We will now return to Grey Abbey, Lord Cashel, and that unhappy love-sick heiress, his ward, Fanny Wyndham. Affairs there had taken no turn to give increased comfort either to the earl or to his niece, during the month which succeeded the news of young Harry Wyndham’s death.
The former still adhered, with fixed pertinacity of purpose, to the matrimonial arrangement which he had made with his son. Circumstances, indeed, rendered it even much more necessary in the earl’s eyes than it had appeared to be when he first contemplated this scheme for releasing himself from his son’s pecuniary difficulties. He had, as the reader will remember, advanced a very large sum of money to Lord Kilcullen, to be repaid out of Fanny Wyndham’s fortune, This money Lord Kilcullen had certainly appropriated in the manner intended by his father, but it had anything but the effect of quieting the creditors. The payments were sufficiently large to make the whole hungry crew hear that his lordship was paying his debts, but not at all sufficient to satisfy their craving. Indeed, nearly the whole went in liquidation of turf engagements, and gambling debts. The Jews, money-lenders, and tradesmen merely heard that money was going from Lord Kilcullen’s pocket; but with all their exertions they got very little of it themselves.
Consequently, claims of all kinds bills, duns, remonstrances and threats, poured in not only upon the son but also upon the father. The latter, it is true, was not in his own person liable, for one penny of them, nor could he well, on his own score, be said to be an embarrassed man; but he was not the less uneasy. He had determined if possible to extricate his son once more, and as a preliminary step had himself already raised a large sum of money which it would much trouble him to pay; and he moreover, as he frequently said to Lord Kilcullen, would not and could not pay another penny for the same purpose, until he saw a tolerably sure prospect of being repaid out of his ward’s fortune.
He was therefore painfully anxious on the subject; anxious not only that the matter should be arranged, but that it should be done at once. It was plain that Lord Kilcullen could not remain in London, for he would be arrested; the same thing would happen at Grey Abbey, if, he were to remain there long without settling his affairs; and if he were once to escape his creditors by going abroad, there would be no such thing as getting him back again. Lord Cashel saw no good reason why there should, be any delay; Harry Wyndham was dead above a month, and Fanny was evidently grieving more for the loss of her lover than that of her brother; she naturally felt alone in the world and, as Lord Cashel thought, one young viscount would be just as good as another. The advantages, too, were much in favour of his son; he would one day be an earl, and possess Grey Abbey. So great an accession of grandeur, dignity, and rank could not but be, as the earl considered, very delightful to a sensible girl like his ward. The marriage, of course, needn’t be much hurried; four or five months’ time would do for that; he was only anxious that they should be engaged that Lord Kilcullen should be absolutely accepted Lord Ballindine finally rejected.
The earl certainly felt some scruples of conscience at the sacrifice he was making of his ward, and stronger still respecting his ward’s fortune; but he appeased them with the reflection that if his son were a gambler, a rou‚, and a scamp, Lord Ballindine was probably just as bad; and that if the latter were to spend all Fanny’s money there would be no chance of redemption; whereas he could at any rate settle on his wife a jointure, which would be a full compensation for the loss of her fortune, should she outlive her husband and father-inlaw. Besides, he looked on Lord Kilcullen’s faults as a father is generally inclined to look on those of a son, whom he had not entirely given up whom he is still striving to redeem. He called his iniquitous vices, follies his licentiousness, love of pleasure his unprincipled expenditure and extravagance, a want of the knowledge of what money was: and his worst sin of all, because the one least likely to be abandoned, his positive, unyielding damning selfishness, he called ‘fashion’ the fashion of the young men of the day.
Poor Lord Cashel! he wished to be honest to his ward; and yet to save his son, and his own pocket at the same time, at her expense: he wished to be, in his own estimation, high-minded, honourable, and disinterested, and yet he could not resist the temptation to be generous to his own flesh and blood at the expense of another. The contest within him made him miserable; but the devil and mammon were too strong for him, particularly coming as they did, half hidden beneath the gloss of parental affection. There was little of the Roman about the earl, and he could not condemn his own son; so he fumed and fretted, and twisted himself about in the easy chair in his dingy book-room, and passed long hours in trying to persuade himself that it was for Fanny’s advantage that he was going to make her Lady Kilcullen.
