John Eustace, Lady Eustace’s brother-in-law, had told his friend Greystock, the lady’s cousin, that Mr. Camperdown the lawyer intended to “jump upon” that lady. Making such allowance and deduction from the force of these words as the slang expression requires, we may say that John Eustace was right. Mr. Camperdown was in earnest, and did intend to obtain the restoration of those jewels. Mr. Camperdown was a gentleman of about sixty, who had been lawyer to Sir Florian’s father, and whose father had been lawyer to Sir Florian’s grandfather. His connection with the property and with the family was of a nature to allow him to take almost any liberty with the Eustaces. When therefore John Eustace, in regard to those diamonds, had pleaded that the heir in his long minority would obtain ample means of buying more diamonds, and of suggesting that the plunder for the sake of tranquillity should be allowed, Mr. Camperdown took upon himself to say that he’d “be —— if he’d put up with it.”
“I really don’t know what you are to do,” said John Eustace.
“I’ll file a bill in Chancery, if it’s necessary,” said the old lawyer. “Heaven on earth! as trustee how are you to reconcile yourself to such a robbery? They 50 represent £500 a year forever, and she is to have them simply because she chooses to take them!”
“I suppose Florian could have given them away. At any rate, he could have sold them.”
“I don’t know that,” said Mr. Camperdown. “I have not looked as yet, but I think that this necklace has been made an heirloom. At any rate, it represents an amount of property that shouldn’t and couldn’t be made over legally without some visible evidence of transfer. It’s as clear a case of stealing as I ever knew in my life, and as bad a case. She hadn’t a farthing, and she has got the whole of the Ayrshire property for her life. She goes about and tells everybody that it’s hers to sell to-morrow if she pleases to sell it. No, John,”—Mr. Camperdown had known Eustace when he was a boy, and had watched him become a man, and hadn’t yet learned to drop the name by which he had called the boy,—“we mustn’t allow it. What do you think of her applying to me for an income to support her child, a baby not yet two years old?” Mr. Camperdown had been very adverse to all the circumstances of Sir Florian’s marriage, and had subjected himself to Sir Florian’s displeasure for expressing his opinion. He had tried to explain that as the lady brought no money into the family she was not entitled to such a jointure as Sir Florian was determined to lavish upon her. But Sir Florian had been obstinate, both in regard to the settlement and the will. It was not till after Sir Florian’s death that this terrible matter of the jewels had even suggested itself to Mr. Camperdown. The jewellers in whose custody the things had been since the death of the late Lady Eustace had mentioned the affair to him immediately on the young widow’s return 51 from Naples. Sir Florian had withdrawn, not all the jewels, but by far the most valuable of them, from the jewellers’ care on his return to London from their marriage tour to Scotland, and this was the result. The jewellers were at that time without any doubt as to the date at which the necklace was taken from them.
Mr. Camperdown’s first attempt was made by a most courteous and even complimentary note, in which he suggested to Lady Eustace that it would be for the advantage of all parties that the family jewels should be kept together. Lizzie, as she read this note, smiled, and said to herself that she did not exactly see how her own interests would be best served by such an arrangement. She made no answer to Mr. Camperdown’s note. Some months after this, when the heir was born, and as Lady Eustace was passing through London on her journey from Bobsborough to Portray, a meeting had been arranged between her and Mr. Camperdown. She had endeavoured by all the wiles she knew to avoid this meeting, but it had been forced upon her. She had been almost given to understand that unless she submitted to it, she would not be able to draw her income from the Portray property. Messrs. Mowbray & Mopus had advised her to submit. “My husband gave me a necklace, and they want me to give it back,” she had said to Mr. Mopus. “Do nothing of the kind,” Mr. Mopus had replied. “If you find it necessary, refer Mr. Camperdown to us. We will answer him.” The interview had taken place, during which Mr. Camperdown took the trouble to explain very plainly and more than once that the income from the Portray property belonged to Lady Eustace for her life 52 only. It would after her death be rejoined, of necessity, to the rest of the Eustace property. This was repeated to Lady Eustace in the presence of John Eustace; but she made no remark on being so informed. “You understand the nature of the settlement, Lady Eustace?” Mr. Camperdown had said. “I believe I understand everything,” she replied. Then, just at the close of the interview, he asked a question about the jewels. Lady Eustace at first made no reply. “They might as well be sent back to Messrs. Garnett,” said Mr. Camperdown. “I don’t know that I have any to send back,” she answered; and then she escaped before Mr. Camperdown was able to arrange any further attack. “I can manage with her better by letter than I can personally,” he said to John Eustace.
Lawyers such as Mr. Camperdown are slow, and it was three or four months after that when he wrote a letter in his own name to Lady Eustace, explaining to her, still courteously, that it was his business to see that the property of the Eustace family was placed in fit hands, and that a certain valuable necklace of diamonds, which was an heirloom of the family, and which was undeniably the property of the heir, was believed to be in her custody. As such property was peculiarly subject to risks, would she have the kindness to make arrangements for handing over the necklace to the custody of the Messrs. Garnett? To this letter Lizzie made no answer whatever, nor did she to a second note, calling attention to the first. When John Eustace told Greystock that Camperdown intended to “jump upon” Lady Eustace, the following further letter had been written by the firm, but up to that time Lizzie had not replied to it:—53
“62 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn,
“5 May, 186—.
“Madam: It is our duty as attorneys acting on behalf of the estate of your late husband, Sir Florian Eustace, and in the interest of your son, his heir, to ask for restitution of a certain valuable diamond necklace which is believed to be now in the possession of your ladyship. Our senior partner, Mr. Camperdown, has written to your ladyship more than once on the subject, but has not been honoured with any reply. Doubtless had there been any mistake as to the necklace being in your hands we would have been so informed. The diamonds were withdrawn from Messrs. Garnett, the jewellers, by Sir Florian soon after his marriage, and were, no doubt, intrusted to your keeping. They are appanages of the family which should not be in your hands as the widow of the late baronet, and they constitute an amount of property which certainly cannot be alienated from the family without inquiry or right, as might any trifling article either of use or ornament. The jewels are valued at over £10,000.
“We are reluctantly compelled, by the fact of your having left unanswered three letters from Camperdown, Senior, on the subject, to explain to you that if be not paid to this letter, we shall be obliged, in the performance of our duty, to take legal steps for the restitution of the property.
“We have the honour to be, Madam,
“Your ladyship’s most obedient servants,
“Camperdown & Son.
“To Lady Eustace,” etc., etc.
A few days after it was sent, old Mr. Camperdown got the letter-book of the office and read the letter to John Eustace.
“I don’t see how you’re to get them,” said Eustace.
