
“I learned that you were in possession of a large amount of property, vested in diamonds, which was claimed by the executors under your late husband’s will as belonging to his estate; and as to which they declared, in the most positive manner, that you had no right or title to it whatever. I consulted friends and I consulted lawyers, and I was led to the conviction that this property certainly did not belong to you. Had I married you in these circumstances, I could not but have become a participator in the lawsuit which I was assured would be commenced. I could not be a participator with you, because I believed you to be in the wrong. And I certainly could not participate with those who would in such case be attacking my own wife.
“In this condition of things I requested you — as you must I think yourself own, with all deference and good feeling — to give up the actual possession of the property, and to place the diamonds in neutral hands”— Lord Fawn was often called upon to be neutral in reference to the condition of outlying Indian principalities —“till the law should have decided as to their ownership. As regards myself, I neither coveted nor rejected the possession of that wealth for my future wife. I desired simply to be free from an embarrassment which would have overwhelmed me. You declined my request — not only positively, but perhaps I may add peremptorily; and then I was bound to adhere to the decision I had communicated to you.
“Since that time the property has been stolen and, as I believe, dissipated. The lawsuit against you has been withdrawn; and the bone of contention, so to say, is no longer existing. I am no longer justified in declining to keep my engagement because of the prejudice to which I should have been subjected by your possession of the diamonds; and therefore, as far as that goes, I withdraw my withdrawal.” This Lord Fawn thought was rather a happy phrase, and he read it aloud to himself more than once.
“But now there arises the question whether, in both our interests, this marriage should go on, or whether it may not be more conducive to your happiness and to mine that it should be annulled for causes altogether irrespective of the diamonds. In a matter so serious as marriage, the happiness of the two parties is that which requires graver thought than any other consideration.
“There has no doubt sprung up between us a feeling of mutual distrust, which has led to recrimination, and which is hardly compatible with that perfect confidence which should exist between a man and his wife. This first arose no doubt from the different views which we took as to that property of which I have spoken, and as to which your judgment may possibly have been better than mine. On that head I will add nothing to what I have already said; but the feeling has arisen, and I fear it cannot be so perfectly allayed as to admit of that reciprocal trust without which we could not live happily together. I confess that for my own part I do not now desire a union which was once the great object of my ambition, and that I could not go to the altar with you without fear and trembling. As to your own feelings, you best know what they are. I bring no charge against you; but if you have ceased to love me I think you should cease to wish to be my wife, and that you should not insist upon a marriage simply because by doing so you would triumph over a former objection. “Before he finished this paragraph he thought much of Andy Gowran and of the scene among the rocks of which he had heard. But he could not speak of it. He had found himself unable to examine the witness who had been brought to him, and had honestly told himself that he could not take that charge as proved. Andy Gowran might have lied. In his heart he believed that Andy Gowran had lied. The matter was distasteful to him, and he would not touch it. And yet he knew that the woman did not love him, and he longed to tell her so.
“As to what we might each gain or each lose in a worldly point of view, either by marrying or not marrying, I will not say a word. You have rank and wealth, and therefore I can comfort myself by thinking that if I dissuade you from this marriage I shall rob you of neither. I acknowledge that I wish to dissuade you, as I believe that we should not make each other happy. As however I do consider that I am bound to keep my engagement to you if you demand that I shall do so, I leave the matter in your hands for decision. I am, and shall remain, your sincere friend,
He read the letter and copied it, and gave himself great credit for the composition. He thought that it was impossible that any woman after reading it should express a wish to become the wife of the man who wrote it; and yet — so he believed, no man or woman could find fault with him for writing it. There certainly was one view of the case which was very distressing. How would it be with him if after all she should say that she would marry him? After having given her her choice — having put it all in writing — he could not again go back from it. He would be in her power, and of what use would his life be to him? Would Parliament or the India Office or the eye of the public be able to comfort him then in the midst of his many miseries? What could he do with a wife whom he married with a declaration that he disliked her? With such feelings as were his, how could he stand before a clergyman and take an oath that he would love her and cherish her? Would she not ever be as an adder to him — as an adder whom it would be impossible that he should admit into his bosom? Could he live in the same house with her; and if so, could he ask his mother and sisters to visit her? He remembered well what Mrs. Hittaway had called her — a nasty, low, scheming, ill-conducted, dishonest little wretch! And he believed that she was so! Yet he was once again offering to marry her, should she choose to accept him.