He might have saved himself all his anxiety. Fanny Wyndham had much too strong a mind much too marked a character of her own, to be made Lady Anything by Lord Anybody. Lord Cashel might possibly prevent her from marrying Frank, especially as she had been weak enough, through ill-founded pique and anger, to lend him her name for dismissing him; but neither he nor anyone else could make her accept one man, while she loved another, and while that other was unmarried.
Since the interview between Fanny and her uncle and aunt, which has been recorded, she had been nearly as uncomfortable as Lord Cashel, and she had, to a certain extent, made the whole household as much so as herself. Not that there was anything of the kill-joy character in Fanny’s composition; but that the natural disposition of Grey Abbey and all belonging to it was to be dull, solemn, slow, and respectable. Fanny alone had ever given any life to the place, or made the house tolerable; and her secession to the ranks of the sombre crew was therefore the more remarked. If Fanny moped, all Grey Abbey might figuratively be said to hang down its head. Lady Cashel was, in every sense of the words, continually wrapped up in wools and worsteds. The earl was always equally ponderous, and the specific gravity of Lady Selina could not be calculated. It was beyond the power of figures, even in algebraic denominations, to describe her moral weight.
And now Fanny did mope, and Grey Abbey was triste indeed. Griffiths in my lady’s boudoir rolled and unrolled those huge white bundles of mysterious fleecy hosiery with more than usually slow and unbroken perseverance. My lady herself bewailed the fermentation among the jam-pots with a voice that did more than whine, it was almost funereal. As my lord went from breakfast-room to book-room, from book-room to dressing-room, and from dressing-room to dining-room, his footsteps creaked with a sound more deadly than that of a death-watch. The book-room itself had caught a darker gloom; the backs of the books seemed to have lost their gilding, and the mahogany furniture its French polish. There, like a god, Lord Cashel sate alone, throned amid clouds of awful dulness, ruling the world of nothingness around by the silent solemnity of his inertia.
Lady Selina was always useful, but with a solid, slow activity, a dignified intensity of heavy perseverance, which made her perhaps more intolerable than her father. She was like some old coaches which we remember very sure, very respectable; but so tedious, so monotonous, so heavy in their motion, that a man with a spark of mercury in his composition would prefer any danger from a faster vehicle to their horrid, weary, murderous, slow security. Lady Selina from day to day performed her duties in a most uncompromising manner; she knew what was due to her position, and from it, and exacted and performed accordingly with a stiff, steady propriety which made her an awful if not a hateful creature. One of her daily duties, and one for the performance of which she had unfortunately ample opportunity, was the consolation of Fanny under her troubles. Poor Fanny! how great an aggravation was this to her other miseries! For a considerable time Lady Selma had known nothing of the true cause of Fanny’s gloom; for though the two cousins were good friends, as far as Lady Selina was capable of admitting so human a frailty as friendship, still Fanny could not bring herself to make a confidante of her. Her kind, stupid, unpretending old aunt was a much better person to talk to, even though she did arch her eyebrows, and shake her head when Lord Ballindine’s name was mentioned, and assure her niece that though she had always liked him herself, he could not be good for much, because Lord Kilcullen had said so. But Fanny could not well dissemble; she was tormented by Lady Selina’s condolements, and recommendations of Gibbon, her encomiums on industry, and anathemas against idleness; she was so often reminded that weeping would not bring back her brother, nor inactive reflection make his fate less certain, that at last she made her monitor understand that it was about Lord Ballindine’s fate that she was anxious, and that it was his coming back which might be effected by weeping or other measures.
