The reader will perhaps remember that when Lizzie Eustace was told that her aunt was down-stairs Frank Greystock was with her, and that he promised to return on the following day to hear the result of the interview. Had Lady Linlithgow not come at that very moment Frank would probably have asked his rich cousin to be his wife. She had told him that she was solitary and unhappy; and after that what else could he have done but ask her to be his wife? The old countess, however, arrived and interrupted him. He went away abruptly, promising to come on the morrow; but on the morrow he never came. It was a Friday, and Lizzie remained at home for him the whole morning. When four o’clock was passed she knew that he would be at the House. But still she did not stir. And she contrived that Miss Macnulty should be absent the entire day. Miss Macnulty was even made to go to the play by herself in the evening. But her absence was of no service. Frank Greystock came not; and at eleven at night Lizzie swore to herself that should he ever come again, he should come in vain. Nevertheless, through the whole of Saturday she expected him with more or less of confidence, and on the Sunday morning she was still well inclined toward him. It might be that he would come on that day. She could understand that a man with his hands so full of business as were those of her cousin Frank should find himself unable to keep an appointment. Nor would there be fair ground for permanent anger with such a one, even should he forget an appointment. But surely he would come on the Sunday! She had been quite sure that the offer was about to be made when that odious old harridan had come in and disturbed everything. Indeed, the offer had been all but made. She had felt the premonitory flutter, had asked herself the important question, and had answered it. She had told herself that the thing would do. Frank was not the exact hero that her fancy had painted, but he was sufficiently heroic. Everybody said that he would work his way up to the top of the tree, and become a rich man. At any rate she had resolved; and then Lady Linlithgow had come in! Surely he would come on the Sunday.
He did not come on the Sunday, but Lord Fawn did come. Immediately after morning church Lord Fawn declared his intention of returning at once from Fawn Court to town. He was very silent at breakfast, and his sisters surmised that he was still angry with poor Lucy. Lucy, too, was unlike herself, was silent, sad, and oppressed. Lady Fawn was serious, and almost solemn; so that there was little even of holy mirth at Fawn Court on that Sunday morning. The whole family, however, went to church, and immediately on their return Lord Fawn expressed his intention of returning to town. All the sisters felt that an injury had been done to them by Lucy. It was only on Sundays that their dinner-table was graced by the male member of the family, and now he was driven away. “I am sorry that you are going to desert us, Frederic,” said Lady Fawn. Lord Fawn muttered something as to absolute necessity, and went. The afternoon was very dreary at Fawn Court. Nothing was said on the subject; but there was still the feeling that Lncy had offended. At four o’clock on that Sunday afternoon Lord Fawn was closeted with Lady Eustace.
The “closeting” consisted simply in the fact that Miss Macnulty was not present. Lizzie fully appreciated the pleasure, and utility, and general convenience of having a companion, but she had no scruple whatever in obtaining absolute freedom for herself when she desired it. “My dear,” she would say, “the best friends in the world shouldn’t always be together; should they? Wouldn’t you like to go to the Horticultural?” Then Miss Macnulty would go to the Horticultural, or else up into her own bedroom. When Lizzie was beginning to wax wrathful again because Frank Greystock did not come, Lord Fawn made his appearance. “How kind this is,” said Lizzie. “I thought you were always at Richmond on Sundays.”
“I have just come up from my mother’s,” said Lord Fawn, twiddling his hat. Then Lizzie, with a pretty eagerness, asked after Lady Fawn and the girls, and her dear little friend Lucy Morris. Lizzie could be very prettily eager when she pleased. She leaned forward her face as she asked her questions, and threw back her loose lustrous lock of hair, with her long lithe fingers covered with diamonds — the diamonds, these, which Sir Florian had really given her, or which she had procured from Mr. Benjamin in the clever manner described in the opening chapter. “They are all quite well, thank you,” said Lord Fawn. “I believe Miss Morris is quite well, though she was a little out of sorts last night.”
“She is not ill, I hope,” said Lizzie, bringing the lustrous lock forward again.
“In her temper, I mean,” said Lord Fawn.
“Indeed! I hope Miss Lucy is not forgetting herself. That would be very sad, after the great kindness she has received.” Lord Fawn said that it would be very sad, and then put his hat down upon the floor. It came upon Lizzie at that moment, as by a flash of lightning — by an electric message delivered to her intellect by that movement of the hat — that she might be sure of Lord Fawn if she chose to take him. On Friday she might have been sure of Frank, only that Lady Linlithgow came in the way. But now she did not feel at all sure of Frank. Lord Fawn was at any rate a peer. She had heard that he was a poor peer — but a peer, she thought, can’t be altogether poor. And though he was a stupid owl — she did not hesitate to acknowledge to herself that he was as stupid as an owl — he had a position. He was one of the Government, and his wife would, no doubt, be able to go anywhere. It was becoming essential to her that she should marry. Even though her husband should give up the diamonds, she would not in such case incur the disgrace of surrendering them herself. She would have kept them till she had ceased to be a Eustace. Frank had certainly meant it on that Thursday afternoon; but surely he would have been in Mount street before this if he had not changed his mind. We all know that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. “I have been at Fawn Court once or twice,” said Lizzie, with her sweetest grace, “and I always think it a model of a real family happiness.”
“I hope you may be there very often,” said Lord Fawn.
