When Lord Cashel had seen Frank over the mat which lay outside his study door, and that there was a six foot servitor to open any other door through which he might have to pass, he returned to his seat, and, drawing his chair close to the fire, began to speculate on Fanny and her discarded lover.
He was very well satisfied with himself, and with hi own judgment and firmness in the late conversation. It was very evident that Frank had heard of Harry Wyndham’s death, and of Fanny’s great accession of wealth; that he had immediately determined that the heiress was no longer to be neglected, and that he ought to strike while the iron was hot: hence his visit to Grey Abbey. His pretended ignorance of the young man’s death, when he found he could not see Miss Wyndham, was a ruse; but an old bird like Lord Cashel was not to be caught with chaff. And then, how indelicate of him to come and press his suit immediately after news of so distressing a nature had reached Miss Wyndham! How very impolitic, thought Lord Cashel, to show such a hurry to take possession of the fortune! How completely he had destroyed his own game. And then, other thoughts passed through his mind. His ward had now one hundred thousand pounds clear, which was, certainly, a great deal of ready money. Lord Cashel had no younger sons; but his heir, Lord Kilcullen, was an expensive man, and owed, he did not exactly know, and was always afraid to ask, how much. He must marry soon, or he would be sure to go to the devil. He had been living with actresses and opera-dancers quite long enough for his own respectability; and, if he ever intended to be such a pattern to the country as his father, it was now time for him to settle down. And Lord Cashel bethought himself that if he could persuade his son to marry Fanny Wyndham and pay his debts with her fortune (surely he couldn’t owe more than a hundred thousand pounds?) he would be able to give them a very handsome allowance to live on.
To do Lord Cashel justice, we must say that he had fully determined that it was his duty to break off the match between Frank and his ward, before he heard of the accident which had so enriched her. And Fanny herself, feeling slighted and neglected knowing how near to her her lover was, and that nevertheless he never came to see her hearing his name constantly mentioned in connection merely with horses and jockeys had been induced to express her acquiescence in her guardian’s views, and to throw poor Frank overboard. In all this the earl had been actuated by no mercenary views, as far as his own immediate family was concerned. He had truly and justly thought that Lord Ballindine, with his limited fortune and dissipated habits, was a bad match for his ward; and he had, consequently, done his best to break the engagement. There could, therefore, he thought, be nothing unfair in his taking advantage of the prudence which he had exercised on her behalf. He did not know, when he was persuading her to renounce Lord Ballindine, that, at that moment, her young, rich, and only brother, was lying at the point of death. He had not done it for his own sake, or Lord Kilcullen’s; there could, therefore, be nothing unjust or ungenerous in their turning to their own account the two losses, that of her lover and her brother, which had fallen on Miss Wyndham at the same time. If he, as her guardian, would have been wrong to allow Lord Ballindine to squander her twenty thousands, he would be so much the more wrong to let him make ducks and drakes of five times as much. In this manner he quieted his conscience as to his premeditated absorption of his ward’s fortune. It was true that Lord Kilcullen was a heartless rou‚, whereas Lord Ballindine was only a thoughtless rake; but then, Lord Kilcullen would be an earl, and a peer of parliament, and Lord Ballindine was only an Irish viscount. It was true that, in spite of her present anger, Fanny dearly loved Lord Ballindine, and was dearly loved by him; and that Lord Kilcullen was not a man to love or be loved; but then, the Kelly’s Court rents what were they to the Grey Abbey rents? Not a twentieth part of them! And, above all, Lord Kilcullen’s vices were filtered through the cleansing medium of his father’s partiality, and Lord Ballindine’s faults were magnified by the cautious scruples of Fanny’s guardian.
The old man settled, therefore, in his own mind, that Fanny should be his dear daughter, and the only difficulty he expected to encounter was with his hopeful son. It did not occur to him that Fanny might object, or that she could be other than pleased with the arrangement. He determined, however, to wait a little before the tidings of her future destiny should be conveyed to her, although no time was to be lost in talking over the matter with Lord Kilcullen. In the meantime, it would be necessary for him to tell Fanny of Lord Ballindine’s visit; and the wily peer was glad to think that she could not but be further disgusted at the hurry which her former lover had shown to renew his protestations of affection, as soon as the tidings of her wealth had reached him. However, he would say nothing on that head: he would merely tell her that Lord Ballindine had called, had asked to see her, and had been informed of her determination to see him no more.
He sat, for a considerable time, musing over the fire, and strengthening his resolution; and then he stalked and strutted into the drawing-room, where the ladies were sitting, to make his communication to Miss Wyndham.
