In the way of duty Lord Fawn was a Hercules, not, indeed, “climbing trees in the Hesperides,” but achieving enterprises which to other men, if not impossible, would have been so unpalatable as to have been put aside as impracticable. On the Monday morning after he was accepted by Lady Eustace, he was with his mother at Fawn Court before he went down to the India Office.
He had at least been very honest in the description he had given of his own circumstances to the lady whom he intended to marry. He had told her the exact truth; and though she, with all her cleverness, had not been able to realise the facts when related to her so suddenly, still enough had been said to make it quite clear that, when details of business should hereafter be discussed in a less hurried manner, he would be able to say that he had explained all his circumstances before he had made his offer. And he had been careful, too, as to her affairs. He had ascertained that her late husband had certainly settled upon her for life an estate worth four thousand a year. He knew, also, that eight thousand pounds had been left her, but of that he took no account. It might be probable that she would have spent it. If any of it were left, it would be a godsend. Lord Fawn thought a great deal about money. Being a poor man, filling a place fit only for rich men, he had been driven to think of money, and had become self-denying and parsimonious, perhaps we may say hungry and close-fisted. Such a condition of character is the natural consequence of such a position. There is, probably, no man who becomes naturally so hard in regard to money as he who is bound to live among rich men, who is not rich himself, and who is yet honest. The weight of the work of life in these circumstances is so crushing, requires such continued thought, and makes itself so continually felt, that the mind of the sufferer is never free from the contamination of sixpences. Of such a one it is not fair to judge as of other men with similar incomes. Lord Fawn had declared to his future bride that he had half five thousand a year to spend, or the half, rather, of such actual income as might be got in from an estate presumed to give five thousand a year, and it may be said that an unmarried gentleman ought not to be poor with such an income. But Lord Fawn unfortunately was a lord, unfortunately was a landlord, unfortunately was an Irish landlord. Let him be as careful as he might with his sixpences, his pounds would fly from him, or, as might perhaps be better said, could not be made to fly to him. He was very careful with his sixpences, and was always thinking, not exactly how he might make two ends meet, but how to reconcile the strictest personal economy with the proper bearing of an English nobleman.
Such a man almost naturally looks to marriage as an assistance in the dreary fight. It soon becomes clear to him that he cannot marry without money, and he learns to think that heiresses have been invented exactly to suit his taste. He is conscious of having been subjected to hardship by Fortune, and regards female wealth as his legitimate mode of escape from it. He has got himself, his position, and perhaps his title, to dispose of, and they are surely worth so much per annum. As for giving anything away, that is out of the question. He has not been so placed as to be able to give. But, being an honest man, he will, if possible, make a fair bargain. Lord Fawn was certainly an honest man, and he had been endeavouring for the last six or seven years to make a fair bargain. But then it is so hard to decide what is fair. Who is to tell a Lord Fawn how much per annum he ought to regard himself as worth? He had, on one or two occasions, asked a high price, but no previous bargain had been made. No doubt he had come down a little in his demand in suggesting a matrimonial arrangement to a widow with a child, and with only four thousand a year. Whether or no that income was hers in perpetuity, or only for life, he had not positively known when he made his offer. The will made by Sir Florian Eustace did not refer to the property at all. In the natural course of things, the widow would only have a life-interest in the income. Why should Sir Florian make away, in perpetuity, with his family property? Nevertheless, there had been a rumour abroad that Sir Florian had been very generous; that the Scotch estate was to go to a second son in the event of there being a second son; but that otherwise it was to be at the widow’s own disposal. No doubt, had Lord Fawn been persistent, he might have found out the exact truth. He had, however, calculated that he could afford to accept even the life-income. If more should come of it, so much the better for him. He might, at any rate, so arrange the family matters that his heir, should he have one, should not at his death be called upon to pay something more than half the proceeds of the family property to his mother, as was now done by himself.
Lord Fawn breakfasted at Fawn Court on the Monday, and his mother sat at the table with him, pouring out his tea. “Oh, Frederic,” she said, “it is so important!”
“Just so; very important indeed. I should like you to call and see her either today or tomorrow.”
“That’s of course.”
“And you had better get her down here.”
