In the way of duty Lord Fawn was a Hercules, not, indeed, “climbing trees in the Hesperides,” but achieving enterprises which to other men, if not impossible, would have been so unpalatable as to have been put aside as impracticable. On the Monday morning, after he was accepted by Lady Eustace, he was with his mother at Fawn Court before he went down to the India Office.
He had at least been very honest in the description he had given of his own circumstances to the lady whom he intended to marry. He had told her the exact truth; and though she, with all her cleverness, had not been able to realise the facts when related to her so suddenly, still enough had been said to make it quite clear that, when details of business should hereafter be discussed in a less hurried manner, he would be able to say that he had explained all his circumstances before he had made his offer. And he had been careful, too, as to her affairs. He had ascertained that her late husband had certainly settled upon her for life an estate worth four thousand a year. He knew, also, that eight thousand pounds had been left her, but of that he took no account. It might be probable that she would have 99 spent it. If any of it were left, it would be a godsend. Lord Fawn thought a great deal about money. Being a poor man, filling a place fit only for rich men, he had been driven to think of money, and had become self-denying and parsimonious, perhaps we may say hungry and close-fisted. Such a condition of character is the natural consequence of such a position. There is, probably, no man who becomes naturally so hard in regard to money as he who is bound to live among rich men, who is not rich himself, and who is yet honest. The weight of the work of life in these circumstances is so crushing, requires such continued thought, and makes itself so continually felt, that the mind of the sufferer is never free from the contamination of sixpences. Of such a one it is not fair to judge as of other men with similar incomes. Lord Fawn had declared to his future bride that he had half five thousand a year to spend, or the half, rather, of such actual income as might be got in from an estate presumed to give five thousand a year, and it may be said that an unmarried gentleman ought not to be poor with such an income. But Lord Fawn unfortunately was a lord, unfortunately was a landlord, unfortunately was an Irish landlord. Let him be as careful as he might with his sixpences, his pounds would fly from him, or, as might perhaps be better said, could not be made to fly to him. He was very careful with his sixpences, and was always thinking, not exactly how he might make two ends meet, but how to reconcile the strictest personal economy with the proper bearing of an English nobleman.
Such a man almost naturally looks to marriage as an 100 assistance in the dreary fight. It soon becomes clear to him that he cannot marry without money, and he learns to think that heiresses have been invented exactly to suit his case. He is conscious of having been subjected to hardship by Fortune, and regards female wealth as his legitimate mode of escape from it. He has got himself, his position, and perhaps his title, to dispose of, and they are surely worth so much per annum. As for giving anything away, that is out of the question. He has not been so placed as to be able to give. But, being an honest man, he will, if possible, make a fair bargain. Lord Fawn was certainly an honest man, and he had been endeavouring for the last six or seven years to make a fair bargain. But then it is so hard to decide what is fair. Who is to tell a Lord Fawn how much per annum he ought to regard himself as worth? He had, on one or two occasions, asked a high price, but no previous bargain had been made. No doubt he had come down a little in his demand in suggesting a matrimonial arrangement to a widow with a child, and with only four thousand a year. Whether or no that income was hers in perpetuity, or only for life, he had not positively known when he made his offer. The will made by Sir Florian Eustace did not refer to the property at all. In the natural course of things, the widow would only have a life-interest in the income. Why should Sir Florian make away, in perpetuity, with his family property? Nevertheless, there had been a rumour abroad that Sir Florian had been very generous; that the Scotch estate was to go to a second son in the event of there being a second son; but that otherwise it was to be at the widow’s own 101 disposal. No doubt, had Lord Fawn been persistent, he might have found out the exact truth. He had, however, calculated that he could afford to accept even the life-income. If more should come of it, so much the better for him. He might, at any rate, so arrange the family matters that his heir, should he have one, should not at his death be called upon to pay something more than half the proceeds of the family property to his mother, as was now done by himself.
Lord Fawn breakfasted at Fawn Court on the Monday, and his mother sat at the table with him, pouring out his tea. “Oh, Frederic,” she said, “it is so important!”
“Just so; very important indeed. I should like you to call and see her either to-day or to-morrow.”
“That’s of course.”
“And you had better get her down here.”
“I don’t know that she’ll come. Ought I to ask the little boy?”
“Certainly,” said Lord Fawn, as he put a spoonful of egg into his mouth; “certainly.”
“And Miss Macnulty?”
“No; I don’t see that at all. I’m not going to marry Miss Macnulty. The child, of course, must be one of us.”
“And what is the income, Frederic?”