Lady Selina was shocked by such feminine, girlish weakness, such want of dignity and character, such forgetfulness, as she said to Fanny, of what was due to her own position. Lady Selina was herself unmarried, and not likely to marry; and why had she maintained her virgin state, and foregone the blessings of love and matrimony? Because, as she often said to herself, and occasionally said to Fanny, she would not step down from the lofty pedestal on which it had pleased fortune and birth to place her.
She learned, however, by degrees, to forgive, though she couldn’t approve, Fanny’s weakness; she remembered that it was a very different thing to be an earl’s niece and an earl’s daughter, and that the same conduct could not be expected from Fanny Wyndham and Lady Selina Grey.
The two were sitting together, in one of the Grey Abbey drawing-rooms, about the middle of April. Fanny had that morning again been talking to her guardian on the subject nearest to her heart, and had nearly distracted him by begging him to take steps to make Frank understand that a renewal of his visits at Grey Abbey would not be ill received. Lord Cashel at first tried to frighten her out of her project by silence, frowns, and looks: but not finding himself successful, he commenced a long oration, in which he broke down, or rather, which he had to cut up into sundry short speeches; in which he endeavoured to make it appear that Lord Ballindine’s expulsion had originated with Fanny herself, and that, banished or not banished, the less. Fanny had to do with him the better. His ward, however, declared, in rather a tempestuous manner, that if she could not see him at Grey Abbey she would see him elsewhere; and his lordship was obliged to capitulate by promising that if Frank were unmarried in twelve months’ time, and Fanny should then still be of the same mind, he would consent to the match and use his influence to bring it about. This by no means satisfied Fanny, but it was all that the earl would say, and she had now to consider whether she would accept those terms or act for herself. Had she had any idea what steps she could with propriety take in opposition to the earl, she would have withdrawn herself and her fortune from his house and hands, without any scruples of conscience. But what was she to do? She couldn’t write to her lover and ask him to come back to her! Whither could she go? She couldn’t well set up house for herself.
Lady Selina was bending over her writing-desk, and penning most decorous notes, with a precision of calligraphy which it was painful to witness. She was writing orders to Dublin tradesmen, and each order might have been printed in the Complete Letter-Writer, as a specimen of the manner in which young ladies should address such correspondents. Fanny had a volume of French poetry in her hand, but had it been Greek prose it would have given her equal occupation and amusement. It had been in her hands half-an-hour, and she had not read a line.
‘Fanny,’ said Lady Selina, raising up her thin red spiral tresses from her desk, and speaking in a firm, decided tone, as if well assured of the importance of the question she was going to put; ‘don’t you want some things from Ellis’s?’
‘From where, Selina?’ said Fanny, slightly starting.
‘From Ellis’s,’ repeated Lady Selina.
‘Oh, the man in Grafton Street. No, thank you.’ And Fanny returned to her thoughts.
‘Surely you do, Fanny,’ said her ladyship. ‘I’m sure you want black crape; you were saying so on Friday last.’
‘Was I? Yes; I think I do. It’ll do another time, Selina; never mind now.’
‘You had better have it in the parcel he will send tomorrow; if you’ll give me the pattern and tell me how much you want, I’ll write for it.’
‘Thank you, Selina. You’re very kind, but I won’t mind it today.’
‘How very foolish of you, Fanny; you know you want it, and then you’ll be annoyed about it. You’d better let me order it with the other things.’
‘Very well, dear: order it then for me.’
‘How much will you want? you must send the pattern too, you know.’
‘Indeed, Selina, I don’t care about having it at all; I can do very well without it, so don’t mind troubling yourself.’
‘How very ridiculous, Fanny! You know you want black crape and you must get it from Ellis’s.’ Lady Selina paused for a reply, and then added, in a voice of sorrowful rebuke, ‘It’s to save yourself the trouble of sending Jane for the pattern.’
‘Well, Selina, perhaps it is. Don’t bother me about it now, there’s a dear. I’ll be more myself by-and-by; but indeed, indeed, I’m neither well nor happy now.’
‘Not well, Fanny! What ails you?’
‘Oh, nothing ails me; that is, nothing in the doctor’s way. I didn’t mean I was ill.’