“We’ll throw upon her the burden of showing that they have become legally her property. She can’t do it.”
“Suppose she sold them?”
“We’ll follow them up. Ten thousand pounds, my dear John! God bless my soul! it’s a magnificent dowry for a daughter—an ample provision for a younger son. And she is to be allowed to filch it, as other widows filch china cups and a silver teaspoon or two! It’s quite a common thing, but I never heard of such a haul as this.”
“It will be very unpleasant,” said Eustace.
“And then she still goes about everywhere declaring that the Portray property is her own. She’s a bad lot. I knew it from the first. Of course we shall have trouble.” Then Mr. Eustace explained to the lawyer that their best way out of it all would be to get the widow married to some respectable husband. She was sure to marry sooner or later, so John Eustace said, and any “decently decent” fellow would be easier to deal with than she herself. “He must be very indecently indecent if he is not,” said Mr. Camperdown. But Mr. Eustace did not name Frank Greystock the barrister as the probable future decent husband.
When Lizzie first got the letter, which she did on the day after the visit at Fawn Court of which mention has been made, she put it by unread for a couple of days. She opened it, not knowing the clerk’s handwriting, but read only the first line and the signature. 55 For two days she went on with the ordinary affairs and amusements of her life, as though no such letter had reached her; but she was thinking of it all the time. The diamonds were in her possession, and she had had them valued by her old friend Mr. Benjamin, of the firm of Harter & Benjamin. Mr. Benjamin had suggested that stones of such a value should not be left to the risk of an ordinary London house; but Lizzie had felt that if Mr. Benjamin got them into his hands, Mr. Benjamin might perhaps not return them. Messrs. Camperdown and Garnett between them might form a league with Mr. Benjamin. Where would she be, should Mr. Benjamin tell her that under some legal sanction he had given the jewels up to Mr. Camperdown? She hinted to Mr. Benjamin that she would perhaps sell them if she got a good offer. Mr. Benjamin, who was very familiar with her, hinted that there might be a little family difficulty. “Oh, none in the least,” said Lizzie; “but I don’t think I shall part with them.” Then she gave Mr. Benjamin an order for a strong box, which was supplied to her. The strong box, which was so heavy that she could barely lift it herself, was now in her London bedroom.
On the morning of the third day she read the letter. Miss Macnulty was staying with her, but she had not said a word to Miss Macnulty about the letter. She read it up in her own bedroom and then sat down to think about it. Sir Florian, as he had handed to her the stones for the purpose of a special dinner party which had been given to them when passing through London, had told her that they were family jewels. “That setting was done for my mother,” he said, “but it is already old. When we are at home again they shall be 56 reset.” Then he had added some little husband’s joke as to a future daughter-in-law who should wear them. Nevertheless she was not sure whether the fact of their being so handed to her did not make them her own. She had spoken a second time to Mr. Mopus, and Mr. Mopus had asked her whether there existed any family deed as to the diamonds. She had heard of no such deed, nor did Mr. Camperdown mention such a deed. After reading the letter once she read it a dozen times; and then, like a woman, made up her mind that her safest course would be not to answer it.
But yet she felt sure that something unpleasant would come of it. Mr. Camperdown was not a man to take up such a question and let it drop. Legal steps! What did legal steps mean, and what could they do to her? Would Mr. Camperdown be able to put her in prison, or to take away from her the estate of Portray? She could swear that her husband had given them to her, and could invent any form of words she pleased as accompanying the gift. No one else had been near them then. But she was, and felt herself to be absolutely, alarmingly ignorant, not only of the laws but of custom in such matters. Messrs. Mowbray & Mopus and Mr. Benjamin were the allies to whom she looked for guidance; but she was wise enough to know that Mowbray & Mopus and Harter & Benjamin were not trustworthy, whereas Camperdown & Son and the Messrs. Garnett were all as firm as rocks and as respectable as the Bank of England. Circumstances—unfortunate circumstances—drove her to Harter & Benjamin and to Mowbray & Mopus, while she would have taken so much delight in feeling the strong honesty of the other people to be on her side! 57 She would have talked to her friends about Mr. Camperdown and the people at Garnetts’ with so much satisfaction! But ease, security, and even respectability may be bought too dearly. Ten thousand pounds! Was she prepared to surrender such a sum as that? She had, indeed, already realised the fact that it might be very difficult to touch the money. When she had suggested to Mr. Benjamin that he should buy the jewels, that worthy tradesman had by no means jumped at the offer. Of what use to her would be a necklace always locked up in an iron box, which box, for aught she knew, myrmidons from Mr. Camperdown might carry off during her absence from the house? Would it not be better to come to terms and surrender? But then what should the terms be?
If only there had been a friend whom she could consult—a friend whom she could consult on a really friendly footing!—not a simply respectable, off-handed, high-minded friend, who would advise her as a matter of course to make restitution. Her uncle the dean, or her cousin Frank, or old Lady Fawn, would be sure to give her such advice as that. There are people who are so very high-minded when they have to deal with the interests of their friends! What if she were to ask Lord Fawn?
Thoughts of a second marriage had, of course, crossed Lady Eustace’s mind, and they were by no means the worst thoughts that found a place there. She had a grand idea—this selfish, hard-fisted little woman, who could not bring herself to abandon the plunder on which she had laid her hand—a grand idea of surrendering herself and all her possessions to a great passion. For Florian Eustace she had never 58 cared. She had sat down by his side, and looked into his handsome face, and read poetry to him, because of his wealth, and because it had been indispensable to her to settle herself well. And he had been all very well—a generous, open-hearted, chivalrous, irascible, but rather heavy-minded gentleman; but she had never been in love with him. Now she desired to be so in love that she could surrender everything to her love. There was as yet nothing of such love in her bosom. She had seen no one who had so touched her. But she was alive to the romance of the thing, and was in love with the idea of being in love. “Ah,” she would say to herself in her moments of solitude, “if I had a Corsair of my own, how I would sit on watch for my lover’s boat by the sea-shore!” And she believed it of herself that she could do so.
But it would also be very nice to be a peeress—so that she might, without any doubt, be one of the great ladies of London. As a baronet’s widow with a large income, she was already almost a great lady; but she was quite alive to a suspicion that she was not altogether strong in her position. The bishop’s people and the dean’s people did not quite trust her. The Camperdowns and Garnetts utterly distrusted her. The Mopuses and Benjamins were more familiar than they would be with a really great lady. She was sharp enough to understand all this. Should it be Lord Fawn or should it be a Corsair? The worst of Lord Fawn was the undoubted fact that he was not himself a great man. He could, no doubt, make his wife a peeress; but he was poor, encumbered with a host of sisters, dull as a blue-book, and possessed of little beyond his peerage to recommend him. If she could 59 only find a peer, unmarried, with a dash of the Corsair about him! In the mean time what was she to do about the jewels?