“I don’t know that she’ll come. Ought I to ask the little boy?”
“Certainly,” said Lord Fawn, as he put a spoonful of egg into his mouth; “certainly.”
“And Miss Macnulty?”
“No; I don’t see that at all. I’m not going to marry Miss Macnulty. The child, of course, must be one of us.”
“And what is the income, Frederic?”
“Four thousand a year. Something more nominally, but four thousand to spend.”
“You are sure about that?”
“And for ever?”
“I believe so. Of that I am not sure.”
“It makes a great difference, Frederic.”
“A very great difference indeed. I think it is her own. But at any rate she is much younger than I am, and there need be no settlement out of my property. That is the great thing. Don’t you think she’s — nice?”
“She is very lovely.”
“Certainly very clever. I hope she is not self-willed, Frederic.”
“If she is, we must try and balance it,” said Lord Fawn, with a little smile. But in truth, he had thought nothing about any such quality as that to which his mother now referred. The lady had an income. That was the first and most indispensable consideration. She was fairly well-born, was a lady, and was beautiful. In doing Lord Fawn justice, we must allow that, in all his attempted matrimonial speculations, some amount of feminine loveliness had been combined with feminine wealth. He had for two years been a suitor of Violet Effingham, who was the acknowledged beauty of the day — of Violet Effingham, who at the present time was the wife of Lord Chiltern; and he had offered himself thrice to Madame Max Goesler, who was reputed to be as rich as she was beautiful. In either case, the fortune would have been greater than that which he would now win, and the money would certainly have been for ever. But in these attempts he had failed; and Lord Fawn was not a man to think himself ill-used because he did not get the first good thing for which he asked.
“I suppose I may tell the girls?” said Lady Fawn.
“Yes, when I am gone. I must be off now, only I could not bear not to come and see you.”
“It was so like you, Frederic.”
“And you’ll go today?”
“Yes, if you wish it — certainly.”
“Go up in the carriage, you know, and take one of the girls with you. I would not take more than one. Augusta will be the best. You’ll see Clara, I suppose.” Clara was the married sister, Mrs. Hittaway.
“If you wish it.”
“She had better call too — say on Thursday. It’s quite as well that it should be known. I sha’n’t choose to have more delay than can be avoided. Well, I believe that’s all.”
“I hope she’ll be a good wife to you, Frederic.”
“I don’t see why she shouldn’t. Good-by, mother. Tell the girls I will see them next Saturday.” He didn’t see why this woman he was about to marry should not be a good wife to him! And yet he knew nothing about her, and had not taken the slightest trouble to make inquiry. That she was pretty he could see; that she was clever he could understand; that she lived in Mount street was a fact; her parentage was known to him; that she was the undoubted mistress of a large income was beyond dispute. But, for aught he knew, she might be afflicted by every vice to which a woman can be subject. In truth, she was afflicted by so many, that the addition of all the others could hardly have made her worse than she was. She had never sacrificed her beauty to a lover — she had never sacrificed anything to anybody — nor did she drink. It would be difficult, perhaps, to say anything else in her favour; and yet Lord Fawn was quite content to marry her, not having seen any reason why she should not make a good wife! Nor had Sir Florian seen any reason; but she had broken Sir Florian’s heart.
When the girls heard the news they were half frightened and half delighted. Lady Fawn and her daughters lived very much out of the world. They also were poor rich people — if such a term may be used — and did not go much into society. There was a butler kept at Fawn Court, and a boy in buttons, and two gardeners, and a man to look after the cows, and a carriage and horses, and a fat coachman. There was a cook and a scullery maid, and two lady’s maids — who had to make the dresses — and two housemaids and a dairy-maid. There was a large old brick house to be kept in order, and handsome grounds with old trees. There was, as we know, a governess, and there were seven unmarried daughters. With such incumbrances, and an income altogether not exceeding three thousand pounds per annum, Lady Fawn could not be rich. And yet who would say that an old lady and her daughters could be poor with three thousand pounds a year to spend? It may be taken almost as a rule by the unennobled ones of this country, that the sudden possession of a title would at once raise the price of every article consumed twenty per cent. Mutton that before cost ninepence would cost tenpence a pound, and the mouths to be fed would demand more meat. The chest of tea would run out quicker. The labourer’s work, which for the farmer is ten hours a day, for the squire nine, is for the peer only eight. Miss Jones, when she becomes Lady de Jongh, does not pay less than threepence apiece for each “my lady” with which her ear is tickled. Even the baronet when he becomes a lord has to curtail his purchases because of increased price, unless he be very wide awake to the affairs of the world. Old Lady Fawn, who would not on any account have owed a shilling which she could not pay, and who, in the midst of her economies, was not close-fisted, knew very well what she could do and what she could not. The old family carriage and the two lady’s maids were there, as necessaries of life; but London society was not within her reach. It was, therefore, the case that they had not heard very much about Lizzie Eustace. But they had heard something. “I hope she won’t be too fond of going out,” said Amelia, the second girl.