“Four thousand a year. Something more nominally, but four thousand to spend.”
“You are sure about that?”
“And for ever?”
“I believe so. Of that I am not sure.”
“It makes a great difference, Frederic.”102
“A very great difference indeed. I think it is her own. But at any rate she is much younger than I am, and there need be no settlement out of my property. That is the great thing. Don’t you think she’s—nice?”
“She is very lovely.”
“Certainly very clever. I hope she is not self-willed, Frederic.”
“If she is, we must try and balance it,” said Lord Fawn, with a little smile. But in truth, he had thought nothing about any such quality as that to which his mother now referred. The lady had an income. That was the first and most indispensable consideration. She was fairly well-born, was a lady, and was beautiful. In doing Lord Fawn justice, we must allow that, in all his attempted matrimonial speculations, some amount of feminine loveliness had been combined with feminine wealth. He had for two years been a suitor of Violet Effingham, who was the acknowledged beauty of the day—of Violet Effingham, who at the present time was the wife of Lord Chiltern; and he had offered himself thrice to Madame , who was reputed to be as rich as she was beautiful. In either case, the fortune would have been greater than that which he would now win, and the money would certainly have been for ever. But in these attempts he had failed; and Lord Fawn was not a man to think himself ill-used because he did not get the first good thing for which he asked.
“I suppose I may tell the girls?” said Lady Fawn.
“Yes, when I am gone. I must be off now, only I could not bear not to come and see you.”103
“It was so like you, Frederic.”
“And you’ll go to-day?”
“Yes, if you wish it—certainly.”
“Go up in the carriage, you know, and take one of the girls with you. I would not take more than one. Augusta will be the best. You’ll see Clara, I suppose.” Clara was the married sister, Mrs. Hittaway.
“If you wish it.”
“She had better call too—say on Thursday. It’s quite as well that it should be known. I sha’n’t choose to have more delay than can be avoided. Well, I believe that’s all.”
“I hope she’ll be a good wife to you, Frederic.”
“I don’t see why she shouldn’t. Good-by, mother. Tell the girls I will see them next Saturday.” He didn’t see why this woman he was about to marry should not be a good wife to him! And yet he knew nothing about her, and had not taken the slightest trouble to make inquiry. That she was pretty he could see; that she was clever he could understand; that she lived in Mount street was a fact; her parentage was known to him; that she was the undoubted mistress of a large income was beyond dispute. But, for aught he knew, she might be afflicted by every vice to which a woman can be subject. In truth, she was afflicted by so many, that the addition of all the others could hardly have made her worse than she was. She had never sacrificed her beauty to a lover—she had never sacrificed anything to anybody—nor did she drink. It would be difficult, perhaps, to say anything else in her favour; and yet Lord Fawn was quite content to marry her, not having seen any reason why she should not make a good wife! Nor had Sir Florian 104 seen any reason; but she had broken Sir Florian’s heart.
When the girls heard the news they were half frightened and half delighted. Lady Fawn and her daughters lived very much out of the world. They also were poor rich people—if such a term may be used—and did not go much into society. There was a butler kept at Fawn Court, and a boy in buttons, and two gardeners, and a man to look after the cows, and a carriage and horses, and a fat coachman. There was a cook and a scullery maid, and two lady’s maids—who had to make the dresses—and two housemaids and a dairy-maid. There was a large old brick house to be kept in order, and handsome grounds with old trees. There was, as we know, a governess, and there were seven unmarried daughters. With such incumbrances, and an income altogether not exceeding three thousand pounds per annum, Lady Fawn could not be rich. And yet who would say that an old lady and her daughters could be poor with three thousand pounds a year to spend? It may be taken almost as a rule by the unennobled ones of this country, that the sudden possession of a title would at once raise the price of every article consumed twenty per cent. Mutton that before cost ninepence would cost tenpence a pound, and the mouths to be fed would demand more meat. The chest of tea would run out quicker. The labourer’s work, which for the farmer is ten hours a day, for the squire nine, is for the peer only eight. Miss Jones, when she becomes Lady de Jongh, does not pay less than threepence apiece for each “my lady” with which her ear is tickled. Even the baronet when he becomes a lord 105 has to curtail his purchases because of increased price, unless he be very wide awake to the affairs of the world. Old Lady Fawn, who would not on any account have owed a shilling which she could not pay, and who, in the midst of her economies, was not close-fisted, knew very well what she could do and what she could not. The old family carriage and the two lady’s maids were there, as necessaries of life; but London society was not within her reach. It was, therefore, the case that they had not heard very much about Lizzie Eustace. But they had heard something. “I hope she won’t be too fond of going out,” said Amelia, the second girl.