There was staying with her at this time a certain Miss Macnulty, who was related, after some distant fashion, to old Lady Linlithgow, and who was as utterly destitute of possessions or means of existence as any unfortunate, well-born, and moderately-educated middle-aged woman in London. To live upon her friends, such as they might be, was the only mode of life within her reach. It was not that she had chosen such dependence; nor, indeed, had she endeavoured to reject it. It had come to her as a matter of course—either that or the poorhouse. As to earning her bread, except by that attendance which a poor friend gives, the idea of any possibility that way had never entered her head. She could do nothing—except dress like a lady with the smallest possible cost, and endeavour to be obliging. Now, at this moment, her condition was terribly precarious. She had quarrelled with Lady Linlithgow, and had been taken in by her old friend Lizzie—her old enemy might, perhaps, be a truer expression—because of that quarrel. But a permanent home had not even been promised to her; and poor Miss Macnulty was aware that even a permanent home with Lady Eustace would not be an unmixed blessing. In her way, Miss Macnulty was an honest woman.
They were sitting together one May afternoon in the little back drawing-room in Mount street. They had dined early, were now drinking tea, and intended to go to the opera. It was six o’clock, and was still broad day, but the thick coloured blind was kept 60 across the single window, and the folding doors of the room were nearly closed, and there was a feeling of evening in the room. The necklace during the whole day had been so heavy on Lizzie’s heart that she had been unable to apply her thoughts to the building of that castle in the air in which the Corsair was to reign supreme, but not alone. “My dear,” she said—she generally called Miss Macnulty my dear—“you know that box I had made by the jewellers.”
“You mean the safe.”
“Well—yes; only it isn’t a safe. A safe is a great big thing. I had it made especially for the diamonds Sir Florian gave me.”
“I supposed it was so.”
“I wonder whether there’s any danger about it?”
“If I were you, Lady Eustace, I wouldn’t keep them in the house. I should have them kept where Sir Florian kept them. Suppose anybody should come and murder you.”
“I’m not a bit afraid of that,” said Lizzie.
“I should be. And what will you do with it when you go to Scotland?”
“I took them with me before—in my own care. I know that wasn’t safe. I wish I knew what to do with them.”
“There are people who keep such things,” said Miss Macnulty.
Then Lizzie paused a moment. She was dying for counsel and for confidence. “I cannot trust them anywhere,” she said. “It is just possible there may be a lawsuit about them.”
“How a lawsuit?”
“I cannot explain it all, but I am very unhappy about it. They want me to give them up; but my 61 husband gave them to me, and for his sake I will not do so. When he threw them around my neck he told me that they were my own—so he did. How can a woman give up such a present—from a husband—who is dead? As to the value, I care nothing. But I won’t do it.” By this time Lady Eustace was in tears, and had so far succeeded as to have produced some amount of belief in Miss Macnulty’s mind.
“If they are your own, they can’t take them from you,” said Miss Macnulty.
“They shan’t. They shall find that I’ve got some spirit left.” Then she reflected that a real Corsair lover would protect her jewels for her—would guard them against a score of Camperdowns. But she doubted whether Lord Fawn would do much in that way. Then the door was opened, and Lord Fawn was announced. It was not at all unusual with Lord Fawn to call on the widow at this hour. Mount street is not exactly in the way from the India Office to the House of Lords; but a Hansom cab can make it almost in the way. Of neglect of official duty Lord Fawn was never guilty; but a half hour for private business or for relaxation between one stage of duty and another—can any Minister grudge so much to an indefatigable follower? Lady Eustace had been in tears as he was announced, but the light of the room was so low that the traces of them could hardly be seen. She was in her Corsair state of mind, divided between her jewels and her poetry, and caring not very much for the increased rank which Lord Fawn could give her. “The Sawab’s case is coming on in the House of Commons this very night,” he said, in answer to a question from Miss Macnulty. Then he turned to Lady Eustace. 62 “Your cousin, Mr. Greystock, is going to ask a question in the House.”
“Shall you be there to answer him?” asked Miss Macnulty innocently.
“Oh dear, no. But I shall be present. A peer can go, you know.” Then Lord Fawn, at considerable length, explained to the two ladies the nature and condition of the British Parliament. Miss Macnulty experienced an innocent pleasure in having such things told to her by a lord. Lady Eustace knew that this was the way in which Lord Fawn made love, and thought that from him it was as good as any other way. If she were to marry a second time simply with a view of being a peeress, of having a respected husband, and making good her footing in the world, she would as lief listen to parliamentary details and the prospects of the Sawab as to any other matters. She knew very well that no Corsair propensities would be forthcoming from Lord Fawn. Lord Fawn had just worked himself round to the Sawab again, when Frank Greystock entered the room. “Now we have both the Houses represented,” said Lady Eustace, as she welcomed her cousin.
“You intend to ask your question about the Sawab to-night?” asked Lord Fawn with intense interest, feeling that had it been his lot to perform that task before he went to his couch, he would at this moment have been preparing his little speech.
But Frank Greystock had not come to his cousin’s house to talk of the Prince of the Mygawb territory. When his friend Eustace had suggested to him that he should marry the widow, he had ridiculed the idea. But nevertheless he had thought of it a good deal. 63 He was struggling hard, working diligently, making for himself a character in Parliament, succeeding—so said all his friends—as a barrister. He was a rising young man, one of those whose names began to be much in the mouths of other men; but still he was poor. It seemed to himself that among other good gifts that of economy had not been bestowed upon him. He owed a little money, and though he owed it, he went on spending his earnings. He wanted just such a lift in the world as a wife with an income would give him. As for looking about for a girl whom he could honestly love, and who should have a fortune of her own, as well as beauty, birth, and all the other things—that was out of his reach. If he talked to himself of love, if he were ever to acknowledge to himself that love was to have sway over him, then must Lucy Morris be the mistress of his heart. He had come to know enough about himself to be aware of that; but he knew also that he had said nothing binding him to walk in that path. It was quite open to him to indulge a discreet ambition without dishonour. Therefore he also had come to call upon the beautiful widow. The courtship with her he knew need not be long. He could ask her to marry him to-morrow—as for that matter, to-day—without a feeling of hesitation. She might accept him, or might reject him; but, as he said to himself, in neither case would any harm be done.