Miss Wyndham, and her cousin, Lady Selina Grey, the only unmarried daughter left on the earl’s hands, were together. Lady Selina was not in her premiŠre jeunesse, and, in manner, face, and disposition, was something like her father: she was not, therefore, very charming; but his faults were softened down in her; and what was pretence in him, was, to a certain degree, real in her. She had a most exaggerated conception of her own station and dignity, and of what was due to her, and expected from her. Because her rank enabled her to walk out of a room before other women, she fancied herself better than them, and entitled to be thought better. She was plain, red-haired, and in no ways attractive; but she had refused the offer of a respectable country gentleman, because he was only a country gentleman, and then flattered herself that she owned the continuance of her maiden condition to her high station, which made her a fit match only for the most exalted magnates of the land. But she was true, industrious, and charitable; she worked hard to bring her acquirements to that pitch which she considered necessary to render her fit for her position; she truly loved her family, and tried hard to love her neighbours, in which she might have succeeded but for the immeasurable height from which she looked down on them. She listened, complacently, to all those serious cautions against pride, which her religion taught her, and considered that she was obeying its warnings, when she spoke condescendingly to those around her. She thought that condescension was humility, and that her self-exaltation was not pride, but a proper feeling of her own and her family’s dignity.
Fanny Wyndham was a very different creature. She, too, was proud, but her pride was of another, if not of a less innocent cast; she was proud of her own position; but it was as Fanny Wyndham, not as Lord Cashel’s niece, or anybody’s daughter. She had been brought out in the fashionable world, and liked, and was liked by, it; but she felt that she owed the character which three years had given her, to herself, and not to those around her. She stood as high as Lady Selina, though on very different grounds. Any undue familiarity would have been quite as impossible with one as with the other. Lady Selina chilled intruders to a distance; Fanny Wyndham’s light burned with so warm a flame, that butterflies were afraid to trust their wings within its reach. She was neither so well read, nor so thoughtful on what she did read, as her friend; but she could turn what she learned to more account, for the benefit of others. The one, in fact, could please, and the other could not.
Fanny Wyndham was above the usual height; but she did not look tall, for her figure was well-formed and round, and her bust full. She had dark-brown hair, which was never curled, but worn in plain braids, fastened at the back of her head, together with the long rich folds which were collected there under a simple comb. Her forehead was high, and beautifully formed, and when she spoke, showed the animation of her character. Her eyes were full and round, of a hazel colour, bright and soft when she was pleased, but full of pride and displeasure when her temper was ruffled, or her dignity offended. Her nose was slightly retrouss‚, but not so much so as to give to her that pertness, of which it is usually the index. The line of her cheeks and chin was very lovely: it was this which encouraged her to comb back that luxuriant hair, and which gave the greatest charm to her face. Her mouth was large, too large for a beauty, and therefore she was not a regular beauty; but, were she talking to you, and willing to please you, you could hardly wish it to be less. I cannot describe the shade of her complexion, but it was rich and glowing; and, though she was not a brunette, I believe that in painting her portrait, an artist would have mixed more brown than other colours.
At the time of which I am now speaking, she was sitting, or rather lying, on a sofa, with her face turned towards her cousin, but her eyes fixed on vacancy. As might have been expected, she was thinking of her brother, and his sudden death; but other subjects crowded with that into her mind, and another figure shared with him her thoughts. She had been induced to give her guardian an unqualified permission to reject, in her name, any further intercourse with Frank; and though she had doubtless been induced to do so by the distressing consciousness that she had been slighted by him, she had cheated herself into the belief that prudence had induced her to do so. She felt that she was not fitted to be a poor man’s wife, and that Lord Ballindine was as ill suited for matrimonial poverty. She had, therefore, induced herself to give him up; maybe she was afraid that if she delayed doing so, she might herself be given up. Now, however, the case was altered; though she sincerely grieved for her brother, she could not but recollect the difference which his death made in her own position; she was now a great heiress, and, were she to marry Lord Ballindine, if she did not make him a rich man, she would, at any rate, free him from all embarrassment.
Besides, could she give him up now? now that she was rich? He would first hear of her brother’s death and her wealth, and then would immediately be told that she had resolved to reject him. Could she bear that she should be subjected to the construction which would fairly be put upon her conduct, if she acted in this manner? And then, again, she felt that she loved him; and she did love him, more dearly than she was herself aware. She began to repent of her easy submission to her guardian’s advice, and to think how she could best unsay what she had already said. She had lost her brother; could she afford also to lose her lover? She had had none she could really love but those two. And the tears again came to her eyes, and Lady Selina saw her, for the twentieth time that morning, turn her face to the back of the sofa, and heard her sob.