“Or extravagant,” said Georgiana, the third.
“There was some story of her being terribly in debt when she married Sir Florian Eustace,” said Diana, the fourth.
“Frederic will be sure to see to that,” said Augusta, the eldest.
“She is very beautiful,” said Lydia, the fifth.
“And clever,” said Cecilia, the sixth.
“Beauty and cleverness won’t make a good wife,” said Amelia, who was the wise one of the family.
“Frederic will be sure to see that she doesn’t go wrong,” said Augusta, who was not wise.
Then Lucy Morris entered the room with Nina, the cadette of the family. “Oh, Nina, what do you think?” said Lydia.
“My dear!” said Lady Fawn, putting up her hand and stopping further indiscreet speech.
“Oh, mamma, what is it?” asked the cadette.
“Surely Lucy may be told,” said Lydia.
“Well, yes; Lucy may be told certainly. There 106 can be no reason why Lucy should not know all that concerns our family; and the more so as she has been for many years intimate with the lady. My dear, my son is going to be married to Lady Eustace.”
“Lord Fawn going to marry Lizzie!” said Lucy Morris, in a tone which certainly did not express unmingled satisfaction.
“Unless you forbid the banns,” said Diana.
“Is there any reason why he should not?” said Lady Fawn.
“Oh, no; only it seems so odd. I didn’t know that they knew each other; not well, that is. And then——”
“Then what, my dear?”
“It seems odd; that’s all. It’s all very nice, I dare say, and I’m sure I hope they will be happy.” Lady Fawn, however, was displeased, and did not speak to Lucy again before she started with Augusta on the journey to London.
The carriage first stopped at the door of the married daughter in Warwick Square. Now Mrs. Hittaway, whose husband was chairman of the Board of Civil Appeals, and who was very well known at all Boards and among official men generally, heard much more about things that were going on than did her mother. And, having been emancipated from maternal control for the last ten or twelve years, she could express herself before her mother with more confidence than would have become the other girls. “Mamma,” she said, “you don’t mean it!”
“I do mean it, Clara. Why should I not mean it?”
“She is the greatest vixen in all London.”
“Oh, Clara!” said Augusta.107
“And such a liar,” said Mrs. Hittaway.
There came a look of pain across Lady Fawn’s face, for Lady Fawn believed in her eldest daughter. But yet she intended to fight her ground on a matter so important to her as was this. “There is no word in the English language,” she said, “which conveys to me so little of defined meaning as that word vixen. If you can, tell me what you mean, Clara.”
“Stop it, mamma.”
“But why should I stop it, even if I could?”
“You don’t know her, mamma.”
“She has visited at Fawn Court more than once. She is a friend of Lucy’s.”
“If she is a friend of Lucy Morris, mamma, Lucy Morris shall never come here.”
“But what has she done? I have never heard that she has behaved improperly. What does it all mean? She goes out everywhere. I don’t think she has had any lovers. Frederic would be the last man in the world to throw himself away upon an ill-conditioned young woman.”
“Frederic can see just as far as some other men, and not a bit further. Of course she has an income—for her life.”
“I believe it is her own altogether, Clara.”
“She says so, I don’t doubt. I believe she is the greatest liar about London. You find out about her jewels before she married poor Sir Florian, and how much he had to pay for her. Or rather, I’ll find out. If you want to know, mamma, you just ask her own aunt, Lady Linlithgow.”
“We all know, my dear, that Lady Linlithgow quarrelled with her.”108
“It’s my belief that she is over head and ears in debt again. But I’ll learn. And when I have found out, I shall not scruple to tell Frederic. Orlando will find out all about it.” Orlando was the Christian name of Mrs. Hittaway’s husband. “Mr. Camperdown, I have no doubt, knows all the ins and outs of her story. The long and the short of it is this, mamma, that I’ve heard quite enough about Lady Eustace to feel certain that Frederic would live to repent it.”
“But what can we do?” said Lady Fawn.
“Break it off,” said Mrs. Hittaway.
Her daughter’s violence of speech had a most depressing effect upon poor Lady Fawn. As has been said, she did believe in Mrs. Hittaway. She knew that Mrs. Hittaway was conversant with the things of the world, and heard tidings daily which never found their way down to Fawn Court. And yet her son went about quite as much as did her daughter. If Lady Eustace was such a reprobate as was now represented, why had not Lord Fawn heard the truth? And then she had already given in her own adhesion, and had promised to call. “Do you mean that you won’t go to her?” said Lady Fawn.