An idea of the same kind flitted across Lizzie’s mind as she sat and talked to the two gentlemen. She knew that her cousin Frank was poor, but she thought that she could fall in love with him. He was not exactly a Corsair, but he was a man who had certain Corsair propensities. He was bold and dashing, unscrupulous and 64 clever—a man to make a name for himself, and one to whom a woman could endure to be obedient. There could be no question as to choice between him and Lord Fawn if she were to allow herself to choose by liking. And she thought that Frank Greystock would keep the necklace, if he himself were made to have an interest in the necklace; whereas Lord Fawn would undoubtedly surrender it at once to Mr. Camperdown.
Lord Fawn had some slight idea of waiting to see the cousin go; but as Greystock had a similar idea, and as he was the stronger of the two, of course Lord Fawn went. He perhaps remembered that the Hansom cab was at the door, costing sixpence every fifteen minutes, and that he wished to show himself in the House of Lords before the peers rose. Miss Macnulty also left the room, and Frank was alone with the widow.
“Lizzie,” said he, “you must be very solitary here.”
“I am solitary.”
“And hardly happy.”
“Anything but happy, Frank. I have things that make me very unhappy; one thing that I will tell you if you will let me.”
Frank had almost made up his mind to ask her on the spot to give him permission to console all her sorrows when there came a clattering double knock at the door.
“They know I shall be at home to nobody else now,” said Lady Eustace.
But Frank Greystock had hardly regained his self-possession when Miss Macnulty hurried into the room, and, with a look almost of horror, declared that Lady Linlithgow was in the parlour.65
“Lady Linlithgow,” said Frank Greystock, holding up both his hands.
“Yes, indeed,” said Miss Macnulty. “I did not speak to her, but I saw her. She has sent her——love to Lady Eustace, and begs that she will see her.”
Lady Eustace had been so surprised by the announcement that hitherto she had not spoken a word. The quarrel between her and her aunt had been of such a nature that it had seemed to be impossible that the old countess should come to Mount street. Lizzie had certainly behaved very badly to her aunt—about as badly as a young woman could behave to an old woman. She had accepted bread, and shelter, and the very clothes on her back from her aunt’s bounty, and had rejected even the hand of her benefactress the first moment that she had bread, and shelter, and clothes of her own. And here was Lady Linlithgow down-stairs in the parlour, and sending up her love to her niece! “I won’t see her,” said Lizzie.
“You had better see her,” said Frank.
“I can’t see her,” said Lizzie. “Good gracious, my dear, what has she come for?”
“She says it’s very important,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Of course you must see her,” said Frank. “Let me get out of the house, and then tell the servant to 66 show her up at once. Don’t be weak now, Lizzie, and I’ll come and find out all about it to-morrow.”
“Mind you do,” said Lizzie. Then Frank took his departure, and Lizzie did as she was bidden. “You remain in here, Julia,” she said, “so as to be near if I want you. She shall come into the front room.” Then, absolutely shaking with fear of the approaching evil, she took her seat in the largest drawing-room. There was still a little delay. Time was given to Frank Greystock to get away, and to do so without meeting Lady Linlithgow in the passage. The message was conveyed by Miss Macnulty to the servant, and the same servant opened the front door for Frank before he delivered it. Lady Linlithgow, too, though very strong, was old. She was slow, or perhaps it might more properly be said she was stately in her movements. She was one of those old women who are undoubtedly old women—who in the remembrance of younger people seem always to have been old women—but on whom old age appears to have no debilitating effects. If the hand of Lady Linlithgow ever trembled, it trembled from anger. If her foot ever faltered, it faltered for effect. In her way Lady Linlithgow was a very powerful human being. She knew nothing of fear, nothing of charity, nothing of mercy, and nothing of the softness of love. She had no imagination. She was worldly, covetous, and not unfrequently cruel. But she meant to be true and honest, though she often failed in her meaning, and she had an idea of her duty in life. She was not self-indulgent. She was as hard as an oak post, but then she was also as trustworthy. No human being liked her; but she had the good word of a great many human beings. At great cost to her own comfort, she had 67 endeavoured to do her duty to her niece, Lizzie Greystock, when Lizzie was homeless. Undoubtedly Lizzie’s bed, while it had been spread under her aunt’s roof, had not been one of roses; but such as it had been, she had endured to occupy it while it served her needs. She had constrained herself to bear her aunt; but from the moment of her escape she had chosen to reject her aunt altogether. Now her aunt’s heavy step was heard upon the stairs! Lizzie also was a brave woman after a certain fashion. She could dare to incur a great danger for an adequate object. But she was too young as yet to have become mistress of that persistent courage which was Lady Linlithgow’s peculiar possession.
When the countess entered the drawing-room Lizzie rose upon her legs, but did not come forward from her chair. The old woman was not tall; but her face was long, and at the same time large, square at the chin and square at the forehead, and gave her almost an appearance of height. Her nose was very prominent, not beaked, but straight and strong, and broad at the bridge, and of a dark-red colour. Her eyes were sharp and gray. Her mouth was large, and over it there was almost beard enough for a young man’s moustache. Her chin was firm, and large, and solid. Her hair was still brown, and was only just grizzled in parts. Nothing becomes an old woman like gray hair, but Lady Linlithgow’s hair would never be gray. Her appearance, on the whole, was not prepossessing, but it gave one an idea of honest, real strength. What one saw was not buckram, whalebone, paint, and false hair. It was all human—hardly feminine, certainly not angelic, with perhaps a hint in the other direction—but a human body, and not a thing of pads and patches. Lizzie, as 68 she saw her aunt, made up her mind for the combat. Who is there that has lived to be a man or woman, and has not experienced a moment in which a combat has impended, and a call for such sudden courage has been necessary? Alas! sometimes the combat comes, and the courage is not there. Lady Eustace was not at her ease as she saw her aunt enter the room. “Oh, come ye in peace, or come ye in war?” she would have said had she dared. Her aunt had sent up her love, if the message had been delivered aright; but what of love could there be between those two? The countess dashed at once to the matter in hand, making no allusion to Lizzie’s ungrateful conduct to herself. “Lizzie,” she said, “I’ve been asked to come to you by Mr. Camperdown. I’ll sit down, if you please.”
“Oh, certainly, Aunt Penelope. Mr. Camperdown!”
“Yes; Mr. Camperdown. You know who he is. He has been to me because I am your nearest relation. So I am, and therefore I have come. I don’t like it, I can tell you.”
“As for that, Aunt Penelope, you’ve done it to please yourself,” said Lizzie in a tone of insolence with which Lady Linlithgow had been familiar in former days.
“No, I haven’t, Miss. I haven’t come for my own pleasure at all. I have come for the credit of the family, if any good can be done towards saving it. You’ve got your husband’s diamonds locked up somewhere, and you must give them back.”
“My husband’s diamonds were my diamonds,” said Lizzie stoutly.