“Or extravagant,” said Georgiana, the third.
“There was some story of her being terribly in debt when she married Sir Florian Eustace,” said Diana, the fourth.
“Frederic will be sure to see to that,” said Augusta, the eldest.
“She is very beautiful,” said Lydia, the fifth.
“And clever,” said Cecilia, the sixth.
“Beauty and cleverness won’t made a good wife,” said Amelia, who was the wise one of the family.
“Frederic will be sure to see that she doesn’t go wrong,” said Augusta, who was not wise.
Then Lucy Morris entered the room with Nina, the cadette of the family. “Oh, Nina, what do you think?” said Lydia.
“My dear!” said Lady Fawn, putting up her hand and stopping further indiscreet speech.
“Oh, mamma, what is it?” asked the cadette.
“Surely Lucy may be told,” said Lydia.
“Well, yes; Lucy may be told certainly. There can be no reason why Lucy should not know all that concerns our family; and the more so as she has been for many years intimate with the lady. My dear, my son is going to be married to Lady Eustace.”
“Lord Fawn going to marry Lizzie!” said Lucy Morris, in a tone which certainly did not express unmingled satisfaction.
“Unless you forbid the banns,” said Diana.
“Is there any reason why he should not?” said Lady Fawn.
“Oh, no; only it seems so odd. I didn’t know that they knew each other; not well, that is. And then ——”
“Then what, my dear?”
“It seems odd; that’s all. It’s all very nice, I dare say, and I’m sure I hope they will be happy.” Lady Fawn, however, was displeased, and did not speak to Lucy again before she started with Augusta on the journey to London.
The carriage first stopped at the door of the married daughter in Warwick Square. Now Mrs. Hittaway, whose husband was chairman of the Board of Civil Appeals, and who was very well known at all Boards and among official men generally, heard much more about things that were going on than did her mother. And, having been emancipated from maternal control for the last ten or twelve years, she could express herself before her mother with more confidence than would have become the other girls. “Mamma,” she said, “you don’t mean it!”
“I do mean it, Clara. Why should I not mean it?”
“She is the greatest vixen in all London.”
“Oh, Clara!” said Augusta.
“And such a liar,” said Mrs. Hittaway.
There came a look of pain across Lady Fawn’s face, for Lady Fawn believed in her eldest daughter. But yet she intended to fight her ground on a matter so important to her as was this. “There is no word in the English language,” she said, “which conveys to me so little of defined meaning as that word vixen. If you can, tell me what you mean, Clara.”
“Stop it, mamma.”
“But why should I stop it, even if I could?”
“You don’t know her, mamma.”
“She has visited at Fawn Court more than once. She is a friend of Lucy’s.”
“If she is a friend of Lucy Morris, mamma, Lucy Morris shall never come here.”
“But what has she done? I have never heard that she has behaved improperly. What does it all mean? She goes out everywhere. I don’t think she has had any lovers. Frederic would be the last man in the world to throw himself away upon an ill-conditioned young woman.”
“Frederic can see just as far as some other men, and not a bit further. Of course she has an income — for her life.”
“I believe it is her own altogether, Clara.”
“She says so, I don’t doubt. I believe she is the greatest liar about London. You find out about her jewels before she married poor Sir Florian, and how much he had to pay for her. Or rather, I’ll find out. If you want to know, mamma, you just ask her own aunt, Lady Linlithgow.”