‘You said you weren’t well; and people usually mean by that, that they are ill.’
‘But I didn’t mean it,’ said Fanny, becoming almost irritated, ‘I only meant —’ and she paused and did not finish her sentence. Lady Selina wiped her pen, in her scarlet embroidered pen-wiper, closed the lid of her patent inkstand, folded a piece of blotting-paper over the note she was writing, pushed back the ruddy ringlets from her contemplative forehead, gave a slight sigh, and turned herself towards her cousin, with the purpose of commencing a vigorous lecture and cross-examination, by which she hoped to exorcise the spirit of lamentation from Fanny’s breast, and restore her to a healthful activity in the performance of this world’s duties. Fanny felt what was coming; she could not fly; so she closed her book and her eyes, and prepared herself for endurance.
‘Fanny,’ said Lady Selina, in a voice which was intended to be both severe and sorrowful, ‘you are giving way to very foolish feelings in a very foolish way; you are preparing great unhappiness for yourself, and allowing your mind to waste itself in uncontrolled sorrow in a manner in a manner which cannot but be ruinously injurious. My dear Fanny, why don’t you do something? why don’t you occupy yourself? You’ve given up your work; you’ve given up your music; you’ve given up everything in the shape of reading; how long, Fanny, will you go on in this sad manner?’ Lady Selina paused, but, as Fanny did not immediately reply, she continued her speech ‘I’ve begged you to go on with your reading, because nothing but mental employment will restore your mind to its proper tone. I’m sure I’ve brought you the second volume of Gibbon twenty times, but I don’t believe you’ve read a chapter this month back. How long will you allow yourself to go on in this sad manner?’
‘Not long, Selina. As you say, I’m sad enough.’
‘But is it becoming in you, Fanny, to grieve in this way for a man whom you yourself rejected because he was unworthy of you?’
‘Selina, I’ve told you before that such was not the case. I believe him to be perfectly worthy of me, and of any one much my superior too.’
‘But you did reject him, Fanny: you bade papa tell him to discontinue his visits didn’t you?’
Fanny felt that her cousin was taking an unfair advantage in throwing thus in her teeth her own momentary folly in having been partly persuaded, partly piqued, into quarrelling with her lover; and she resented it as such. ‘If I did,’ she said, somewhat angrily, ‘it does not make my grief any lighter, to know that I brought it on myself.’
‘No, Fanny; but it should show you that the loss for which you grieve is past recovery. Sorrow, for which there is no cure, should cease to be grieved for, at any rate openly. If Lord Ballindine were to die you would not allow his death to doom you to perpetual sighs, and perpetual inactivity. No; you’d then know that grief was hopeless, and you’d recover.’
‘But Lord Ballindine is not dead,’ said Fanny.
‘Ah! that’s just the point,’ continued her ladyship; ‘he should be dead to you; to you he should now be just the same as though he were in his grave. You loved him some time since, and accepted him; but you found your love misplaced, unreturned, or at any rate coldly returned. Though you loved him, you passed a deliberate judgment on him, and wisely rejected him. Having done so, his name should not be on your lips; his form and figure should be forgotten. No thoughts of him should sully your mind, no love for him should be permitted to rest in your heart; it should be rooted out, whatever the exertion may cost you.’
‘Selina, I believe you have no heart yourself.’
‘Perhaps as much as yourself, Fanny. I’ve heard of some people who were said to be all heart; I flatter myself I am not one of them. I trust I have some mind, to regulate my heart; and some conscience, to prevent my sacrificing my duties for the sake of my heart.’
‘If you knew,’ said Fanny, ‘the meaning of what love was, you’d know that it cannot be given up in a moment, as you suppose; rooted out, as you choose to call it. But, to tell you the truth, Selina, I don’t choose to root it out. I gave my word to Frank not twelve months since, and that with the consent of every one belonging to me. I owned that I loved him, and solemnly assured him I would always do so. I cannot, and I ought not, and I will not break my word. You would think of nothing but what you call your own dignity; I will not give up my own happiness, and, I firmly believe his, too, for anything so empty.’