“They were family diamonds, Eustace diamonds, heirlooms—old property belonging to the Eustaces, 69 just like their estates. Sir Florian didn’t give ’em away, and couldn’t, and wouldn’t if he could. Such things ain’t given away in that fashion. It’s all nonsense, and you must give them up.”
“Who says so?”
“I say so.”
“That’s nothing, Aunt Penelope.”
“Nothing, is it? You’ll see. Mr. Camperdown says so. All the world will say so. If you don’t take care, you’ll find yourself brought into a court of law, my dear, and a jury will say so. That’s what it will come to. What good will they do you? You can’t sell them; and, as a widow, you can’t wear ’em. If you marry again, you wouldn’t disgrace your husband by going about showing off the Eustace diamonds. But you don’t know anything about ‘proper feelings.’”
“I know every bit as much as you do, Aunt Penelope, and I don’t want you to teach me.”
“Will you give up the jewels to Mr. Camperdown?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Or to the jewellers?”
“No, I won’t. I mean to—keep them—for—my child.” Then there came forth a sob and a tear, and Lizzie’s handkerchief was held to her eyes.
“Your child! Wouldn’t they be kept properly for him, and for the family, if the jewellers had them? I don’t believe you care about your child.”
“Aunt Penelope, you had better take care.”
“I shall say just what I think, Lizzie. You can’t frighten me. The fact is, you are disgracing the family you have married into, and as you are my niece——”70
“I’m not disgracing anybody. You are disgracing everybody.”
“As you are my niece, I have undertaken to come to you and to tell you that if you don’t give ’em up within a week from this time they’ll proceed against you for—stealing ’em.” Lady Linlithgow, as she uttered this terrible threat, bobbed her head at her niece in a manner calculated to add very much to the force of her words. The words, and tone, and gesture combined were, in truth, awful.
“I didn’t steal them. My husband gave them to me with his own hands.”
“You wouldn’t answer Mr. Camperdown’s letters, you know. That alone will condemn you. After that there isn’t a word to be said about it—not a word. Mr. Camperdown is the family lawyer, and when he writes to you letter after letter you take no more notice of him than a—dog.” The old woman was certainly very powerful. The way in which she pronounced that last word did make Lady Eustace ashamed of herself. “Why didn’t you answer his letters, unless you knew you were in the wrong? Of course you knew you were in the wrong.”
“No, I didn’t. A woman isn’t obliged to answer everything that is written to her.”
“Very well! You just say that before the judge! for you’ll have to go before a judge. I tell you, Lizzie Greystock, or Eustace, or whatever your name is, it’s downright picking and stealing. I suppose you want to sell them.”
“I won’t stand this, Aunt Penelope,” said Lizzie, rising from her seat.
“You must stand it, and you’ll have to stand worse 71 than that. You don’t suppose Mr. Camperdown got me to come here for nothing. If you don’t want to be made out to be a thief before all the world——”
“I won’t stand it,” shrieked Lizzie. “You have no business to come here and say such things to me. It’s my house.”
“I shall say just what I please.”
“Miss Macnulty, come in.” And Lizzie threw open the door, hardly knowing how the very weak ally whom she now invoked could help her, but driven by the stress of the combat to seek assistance somewhere. Miss Macnulty, who was seated near the door, and who had necessarily heard every word of the conversation, had no alternative but to appear. Of all human beings Lady Linlithgow was to her the most terrible, and yet, after a fashion, she loved the old woman. Miss Macnulty was humble, cowardly, and subservient; but she was not a fool, and she understood the difference between truth and falsehood. She had endured fearful things from Lady Linlithgow; but she knew that there might be more of sound protection in Lady Linlithgow’s real wrath than in Lizzie’s pretended affection.
“So you are there, are you?” said the countess.
“Yes, I am here, Lady Linlithgow.”
“Listening, I suppose. Well, so much the better. You know well enough, and you can tell her. You ain’t a fool, though I suppose you’ll be afraid to open your mouth.”
“Julia,” said Lady Eustace, “will you have the kindness to see that my aunt is shown to her carriage? I cannot stand her violence, and I will go up-stairs.” So saying she made her way very gracefully 72 into the back drawing-room, whence she could escape to her bedroom.
But her aunt fired a last shot at her. “Unless you do as you’re bid, Lizzie, you’ll find yourself in prison as sure as eggs.” Then, when her niece was beyond hearing, she turned to Miss Macnulty. “I suppose you’ve heard about these diamonds, Macnulty?”
“I know she’s got them, Lady Linlithgow.”
“She has no more right to them than you have. I suppose you’re afraid to tell her so, lest she should turn you out; but it’s well she should know it. I’ve done my duty. Never mind about the servant. I’ll find my way out of the house.” Nevertheless the bell was rung, and the countess was shown to her carriage with proper consideration.
The two ladies went to the opera, and it was not till after their return, and just as they were going to bed, that anything further was said about either the necklace or the visit. Miss Macnulty would not begin the subject, and Lizzie purposely postponed it. But not for a moment had it been off Lady Eustace’s mind. She did not care much for music, though she professed to do so, and thought that she did. But on this night, had she at other times been a slave to Saint Cecilia, she would have been free from that thraldom. The old woman’s threats had gone into her very heart’s blood. Theft, and prison, and juries, and judges had been thrown at her head so violently that she was almost stunned. Could it really be the case that they would prosecute her for stealing? She was Lady Eustace, and who but Lady Eustace should have these diamonds or be allowed to wear them? Nobody could say that Sir Florian had not given them to 73 her. It could not, surely, be brought against her as an actual crime that she had not answered Mr. Camperdown’s letters? And yet she was not sure. Her ideas about law and judicial proceedings were very vague. Of what was wrong and what was right she had a distinct notion. She knew well enough that she was endeavouring to steal the Eustace diamonds; but she did not in the least know what power there might be in the law to prevent, or to punish her for the intended theft. She knew well that the thing was not really her own; but there were, as she thought, so many points in her favour, that she felt it to be a cruelty that any one should grudge her the plunder. Was not she the only Lady Eustace living? As to these threats from Mr. Camperdown and Lady Linlithgow, she felt certain they would be used against her whether they were true or false. She would break her heart should she abandon her prey and afterward find that Mr. Camperdown would have been wholly powerless against her had she held on to it. But then who would tell her the truth? She was sharp enough to understand, or at any rate suspicious enough to believe, that Mr. Mopus would be actuated by no other desire in the matter than that of running up a bill against her. “My dear,” she said to Miss Macnulty, as they went up-stairs after the opera, “come into my room a moment. You heard all that my aunt said.”
“I could not help hearing. You told me to stay there, and the door was ajar.”
“I wanted you to hear. Of course what she said was the greatest nonsense in the world.”
“I don’t know.”