Lady Selina was sitting at one of the windows, over her carpet-work frame. She had talked a great deal of sound sense to Fanny that morning, about her brother, and now prepared to talk some more. Preparatory to this, she threw back her long red curls from her face, and wiped her red nose, for it was February.
‘Fanny, you should occupy yourself, indeed you should, my dear. It’s no use your attempting your embroidery, for your mind would still wander to him that is no more. You should read; indeed you should. Do go on with Gibbon. I’ll fetch it for you, only tell me where you were.’
‘I could not read, Selina; I could not think about what I read, more than about the work.’
‘But you should try, Fanny the very attempt would be work to your mind: besides, you would be doing your duty. Could all your tears bring him back to you? Can all your sorrow again restore him to his friends? No! and you have great consolation, Fanny, in reflecting that your remembrance of your brother is mixed with no alloy. He had not lived to be contaminated by the heartless vices of that portion of the world into which he would probably have been thrown; he had not become dissipated extravagant and sensual. This should be a great consolation to you.’ It might be thought that Lady Selina was making sarcastic allusions to her own brother and to Fanny’s lover; but she meant nothing of the kind. Her remarks were intended to be sensible, true, and consolatory; and they at any rate did no harm, for Fanny was thinking of something else before she had half finished her speech.
They had both again been silent for a short time, when the door opened, and in came the earl. His usual pomposity of demeanour was somewhat softened by a lachrymose air, which, in respect to his ward’s grief, he put on as he turned the handle of the door; and he walked somewhat more gently than usual into the room.
‘Well, Fanny, how are you now?’ he said, as he crept up to her. ‘You shouldn’t brood over these sad thoughts. Your poor brother has gone to a better world; we shall always think of him as one who had felt no sorrow, and been guilty of but few faults. He died before he had wasted his fortune and health, as he might have done this will always be a consolation.’
It was singular how nearly alike were the platitudes of the daughter and the father. The young man had not injured his name, or character, in the world, and had left his money behind him: and, therefore, his death was less grievous!
Fanny did not answer, but she sat upright on the sofa as he came up to her and he then sat down beside her.
‘Perhaps I’m wrong, Fanny, to speak to you on other subjects so soon after the sad event of which we heard last night; but, on the whole, I think it better to do so. It is good for you to rouse yourself, to exert yourself to think of other things; besides it will be a comfort to you to know that I have already done, what I am sure you strongly wished to have executed at once.’
It was not necessary for the guardian to say anything further to induce his ward to listen. She knew that he was going to speak about Lord Ballindine, and she was all attention.
‘I shall not trouble, you, Fanny, by speaking to you now, I hope?’
‘No;’ said Fanny, with her heart palpitating. ‘If it’s anything I ought to hear, it will be no trouble to me.’
‘Why, my dear, I do think you ought to know, without loss of time that Lord Ballindine has been with me this morning.’
Fanny blushed up to her hair not with shame, but with emotion as to what was coming next.
‘I have had a long conversation with him,’ continued the earl, ‘in the book-room, and I think I have convinced him that it is for your mutual happiness’ he paused, for he couldn’t condescend to tell a lie; but in his glib, speechifying manner, he was nearly falling into one ‘mutual happiness’ was such an appropriate prudential phrase that he could not resist the temptation; but he corrected himself ‘at least, I think I have convinced him that it is impossible that he should any longer look upon Miss Wyndham as his future wife.’
Lord Cashel paused for some mark of approbation. Fanny saw that she was expected to speak, and, therefore, asked whether Lord Ballindine was still in the house. She listened tremulously for his answer; for she felt that if her lover were to be rejected, he had a right, after what had passed between them, to expect that she should, in person, express her resolution to him. And yet, if she had to see him now, could she reject him? could she tell him that all the vows that had been made between them were to be as nothing? No! she could only fall on his shoulder, and weep in his arms. But Lord Cashel had managed better than that.
‘No, Fanny; neither he nor I, at the present moment, could expect you could reasonably expect you, to subject yourself to anything so painful as an interview must now have been. Lord Ballindine has left the house I hope, for the last time at least, for many months.’
These words fell cold upon Fanny’s ears, ‘Did he leave any any message for me?’
‘Nothing of any moment; nothing which it can avail to communicate to you: he expressed his grief for your brother’s death, and desired I should tell you how grieved he was that you should be so afflicted.’