“We all know, my dear, that Lady Linlithgow quarrelled with her.”
“It’s my belief that she is over head and ears in debt again. But I’ll learn. And when I have found out, I shall not scruple to tell Frederic. Orlando will find out all about it.” Orlando was the Christian name of Mrs. Hittaway’s husband. “Mr. Camperdown, I have no doubt, knows all the ins and outs of her story. The long and the short of it is this, mamma, that I’ve heard quite enough about Lady Eustace to feel certain that Frederic would live to repent it.”
“But what can we do?” said Lady Fawn.
“Break it off,” said Mrs. Hittaway.
Her daughter’s violence of speech had a most depressing effect upon poor Lady Fawn. As has been said, she did believe in Mrs. Hittaway. She knew that Mrs. Hittaway was conversant with the things of the world, and heard tidings daily which never found their way down to Fawn Court. And yet her son went about quite as much as did her daughter. If Lady Eustace was such a reprobate as was now represented, why had not Lord Fawn heard the truth? And then she had already given in her own adhesion, and had promised to call. “Do you mean that you won’t go to her?” said Lady Fawn.
“As Lady Eustace? certainly not. If Frederic does marry her, of course I must know her. That’s a different thing. One has to make the best one can of a bad bargain. I don’t doubt they’d be separated before two years were over.”
“Oh, dear, how dreadful!” exclaimed Augusta. Lady Fawn, after much consideration, was of opinion that she must carry out her intention of calling upon her son’s intended bride in spite of all the evil things that had been said. Lord Fawn had undertaken to send a message to Mount street, informing the lady of the honour intended for her. And in truth Lady Fawn was somewhat curious now to see the household of the woman who might perhaps do her the irreparable injury of ruining the happiness of her only son. Perhaps she might learn something by looking at the woman in her own drawing-room. At any rate she would go. But Mrs. Hittaway’s words had the effect of inducing her to leave Augusta where she was. If there were contamination, why should Augusta be contaminated? Poor Augusta! She had looked forward to the delight of embracing her future sister-inlaw; and would not have enjoyed it the less, perhaps, because she had been told that the lady was false, profligate, and a vixen. As, however, her position was that of a girl, she was bound to be obedient, though over thirty years old, and she obeyed.
Lizzie was of course at home, and Miss Macnulty was of course visiting the Horticultural gardens or otherwise engaged. On such an occasion Lizzie would certainly be alone. She had taken great pains with her dress, studying not so much her own appearance as the character of her visitor. She was very anxious, at any rate for the present, to win golden opinions from Lady Fawn. She was dressed richly, but very simply. Everything about her room betokened wealth; but she had put away the French novels, and had placed a Bible on a little table, not quite hidden, behind her own seat. The long lustrous lock was tucked up, but the diamonds were still upon her fingers. She fully intended to make a conquest of her future mother-inlaw and sister-inlaw; for the note which had come up to her from the India Office had told her that Augusta would accompany Lady Fawn. “Augusta is my favourite sister,” said the enamoured lover, “and I hope that you two will always be friends.” Lizzie, when she had read this, had declared to herself that of all the female oafs she had ever seen, Augusta Fawn was the greatest oaf. When she found that Lady Fawn was alone, she did not betray herself, or ask for the beloved friend of the future. “Dear, dear Lady Fawn,” she said, throwing herself into the arms and nestling herself against the bosom of the old lady, “this makes my happiness perfect.” Then she retreated a little, still holding the hand she had grasped between her own, and looking up into the face of her future mother-inlaw. “When he asked me to be his wife, the first thing I thought of was whether you would come to me at once.” Her voice as she thus spoke was perfect. Her manner was almost perfect. Perhaps there was a little too much of gesture, too much gliding motion, too violent an appeal with the eyes, too close a pressure of the hand. No suspicion, however, of all this would have touched Lady Fawn had she come to Mount street without calling in Warwick Square on the way. But those horrible words of her daughter were ringing in her ears, and she did not know how to conduct herself.
“Of course I came as soon as he told me,” she said.
“And you will be a mother to me?” demanded Lizzie.