“When she talked about my being taken to prison 74 for not answering a lawyer’s letter, that must be nonsense.”
“I suppose that was.”
“And then she is such a ferocious old termagant—such an old vulturess. Now isn’t she a ferocious old termagant?” Lizzie paused for an answer, desirous that her companion should join her in her enmity against her aunt; but Miss Macnulty was unwilling to say anything against one who had been her protectress, and might, perhaps, be her protectress again. “You don’t mean to say you don’t hate her?” said Lizzie. “If you didn’t hate her after all she has done to you, I should despise you. Don’t you hate her?”
“I think she’s a very upsetting old woman,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Oh, you poor creature! Is that all you dare say about her?”
“I’m obliged to be a poor creature,” said Miss Macnulty, with a red spot on each of her cheeks.
Lady Eustace understood this, and relented. “But you needn’t be afraid,” she said, “to tell me what you think.”
“About the diamonds, you mean.”
“Yes, about the diamonds.”
“You have enough without them. I’d give ’em up for peace and quiet.” That was Miss Macnulty’s advice.
“No, I haven’t enough, or nearly enough. I’ve had to buy ever so many things since my husband died. They’ve done all they could to be hard to me. They made me pay for the very furniture at Portray.” This wasn’t true; but it was true that 75 Lizzie had endeavoured to palm off on the Eustace estate bills for new things which she had ordered for her own country-house. “I haven’t near enough. I am in debt already. People talked as though I were the richest woman in the world; but when it comes to be spent, I ain’t rich. Why should I give them up if they’re my own?”
“Not if they’re your own.”
“If I give you a present and then die, people can’t come and take it away afterwards because I didn’t put it into my will. There’d be no making presents like that at all.” This Lizzie said with an evident conviction in the strength of her argument.
“But this necklace is so very valuable.”
“That can’t make a difference. If a thing is a man’s own he can give it away;—not a house, or a farm, or a wood, or anything like that, but a thing that he can carry about with him—of course he can give it away.”
“But perhaps Sir Florian didn’t mean to give it for always,” suggested Miss Macnulty.
“But perhaps he did. He told me that they were mine, and I shall keep them. So that’s the end of it. You can go to bed now.” And Miss Macnulty went to bed.
Lizzie, as she sat thinking of it, owned to herself that no help was to be expected in that quarter. She was not angry with Miss Macnulty, who was, almost of necessity, a poor creature. But she was convinced more strongly than ever that some friend was necessary to her who should not be a poor creature. Lord Fawn, though a peer, was a poor creature. Frank Greystock she believed to be as strong as a house.76
Lucy Morris had been told by Lady Fawn that—in point of fact, that, being a governess, she ought to give over falling in love with Frank Greystock, and she had not liked it. Lady Fawn, no doubt, had used words less abrupt—had probably used but few words, and had expressed her meaning chiefly by little winks, and shakings of her head, and small gestures of her hands, and had ended by a kiss—in all of which she had intended to mingle mercy with justice, and had, in truth, been full of love. Nevertheless, Lucy had not liked it. No girl likes to be warned against falling in love, whether the warning be needed or not needed. In this case Lucy knew very well that the caution was too late. It might be all very well for Lady Fawn to decide that her governess should not receive visits from a lover in her house; and then the governess might decide whether, in those circumstances, she would remain or go away; but Lady Fawn could have no right to tell her governess not to be in love. All this Lucy said to herself over and over again, and yet she knew that Lady Fawn had treated her well. The old woman had kissed her, and purred over her, and praised her, and had really loved her. As a matter of course, Lucy was not entitled to have a lover. Lucy knew that well enough. As she walked alone among 77 the shrubs she made arguments in defence of Lady Fawn as against herself. And yet at every other minute she would blaze up into a grand wrath, and picture to herself a scene in which she would tell Lady Fawn boldly that as her lover had been banished from Fawn Court, she, Lucy, would remain there no longer. There were but two objections to this course. The first was that Frank Greystock was not her lover; and the second, that on leaving Fawn Court she would not know whither to betake herself. It was understood by everybody that she was never to leave Fawn Court till an unexceptionable home should be found for her, either with the Hittaways or elsewhere. Lady Fawn would no more allow her to go away, depending for her future on the mere chance of some promiscuous engagement, than she would have turned one of her own daughters out of the house in the same forlorn condition. Lady Fawn was a tower of strength to Lucy. But then a tower of strength may at any moment become a dungeon.
Frank Greystock was not her lover. Ah, there was the worst of it all! She had given her heart and had got nothing in return. She conned it all over in her own mind, striving to ascertain whether there was any real cause for shame to her in her conduct. Had she been unmaidenly? Had she been too forward with her heart? Had it been extracted from her, as women’s hearts are extracted, by efforts on the man’s part; or had she simply chucked it away from her to the first comer? Then she remembered certain scenes at the deanery, words that had been spoken, looks that had been turned upon her, a pressure of the hand late at night, a little whisper, a ribbon that had been begged, 78 a flower that had been given; and once, once——; then there came a burning blush upon her cheek that there should have been so much, and yet so little that was of avail. She had no right to say to any one that the man was her lover. She had no right to assure herself that he was her lover. But she knew that some wrong was done her in that he was not her lover.
Of the importance of her own self as a living thing with a heart to suffer and a soul to endure, she thought enough. She believed in herself, thinking of herself, that should it ever be her lot to be a man’s wife, she would be to him a true, loving friend and companion, living in his joys, and fighting, if it were necessary, down to the stumps of her nails in his interests. But of what she had to give over and above her heart and intellect she never thought at all. Of personal beauty she had very little appreciation even in others. The form and face of Lady Eustace, which indeed were very lovely, were distasteful to her; whereas she delighted to look upon the broad, plain colourless countenance of Lydia Fawn, who was endeared to her by frank good-humour and an unselfish disposition. In regard to men, she had never asked herself the question whether this man was handsome or that man ugly. Of Frank Greystock she knew that his face was full of quick intellect; and of Lord Fawn she knew that he bore no outward index of mind. One man she not only loved, but could not help loving. The other man, as regarded that sort of sympathy which marriage should recognise, must always have been worlds asunder from her. She knew that men demand that women shall possess beauty, and she certainly had never thought of herself as beautiful; but it did not 79 occur to her that on that account she was doomed to fail. She was too strong-hearted for any such fear. She did not think much of these things, but felt herself to be so far endowed as to be fit to be the wife of such a man as Frank Greystock. She was a proud, stout, self-confident, but still modest little woman, too fond of truth to tell lies of herself even to herself. She was possessed of a great power of sympathy, genial, very social, greatly given to the mirth of conversation—though in talking she would listen much and say but little. She was keenly alive to humour, and had at her command a great fund of laughter, which would illumine her whole face without producing a sound from her mouth. She knew herself to be too good to be a governess for life; and yet how could it be otherwise with her?