‘Don’t be angry with me, Fanny,’ said Lady Selina; ‘my regard for your dignity arises only from my affection for you. I should be sorry to see you lessen yourself in the eyes of those around you. You must remember that you cannot act as another girl might, whose position was less exalted. Miss O’Joscelyn might cry for her lost lover till she got him back again, or got another; and no one would be the wiser, and she would not be the worse; but you cannot do that. Rank and station are in themselves benefits; but they require more rigid conduct, much more control over the feelings than is necessary in a humbler position. You should always remember, Fanny, that much is expected from those to whom much is given.’
‘And I’m to be miserable all my life because I’m not a parson’s daughter, like Miss O’Joscelyn!’
‘God forbid, Fanny! If you’d employ your time, engage your mind, and cease to think of Lord Ballindine, you’d soon cease to be miserable. Yes; though you might never again feel the happiness of loving, you might still be far from miserable.’
‘But I can’t cease to think of him, Selina; I won’t even try.’
‘Then, Fanny, I truly pity you.’
‘No, Selina; it’s I that pity you,’ said Fanny, roused to energy as different thoughts crowded to her mind. ‘You, who think more of your position as an earl’s daughter an aristocrat, than of your nature as a woman! Thank Heaven, I’m not a queen, to be driven to have other feelings than those of my sex. I do love Lord Ballindine, and if I had the power to cease to do so this moment, I’d sooner drown myself than exercise it.’
‘Then why were you weak enough to reject him?’
‘Because I was a weak, wretched, foolish girl. I said it in a moment of passion, and my uncle acted on it at once, without giving me one minute for reflection without allowing me one short hour to look into my own heart, and find how I was deceiving myself in thinking that I ought to part from him. I told Lord Cashel in the morning that I would give him up; and before I had time to think of what I had said, he had been here, and had been turned out of the house. Oh, Selina! it was very, very cruel in your father to take me at my word so shortly!’ And Fanny hid her face in her handkerchief, and burst into tears.
‘That’s unfair, Fanny; it couldn’t be cruel in him to do for you that which he would have done for his own daughter. He thought, and thinks, that Lord Ballindine would not make you happy.’
‘Why should he think so? he’d no business to think so,’ sobbed Fanny through her tears.
‘Who could have a business to think for you, if not your guardian?’
‘Why didn’t he think so then, before he encouraged me to receive him? It was because Frank wouldn’t do just what he was bid; it was because he wouldn’t become stiff, and solemn, and grave like — like —’ Fanny was going to make a comparison that would not have been flattering either to Lady Selina or to her father, but she did not quite forget herself, and stopped short without expressing the likeness. ‘Had he spoken against him at first, I would have obeyed; but I will not destroy myself now for his prejudices.’ And Fanny buried her face among the pillows of the sofa, and sobbed aloud.
Lady Selina walked over to the sofa, and stood at the head of it bending over her cousin. She wished to say something to soothe and comfort her, but did not know how; there was nothing soothing or comforting in her nature, nothing soft in her voice; her manner was repulsive, and almost unfeeling; and yet she was not unfeeling. She loved Fanny as warmly as she was capable of loving; she would have made almost any personal sacrifice to save her cousin from grief; she would, were it possible, have borne her sorrows herself; but she could not unbend; she could not sit down by Fanny’s side, and, taking her hand, say soft and soothing things; she could not make her grief easier by expressing hope for the future or consolation for the past. She would have felt that she was compromising truth by giving hope, and dignity by uttering consolation for the loss of that which she considered better lost than retained. Lady Selina’s only recipe was endurance and occupation. And at any rate, she practised what she preached; she was never idle, and she never complained.
As she saw Fanny’s grief, and heard her sobs, she at first thought that in mercy she should now give up the subject of the conversation; but then she reflected that such mercy might be the greatest cruelty, and that the truest kindness would be to prove to Fanny the hopelessness of her passion.