‘Poor Harry!’ sobbed Fanny, for it was a relief to cry again, though her tears were more for her lover than her brother. ‘Poor Harry! they were very fond of each other. I’m sure he must have been sorry I’m sure he’d feel it’ and she paused, and sobbed again ‘He had heard of Harry’s death, then?’
When she said this, she had in her mind none of the dirty suspicion that had actuated Lord Cashel; but he guessed at her feelings by his own, and answered accordingly.
‘At first I understood him to say he had; but then, he seemed to wish to express that he had not. My impression, I own, is, that he must have heard of it; the sad news must have reached him.’
Fanny still did not understand the earl. The idea of her lover coming after her money immediately on her obtaining possession of it, never entered her mind; she thought of her wealth as far as it might have affected him, but did not dream of its altering his conduct towards her.
‘And did he seem unhappy about it?’ she continued. ‘I am sure it would make him very unhappy. He could not have loved Harry better if he had been his brother,’ and then she blushed again through her tears, as she remembered that she had intended that they should be brothers.
Lord Cashel did not say anything more on this head; he was fully convinced that Lord Ballindine only looked on the young man’s death as a windfall which he might turn to his own advantage; but he thought it would he a little too strong to say so outright, just at present.
‘It will be a comfort for you to know that this matter is now settled,’ continued the earl, ‘and that no one can attach the slightest blame to you in the matter. Lord Ballindine has shown himself so very imprudent, so very unfit, in every way, for the honour you once intended him, that no other line of conduct was open to you than that which you have wisely pursued.’
This treading on the fallen was too much for Fanny. ‘I have no right either to speak or to think ill of him,’ said she, through her tears; ‘and if any one is ill-treated in the matter it is he. But did be not ask to see me?
‘Surely, Fanny, you would not, at the present moment, have wished to see him!’
‘Oh, no; it is a great relief, under all the circumstances, not having to do so. But was he contented?’
I should be glad that he were satisfied that he shouldn’t think I had treated him harshly, or rudely. Did he appear as if he wished to see me again?’
‘Why, he certainly did ask for a last interview which, anticipating your wishes, I have refused.’
‘But was he satisfied? Did he appear to think that he had been badly treated?’
‘Rejected lovers,’ answered the earl with a stately smile, ‘seldom express much satisfaction with the terms of their rejection; but I cannot say that Lord Ballindine testified any strong emotion.’ He rose from the sofa as he said this, and then, intending to clinch the nail, added as he went to the door ‘— to tell the truth, Fanny, I think Lord Ballindine is much more eager for an alliance with your fair self now, than he was a few days back, when he could never find a moment’s time to leave his horses, and his friend Mr Blake, either to see his intended wife, or to pay Lady Cashel the usual courtesy of a morning visit.’ He then opened the door, and, again closing it, added ‘— I think, however, Fanny, that what has now passed between us will secure you from any further annoyance from him.’
Lord Cashel, in this last speech, had greatly overshot his mark; his object had been to make the separation between his ward and her lover permanent; and, hitherto, he had successfully appealed to her pride and her judgment. Fanny had felt Lord Cashel to be right, when he told her that she was neglected, and that Frank was dissipated, and in debt. She knew she should be unhappy as the wife of a poor nobleman, and she felt that it would break her proud heart to be jilted herself. She had, therefore, though unwillingly, still entirely agreed with her, guardian as to the expediency of breaking off, the match; and, had Lord Cashel been judicious, he might have confirmed her in this resolution; but his last thunderbolt, which had been intended to crush Lord Ballindine, had completely recoiled upon himself. Fanny now instantly understood the allusion, and, raising her face, which was again resting on her hands, looked at him with an indignant glance through her tears.
Lord Cashel, however, had left the room without observing the indignation expressed in Fanny’s eyes; but she was indignant; she knew Frank well enough to be sure that he had come to Grey Abbey that morning with no such base motives as those ascribed to him. He might have heard of Harry’s death, and come there to express his sorrow, and offer that consolation which she felt she could accept from him sooner than from any living creature or, he might have been ignorant of it altogether; but that he should come there to press his suit because her brother was dead immediately after his death was not only impossible; but the person who could say it was possible, must be false and untrue to her. Her uncle could not have believed it himself: he had basely pretended to believe it, that he might widen the breach which he had made.
Fanny was alone, in the drawing-room for her cousin had left it as soon as her father began to talk about Lord Ballindine, and she sat there glowering through her tears for a long time. Had Lord Ballindine been able to know all her thoughts at this moment, he would have felt little doubt as to the ultimate success of his suit.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14