Lady Linlithgow’s visit to her niece had been made on a Thursday, and on that same evening Frank Greystock had asked his question in the House of Commons—or rather had made his speech about the Sawab of Mygawb. We all know the meaning of such speeches. Had not Frank belonged to the party that was out, and had not the resistance to the Sawab’s claim come from the party that was in, Frank would not probably have cared much about the prince. We may be sure that he would not have troubled himself to read a line of that very dull and long pamphlet of which he had to make himself master before he could venture to stir in the matter, had not the road of Opposition been open to him in that direction. But what exertion will not a politician make with the view of getting the point of his lance within the joints of his enemies’ harness? Frank made his speech, and made it very well. It was 80 just the case for a lawyer, admitting that kind of advocacy which it is a lawyer’s business to practise. The Indian minister of the day, Lord Fawn’s chief, had determined, after much anxious consideration, that it was his duty to resist the claim; and then, for resisting it, he was attacked. Had he yielded to the claim, the attack would have been as venomous, and very probably would have come from the same quarter. No blame by such an assertion is cast upon the young Conservative aspirant for party honours. It is thus the war is waged. Frank Greystock took up the Sawab’s case, and would have drawn mingled tears and indignation from his hearers, had not his hearers all known the conditions of the contest. On neither side did the hearers care much for the Sawab’s claims, but they felt that Greystock was making good his own claims to some future reward from his party. He was very hard upon the minister, and he was hard also upon Lord Fawn, stating that the cruelty of Government ascendancy had never been put forward as a doctrine in plainer terms than those which had been used in “another place” in reference to the wrongs of this poor ill-used native chieftain. This was very grievous to Lord Fawn, who had personally desired to favour the ill-used chieftain; and harder again because he and Greystock were intimate with each other. He felt the thing keenly, and was full of his grievance when, in accordance with his custom, he came down to Fawn Court on the Saturday evening.
The Fawn family, which consisted entirely of women, dined early. On Saturdays, when his lordship would come down, a dinner was prepared for him alone. On Sundays they all dined together at three o’clock. 81 On Sunday evening Lord Fawn would return to town to prepare himself for his Monday’s work. Perhaps, also, he disliked the sermon which Lady Fawn always read to the assembled household at nine o’clock on Sunday evening. On this Saturday he came out into the grounds after dinner, where the oldest unmarried daughter, the present Miss Fawn, was walking with Lucy Morris. It was almost a summer evening; so much so, that some of the party had been sitting on the garden benches, and four of the girls were still playing croquet on the lawn, though there was hardly light enough to see the balls. Miss Fawn had already told Lucy that her brother was very angry with Mr. Greystock. Now, Lucy’s sympathies were all with Frank and the Sawab. She had endeavoured, indeed, and had partially succeeded, in perverting the Under-Secretary. Nor did she now intend to change her opinions, although all the Fawn girls, and Lady Fawn, were against her. When a brother or a son is an Under-Secretary of State, sisters and mothers will constantly be on the side of the Government, so far as that Under-Secretary’s office is concerned.
“Upon my word, Frederic,” said Augusta Fawn, “I do think Mr. Greystock was too bad.”
“There’s nothing these fellows won’t say or do,” exclaimed Lord Fawn. “I can’t understand it myself. When I’ve been in opposition, I never did that kind of thing.”
“I wonder whether it was because he is angry with mamma,” said Miss Fawn. Everybody who knew the Fawns knew that Augusta Fawn was not clever, and that she would occasionally say the very thing that ought not to be said.82
“Oh dear, no,” said the Under-Secretary, who could not endure the idea that the weak women-mind of his family should have, in any way, an influence on the august doings of Parliament.
“You know mamma did——”
“Nothing of that kind at all,” said his lordship, putting down his sister with great authority. “Mr. Greystock is simply not an honest politician. That is about the whole of it. He chose to attack me because there was an opportunity. There isn’t a man in either House who cares for such things, personally, less than I do.” Had his lordship said “more than he did,” he might perhaps have been correct. “But I can’t bear the feeling. The fact is, a lawyer never understands what is and what is not fair fighting.”
Lucy felt her face tingling with heat, and was preparing to say a word in defence of that special lawyer, when Lady Fawn’s voice was heard from the drawing-room window. “Come in, girls. It’s nine o’clock.” In that house Lady Fawn reigned supreme, and no one ever doubted for a moment as to her obedience. The clicking of the balls ceased, and those who were walking immediately turned their faces to the drawing-room window. But Lord Fawn, who was not one of the girls, took another turn by himself, thinking of the wrongs he had endured.
“Frederic is so angry about Mr. Greystock,” said Augusta, as soon as they were seated.
“I do feel that it was provoking,” said the second sister.
“And considering that Mr. Greystock has so often been here, I don’t think it was kind,” said the third.
Lydia did not speak, but could not refrain from 83 glancing her eyes at Lucy’s face. “I believe everything is considered fair in Parliament,” said Lady Fawn.
Then Lord Fawn, who had heard the last words, entered through the window. “I don’t know about that, mother,” said he. “Gentlemanlike conduct is the same everywhere. There are things that may be said and there are things which may not. Mr. Greystock has altogether gone beyond the usual limits, and I shall take care that he knows my opinion.”
“You are not going to quarrel with the man?” asked the mother.
“I am not going to fight him, if you mean that; but I shall let him know that I think that he has transgressed.” This his lordship said with that haughty superiority which a man may generally display with safety among the women of his own family.
Lucy had borne a great deal, knowing well that it was better that she should bear such injury in silence; but there was a point beyond which she could not endure it. It was intolerable to her that Mr. Greystock’s character as a gentleman should be impugned before all the ladies of the family, every one of whom did, in fact, know her liking for the man. And then it seemed to her that she could rush into the battle, giving a side blow at his lordship on behalf of his absent antagonist, but appearing to fight for the Sawab. There had been a time when the poor Sawab was in favour at Fawn Court. “I think Mr. Greystock was right to say all he could for the prince. If he took up the cause, he was bound to make the best of it.” She spoke with energy and with a heightened colour; and Lady Fawn, hearing her, shook her head at her.84
“Did you read Mr. Greystock’s speech, Miss Morris?” asked Lord Fawn.
“Every word of it, in the ‘Times.’”
“And you understood his allusion to what I had been called upon to say in the House of Lords on behalf of the Government?”
“I suppose I did. It did not seem to be difficult to understand.”
“I do think Mr. Greystock should have abstained from attacking Frederic,” said Augusta.