Nevertheless, the letter was sent. There was, in truth, no alternative. He had promised that he would write such a letter, and all that had remained to him was the power of cramming into it every available argument against the marriage. This he had done and, as he thought, had done well. It was impossible that she should desire to marry him after reading such a letter as that!
Lizzie received it in her bedroom, where she breakfasted, and told of its arrival to her friend Mrs. Carbuncle as soon as they met each other. “My lord has come down from his high horse at last,” she said, with the letter in her hand.
“What — Lord Fawn?”
“Yes; Lord Fawn. What other lord? There is no other lord for me. He is my lord, my peer of Parliament, my Cabinet minister, my right honourable, my member of the Government — my young man too, as the maid-servants call them.”
“What does he say?”
“Say — what should he say — just that he has behaved very badly, and that he hopes I shall forgive him.”
“Not quite that; does he?”
“That’s what it all means. Of course there is ever so much of it — pages of it. It wouldn’t be Lord Fawn if he didn’t spin it all out, like an act of Parliament, with whereas and whereis and whereof. It is full of all that; but the meaning of it is that he’s at my feet again, and that I may pick him up if I choose to take him. I’d show you the letter, only perhaps it wouldn’t be fair to the poor man.”
“What excuse does he make?”
“Oh — as to that he’s rational enough. He calls the necklace the — bone of contention. That’s rather good for Lord Fawn; isn’t it? The bone of contention, he says, has been removed; and therefore there is no reason why we shouldn’t marry if we like it. He shall hear enough about the bone of contention if we do ‘marry.’”
“And what shall you do now?”
“Ah, yes; that’s easily asked, is it not? The man’s a good sort of man in his way, you know. He doesn’t drink or gamble, and I don’t think there is a bit of the King David about him — that I don’t.”
“Virtue personified, I should say.”
“And he isn’t extravagant.”
“Then why not have him and done with it?” asked Mrs. Carbuncle.
“He is such a lumpy man,” said Lizzie; “such an ass; such a load of government waste paper.”
“Come, my dear; you’ve had troubles.”
“I have indeed,” said Lizzie.
“And there’s no quite knowing yet how far they’re over.”
“What do you mean by that, Mrs. Carbuncle?”
“Nothing very much; but still, you see, they may come again. As to Lord George, we all know that he has not got a penny-piece in the world that he can call his own.”
“If he had as many pennies as Judas, Lord George would be nothing to me,” said Lizzie.
“And your cousin really doesn’t seem to mean anything.”
“I know very well what my cousin means. He and I understand each other thoroughly; but cousins can love one another very well without marrying.”
“Of course you know your own business, but if I were you I would take Lord Fawn. I speak in true kindness, as one woman to another. After all, what does love signify? How much real love do we ever see among married people? Does Lady Glencora Palliser really love her husband, who thinks of nothing in the world but putting taxes on and off?”
“Do you love your husband, Mrs. Carbuncle?”
“No; but that is a different kind of thing. Circumstances have caused me to live apart from him. The man is a good man, and there is no reason why you should not respect him and treat him well. He will give you a fixed position, which really you want badly, Lady Eustace.”
“Torriloo, tooriloo, tooriloo, looriloo,” said Lizzie, in contemptuous disdain of her friend’s caution..
“And then all this trouble about the diamonds and the robberies will be over,” continued Mrs. Carbuncle. Lizzie looked at her very intently. What should make Mrs. Carbuncle suppose that there need be, or indeed could be, any further trouble about the diamonds?
“So, that’s your advice,” said Lizzie, “I’m half inclined to take it, and perhaps I shall. However, I have brought him round, and that’s something, my dear. And either one way or the other, I shall let him know that I like my triumph. I was determined to have it, and I’ve got it.” Then she read the letter again very seriously. Could she possibly marry a man who in so many words told her that he didn’t want her? Well, she thought she could. Was not everybody treating everybody else much in the same way? Had she not loved her Corsair truly, and how had he treated her? Had she not been true, disinterested, and most affectionate to Frank Greystock; and what had she got from him? To manage her business wisely, and put herself upon firm ground, that was her duty at present. Mrs. Carbuncle was right, there. The very name of Lady Fawn would be a rock to her, and she wanted a rock. She thought upon the whole that she could marry him — unless Patience Crabstick and the police should again interfere with her prosperity.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55