“Ah, I have no right to intrude myself often on your mother, Lord Fawn.”
There could hardly be a better opening than this for him had he chosen to accept it. But it was not thus that he had arranged it — for he made his arrangements. “There would be no feeling of that kind, I am sure,” he said. And then he was silent. How was he to deploy himself on the ground before him so as to make the strategy which he had prepared answer the occasion of the day? “Lady Eustace,” he said, “I don’t know what your views of life may be.”
“I have a child, you know, to bring up.”
“Ah, yes; that gives a great interest, of course.”
“He will inherit a very large fortune, Lord Fawn; too large, I fear, to be of service to a youth of one-and-twenty; and I must endeavour to fit him for the possession of it. That is, and always must be, the chief object of my existence.” Then she felt that she had said too much. He was just the man who would be fool enough to believe her. “Not but what it is hard to do it. A mother can of course devote herself to her child; but when a portion of the devotion must be given to the preservation of material interests there is less of tenderness in it. Don’t you think so?”
“No doubt,” said Lord Fawn; “no doubt.” But he had not followed her, and was still thinking of his own strategy. “It’s a comfort, of course, to know that one’s child is provided for.”
“Oh, yes; but they tell me the poor little dear will have forty thousand a year when he’s of age; and when I look at him in his little bed, and press him in my arms, and think of all that money, I almost wish that his father had been a poor plain gentleman.” Then the handkerchief was put to her eyes, and Lord Fawn had a moment in which to collect himself.
“Ah! I myself am a poor man, for my rank, I mean.”
“A man with your position, Lord Fawn, and your talents and genius for business, can never be poor.”
“My father’s property was all Irish, you know.”
“Was it indeed?”
“And he was an Irish peer till Lord Melbourne gave him an English peerage.”
“An Irish peer, was he?” Lizzie understood nothing of this, but presumed that an Irish peer was a peer who had not sufficient money to live upon. Lord Fawn, however, was endeavouring to describe his own history in as few words as possible.
“He was then made Lord Fawn of Richmond, in the peerage of the United Kingdom. Fawn Court, you know, belonged to my mother’s father before my mother’s marriage. The property in Ireland is still mine, but there’s no place on it.”
“There was a house, but my father allowed it to tumble down. It’s in Tipperary; not at all a desirable country to live in.”
“Oh dear, no! Don’t they murder the people?”
“It’s about five thousand a year, and out of that my mother has half for her life.”
“What an excellent family arrangement,” said Lizzie. There was so long a pause made between each statement that she was forced to make some reply.
“You see, for a peer, the fortune is very small indeed.”
“But then you have a salary, don’t you?”
“At present I have; but no one can tell how long that may last.”
“I’m sure it’s for everybody’s good that it should go on for ever so many years,” said Lizzie.
“Thank you,” said Lord Fawn. “I’m afraid, however, there are a great many people who don’t think so. Your cousin Greystock would do anything on earth to turn us out.”
“Luckily my cousin Frank has not much power,” said Lizzie. And in saying it she threw into her tone, and into her countenance, a certain amount of contempt for Frank as a man and as a politician, which was pleasant to Lord Fawn.
“Now,” said he, “I have told you everything about myself which I was bound, as a man of honour, to tell before I— I— I—. In short, you know what I mean.”
“Oh, Lord Fawn!”
“I have told you everything. I owe no money, but I could not afford to marry a wife without an income. I admire you more than any woman I ever saw. I love you with all my heart.” He was now standing upright before her, with the fingers of his right hand touching his left breast, and there was something almost of dignity in his gesture and demeanour. “It may be that you are determined never to marry again. I can only say that if you will trust yourself to me — yourself and your child — I will do my duty truly by you both, and will make your happiness the chief object of my existence.” When she had listened to him thus far, of course she must accept him; but he was by no means aware of that. She sat silent, with her hands folded on her breast, looking down upon the ground; but he did not as yet attempt to seat himself by her. “Lady Eustace,” he continued, “may I venture to entertain a hope?”
“May I not have an hour to think of it,” said Lizzie, just venturing to turn a glance of her eye upon his face.
“Oh, certainly. I will call again whenever you may bid me.”
Now she was silent for two or three minutes, during which he still stood over her. But he had dropped his hand from his breast, and had stooped, and picked up his hat ready for his departure. Was he to come again on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday? Let her tell him that and he would go. He doubtless reflected that Wednesday would suit him best, because there would be no House. But Lizzie was too magnanimous for this. “Lord Fawn,” she said, rising, “you have paid me the greatest compliment that a man can pay a woman. Coming from you it is doubly precious; first, because of your character; and secondly ——”
“Secondly, because I can love you.” This was said in her lowest whisper, and then she moved toward him gently, and almost laid her head upon his breast. Of course he put his arm round her waist, but it was first necessary that he should once more disembarrass himself of his hat, and then her head was upon his breast.
“Dearest Lizzie,” he said.
“Dearest Frederic,” she murmured.
“I shall write to my mother to-night,” he said.
“Do, do, dear Frederic.”
“And she will come to you at once, I am sure.”
“I will receive her and love her as a mother,” said Lizzie, with all her energy. Then he kissed her again, her forehead and her lips, and took his leave, promising to be with her at any rate on Wednesday.
“Lady Fawn!” she said to herself. The name did not sound so well as that of Lady Eustace. But it is much to be a wife; and more to be a peeress.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14