“It was not—not quite the thing that we are accustomed to,” said Lord Fawn.
“Of course I don’t know about that,” said Lucy. “I think the prince is being used very ill, that he is being deprived of his own property, that he is kept out of his rights, just because he is weak, and I am very glad that there is some one to speak up for him.”
“My dear Lucy,” said Lady Fawn, “if you discuss politics with Lord Fawn, you’ll get the worst of it.”
“I don’t at all object to Miss Morris’s views about the Sawab,” said the Under-Secretary, generously. “There is a great deal to be said on both sides. I know of old that Miss Morris is a great friend of the Sawab.”
“You used to be his friend, too,” said Lucy.
“I felt for him, and do feel for him. All that is very well. I ask no one to agree with me on the question itself. I only say that Mr. Greystock’s mode of treating it was unbecoming.”
“I think it was the very best speech I ever read in my life,” said Lucy, with headlong energy and heightened colour.85
“Then, Miss Morris, you and I have very different opinions about speeches,” said Lord Fawn, with severity. “You have, probably, never read Burke’s speeches.”
“And I don’t want to read them,” said Lucy.
“That is another question,” said Lord Fawn; and his tone and manner were very severe indeed.
“We are talking about speeches in Parliament,” said Lucy. Poor Lucy! She knew quite as well as did Lord Fawn that Burke had been a House of Commons orator; but in her impatience, and from absence of the habit of argument, she omitted to explain that she was talking about the speeches of the day.
Lord Fawn held up his hands, and put his head a little on one side. “My dear Lucy,” said Lady Fawn, “you are showing your ignorance. Where do you suppose that Mr. Burke’s speeches were made?”
“Of course I know they were made in Parliament,” said Lucy, almost in tears.
“If Miss Morris means that Burke’s greatest efforts were not made in Parliament, that his speech to the electors of Bristol, for instance, and his opening address on the trial of Warren Hastings, were, upon the whole, superior to——”
“I didn’t mean anything at all,” said Lucy.
“Lord Fawn is trying to help you, my dear,” said Lady Fawn.
“I don’t want to be helped,” said Lucy. “I only mean that I thought Mr. Greystock’s speech as good as it could possibly be. There wasn’t a word in it that didn’t seem to me to be just what it ought to be. I do think that they are ill-treating that poor Indian prince, 86 and I am very glad that somebody has had the courage to get up and say so.”
No doubt it would have been better that Lucy should have held her tongue. Had she simply been upholding against an opponent a political speaker whose speech she had read with pleasure, she might have held her own in the argument against the whole Fawn family. She was a favourite with them all, and even the Under-Secretary would not have been hard upon her. But there had been more than this for poor Lucy to do. Her heart was so truly concerned in the matter, that she could not refrain herself from resenting an attack on the man she loved. She had allowed herself to be carried into superlatives, and had almost been uncourteous to Lord Fawn. “My dear,” said Lady Fawn, “we won’t say anything more upon the subject.” Lord Fawn took up a book. Lady Fawn busied herself in her knitting. Lydia assumed a look of unhappiness, as though something very sad had occurred. Augusta addressed a question to her brother in a tone which plainly indicated a feeling on her part that her brother had been ill-used and was entitled to especial consideration. Lucy sat silent and still, and then left the room with a hurried step. Lydia at once rose to follow her, but was stopped by her mother. “You had better leave her alone just at present, my dear,” said Lady Fawn.
“I did not know that Miss Morris was so particularly interested in Mr. Greystock,” said Lord Fawn.
“She has known him since she was a child,” said his mother.
About an hour afterwards Lady Fawn went up-stairs and found Lucy sitting all alone in the still so-called 87 school-room. She had no candle, and had made no pretence to do anything since she had left the room down-stairs. In the interval family prayers had been read, and Lucy’s absence was unusual and contrary to rule. “Lucy, my dear, why are you sitting here?” said Lady Fawn.
“Because I am unhappy.”
“What makes you unhappy, Lucy?”
“I don’t know. I would rather you didn’t ask me. I suppose I behaved badly down-stairs.”
“My son would forgive you in a moment if you asked him.”
“No; certainly not. I can beg your pardon, Lady Fawn, but not his. Of course I had no right to talk about speeches, and politics, and this prince in your drawing-room.”
“Lucy, you astonish me.”
“But it is so. Dear Lady Fawn, don’t look like that. I know how good you are to me. I know you let me do things which other governesses mayn’t do; and say things; but still I am a governess, and I know I misbehaved—to you.” Then Lucy burst into tears.
Lady Fawn, in whose bosom there was no stony corner or morsel of hard iron, was softened at once. “My dear, you are more like another daughter to me than anything else.”
“Dear Lady Fawn!”
“But it makes me unhappy when I see your mind engaged about Mr. Greystock. There is the truth, Lucy. You should not think of Mr. Greystock. Mr. Greystock is a man who has his way to make in the world, and could not marry you, even if, under other circumstances, he would wish to do so. You know how 88 frank I am with you, giving you credit for honest, sound good sense. To me and to my girls, who know you as a lady, you are as dear a friend as though you were—anything you may please to think. Lucy Morris is to us our own dear, dear little friend Lucy. But Mr. Greystock, who is a member of Parliament, could not marry a governess.”
“But I love him so dearly,” said Lucy, getting up from her chair, “that his slightest word is to me more than all the words of all the world beside. It is no use, Lady Fawn. I do love him, and I don’t mean to try to give it up.” Lady Fawn stood silent for a moment, and then suggested that it would be better for them both to go to bed. During that minute she had been unable to decide what she had better say or do in the present emergency.89
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 90 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 91 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 Lucy 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.”92
“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 real family happiness.”
“I hope you may be there very often,” said Lord Fawn.93
“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 had 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.” 94 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.”95
“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 96 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 97 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.
Pages 55-57, and the tops of 61-62, were damaged and have been filled in from a different copy of the same edition.
having left unanswered three letters from Mr. Camperdown
. in “Mr.” missing
if attention be not paid to this letter
text has atttention
There was staying with her at this time a certain Miss Macnulty
[It seems as if this explanation should have come before the passage a few pages earlier when we were first told that “Miss Macnulty was staying with her”. Or, better yet, the passage in Chapter III that mentioned “a new dear friend of hers, Miss Macnulty”.]
You wouldn’t answer Mr. Camperdown’s letters, you know. That alone will condemn you.
[Does this count as “silence in the face of an accusation”?]
If a thing is a man’s own he can give it away;—not a house, or a farm, or a wood, or anything like that, but a thing that he can carry about with him—of course he can give it away.
[There, in a nutshell, is the “heirloom” concept: any piece of chattel property that is subject to the same inheritance rules as real property.]
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.