Poor Lady Fawn! There was enough of maternity about her to have enabled her to undertake the duty for a dozen sons’ wives — if the wives were women with whom she could feel sympathy. And she could feel sympathy very easily, and she was a woman not at all prone to inquire too curiously as to the merits of a son’s wife. But what was she to do after the caution she had received from Mrs. Hittaway? How was she to promise maternal tenderness to a vixen and a liar? By nature she was not a deceitful woman. “My dear,” she said, “I hope you will make him a good wife.”
It was not very encouraging, but Lizzie made the best of it. It was her desire to cheat Lady Fawn into a good opinion, and she was not disappointed when no good opinion was expressed at once. It is seldom that a bad person expects to be accounted good. It is the general desire of such a one to conquer the existing evil impression; but it is generally presumed that the evil impression is there. “Oh, Lady Fawn!” she said, “I will so strive to make him happy. What is it that he likes? What would he wish me to do and to be? You know his noble nature, and I must look to you for guidance.”
Lady Fawn was embarrassed. She had now seated herself on the sofa, and Lizzie was close to her, almost enveloped within her mantle. “My dear,” said Lady Fawn, “if you will endeavour to do your duty by him, I am sure he will do his by you.”
“I know it. I am sure of it. And I will; I will. You will let me love you, and call you mother?” A peculiar perfume came up from Lizzie’s hair which Lady Fawn did not like. Her own girls, perhaps, were not given to the use of much perfumery. She shifted her seat a little, and Lizzie was compelled to sit upright, and without support. Hitherto Lady Fawn had said very little, and Lizzie’s part was one difficult to play. She had heard of that sermon read every Sunday evening at Fawn Court, and she believed that Lady Fawn was peculiarly religious. “There,” she said, stretching out her hand backwards and clasping the book which lay upon the small table; “there, that shall be my guide. That will teach me how to do my duty by my noble husband.”
Lady Fawn in some surprise took the book from Lizzie’s hand, and found that it was the Bible. “You certainly can’t do better, my dear, than read your Bible,” said Lady Fawn; but there was more of censure than of eulogy in the tone of her voice. She put the Bible down very quietly, and asked Lady Eustace when it would suit her to come down to Fawn Court. Lady Fawn had promised her son to give the invitation, and could not now, she thought, avoid giving it.
“Oh, I should like it so much!” said Lizzie. “Whenever it will suit you, I will be there at a minute’s notice.” It was then arranged that she should be at Fawn Court on that day week, and stay for a fortnight. “Of all things that which I most desire now,” said Lizzie, “is to know you and the dear girls, and to be loved by you all.”
Lady Eustace, as soon as she was alone in the room, stood in the middle of it, scowling — for she could scowl. “I’ll not go near them,” she said to herself; “nasty, stupid, dull, puritanical drones. If he don’t like it, he may lump it. After all, it’s no such great catch.” Then she sat down to reflect whether it was or was not a catch. As soon as ever Lord Fawn had left her after the engagement was made, she had begun to tell herself that he was a poor creature, and that she had done wrong. “Only five thousand a year!” she said to herself; for she had not perfectly understood that little explanation which he had given respecting his income. “It’s nothing for a lord.” And now again she murmured to herself, “It’s my money he’s after. He’ll find out that I know how to keep what I have got in my own hands.”
Now that Lady Fawn had been cold to her, she thought still less of the proposed marriage. But there was this inducement for her to go on with it. If they, the Fawn women, thought that they could break it off, she would let them know that they had no such power.
“Well, mamma, you’ve seen her?” said Mrs. Hittaway.
“Yes, my dear; I’ve seen her. I had seen her two or three times before, you know.”
“And you are still in love with her?”
“I never said that I was in love with her, Clara.”
“And what has been fixed?”
“She is to come down to Fawn Court next week, and stay a fortnight with us. Then we shall find out what she is.”
“That will be best, mamma,” said Augusta.
“Mind, mamma; you understand me. I shall tell Frederic plainly just what I think. Of course he will be offended, and if the marriage goes on, the offence will remain — till he finds out the truth.”
“I hope he’ll find out no such truth,” said Lady Fawn. She was, however, quite unable to say a word in behalf of her future daughter-inlaw. She said nothing as to that little scene with the Bible, but she never forgot it.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14