‘But, Fanny,’ she said, when the other’s tears were a little subsided, ‘it’s no use either saying or thinking impossibilities. What are you to do? You surely will not willingly continue to indulge a hopeless passion?’
‘Selina, you’ll drive me mad; if you go on! Let me have my own way.’
‘But, Fanny, if your own way’s a bad way? Surely you won’t refuse to listen to reason? You must know that what I say is only from my affection. I want you to look before you; I want you to summon courage to look forward; and then I’m sure your common sense will tell you that Lord Ballindine can never be anything to you.’
‘Look here, Selina,’ and Fanny rose, and wiped her eyes, and somewhat composed her ruffled hair, which she shook back from her face and forehead, as she endeavoured to repress the palpitation which had followed her tears; ‘I have looked forward, and I have determined what I mean to do. It was your father who brought me to this, by forcing me into a childish quarrel with the man I love. I have implored him, almost on my knees, to invite Lord Ballindine again to Grey Abbey: he has refused to do so, at any rate for twelve months ’
‘And has he consented to ask him at the end of twelve months?’ asked Selina, much astonished, and, to tell the truth, considerably shocked at this instance of what she considered her father’s weakness.
‘He might as well have said twelve years,’ replied Fanny. ‘How can I, how can any one, suppose that he should remain single for my sake for twelve months, after being repelled without a cause, or without a word of explanation; without even seeing me turned out of the house, and insulted in every way? No; whatever he might do, I will not wait twelve months. I’ll ask Lord Cashel once again, and then —’ Fanny paused for a moment, to consider in what words she would finish her declaration.
‘Well, Fanny,’ said Selina, waiting with eager expectation for Fanny’s final declaration; for she expected to hear her say that she would drown herself, or lock herself up for ever, or do something equally absurd.
‘Then,’ continued Fanny and a deep blush covered her face as she spoke, ‘I will write to Lord Ballindine, and tell him that I am still his own if he chooses to take me.’
‘Oh, Fanny! do not say such a horrid thing. Write to a man, and beg him to accept you? No, Fanny; I know you too well, at any rate, to believe that you’ll do that.’
‘Indeed, indeed, I will.’
‘Then you’ll disgrace yourself for ever. Oh, Fanny! though my heart were breaking, though I knew I were dying for very love, I’d sooner have it break, I’d sooner die at once, than disgrace my sex by becoming a suppliant to a man.’
‘Disgrace, Selina! and am I not now disgraced? Have I not given him my solemn word? Have I not pledged myself to him as his wife? Have I not sworn to him a hundred times that my heart was all his own? Have I not suffered those caresses which would have been disgraceful had I not looked on myself as almost already his bride? And is it no disgrace, after that, to break my word? to throw him aside like a glove that wouldn’t fit? to treat him as a servant that wouldn’t suit me? to send him a contemptuous message to be gone? and so, to forget him, that I might lay myself out for the addresses and admiration of another? Could any conduct be worse than that? any disgrace deeper? Oh, Selina! I shudder as I think of it. Could I ever bring my lips to own affection for another, without being overwhelmed with shame and disgrace? And then, that the world should say that I had accepted, and rejoiced in his love when I was poor, and rejected it with scorn when I was rich! No; I would sooner .-ten thousand times sooner my uncle should do it for me! but if he will not write to Frank, I will. And though my hand will shake, and my face will be flushed as I do so, I shall never think that I have disgraced myself.’
‘And if, Fanny if, after that he refuses you?’
Fanny was still standing, and she remained so for a moment or two, meditating her reply, and then she answered ‘Should he do so, then I have the alternative which you say you would prefer; then I will endeavour to look forward to a broken heart, and death, without a complaint and without tears. Then, Selina,’ and she tried to smile through the tears which were again running down her cheeks, ‘I’ll come to you, and endeavour to borrow your stoic endurance, and patient industry;’ and, as she said so, she walked to the door and escaped, before Lady Selina had time to reply.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14