“As Lady Eustace? certainly not. If Frederic does marry her, of course I must know her. That’s a different thing. One has to make the best one can of a bad bargain. I don’t doubt they’d be separated before two years were over.”
“Oh, dear, how dreadful!” exclaimed Augusta.
Lady Fawn, after much consideration, was of opinion that she must carry out her intention of calling upon her son’s intended bride in spite of all the evil things that had been said. Lord Fawn had undertaken to 109 send a message to Mount street, informing the lady of the honour intended for her. And in truth Lady Fawn was somewhat curious now to see the household of the woman who might perhaps do her the irreparable injury of ruining the happiness of her only son. Perhaps she might learn something by looking at the woman in her own drawing-room. At any rate she would go. But Mrs. Hittaway’s words had the effect of inducing her to leave Augusta where she was. If there were contamination, why should Augusta be contaminated? Poor Augusta! She had looked forward to the delight of embracing her future sister-in-law; and would not have enjoyed it the less, perhaps, because she had been told that the lady was false, profligate, and a vixen. As, however, her position was that of a girl, she was bound to be obedient, though over thirty years old, and she obeyed.
Lizzie was of course at home, and Miss Macnulty was of course visiting the Horticultural Gardens or otherwise engaged. On such an occasion Lizzie would certainly be alone. She had taken great pains with her dress, studying not so much her own appearance as the character of her visitor. She was very anxious, at any rate for the present, to win golden opinions from Lady Fawn. She was dressed richly, but very simply. Everything about her room betokened wealth; but she had put away the French novels, and had placed a Bible on a little table, not quite hidden, behind her own seat. The long lustrous lock was tucked up, but the diamonds were still upon her fingers. She fully intended to make a conquest of her future mother-in-law and sister-in-law; for the note which had come up to her from the India Office had told her that 110 Augusta would accompany Lady Fawn. “Augusta is my favourite sister,” said the enamoured lover, “and I hope that you two will always be friends.” Lizzie, when she had read this, had declared to herself that of all the female oafs she had ever seen, Augusta Fawn was the greatest oaf. When she found that Lady Fawn was alone, she did not betray herself, or ask for the beloved friend of the future. “Dear, dear Lady Fawn,” she said, throwing herself into the arms and nestling herself against the bosom of the old lady, “this makes my happiness perfect.” Then she retreated a little, still holding the hand she had grasped between her own, and looking up into the face of her future mother-in-law. “When he asked me to be his wife, the first thing I thought of was whether you would come to me at once.” Her voice as she thus spoke was perfect. Her manner was almost perfect. Perhaps there was a little too much of gesture, too much gliding motion, too violent an appeal with the eyes, too close a pressure of the hand. No suspicion, however, of all this would have touched Lady Fawn had she come to Mount street without calling in Warwick Square on the way. But those horrible words of her daughter were ringing in her ears, and she did not know how to conduct herself.
“Of course I came as soon as he told me,” she said.
“And you will be a mother to me?” demanded Lizzie.
Poor Lady Fawn! There was enough of maternity about her to have enabled her to undertake the duty for a dozen sons’ wives—if the wives were women with whom she could feel sympathy. And she could feel sympathy very easily, and she was a woman not at all 111 prone to inquire too curiously as to the merits of a son’s wife. But what was she to do after the caution she had received from Mrs. Hittaway? How was she to promise maternal tenderness to a vixen and a liar? By nature she was not a deceitful woman. “My dear,” she said, “I hope you will make him a good wife.”
It was not very encouraging, but Lizzie made the best of it. It was her desire to cheat Lady Fawn into a good opinion, and she was not disappointed when no good opinion was expressed at once. It is seldom that a bad person expects to be accounted good. It is the general desire of such a one to conquer the existing evil impression; but it is generally presumed that the evil impression is there. “Oh, Lady Fawn!” she said, “I will so strive to make him happy. What is it that he likes? What would he wish me to do and to be? You know his noble nature, and I must look to you for guidance.”
Lady Fawn was embarrassed. She had now seated herself on the sofa, and Lizzie was close to her, almost enveloped within her mantle. “My dear,” said Lady Fawn, “if you will endeavour to do your duty by him, I am sure he will do his by you.”
“I know it. I am sure of it. And I will; I will. You will let me love you, and call you mother?” A peculiar perfume came up from Lizzie’s hair which Lady Fawn did not like. Her own girls, perhaps, were not given to the use of much perfumery. She shifted her seat a little, and Lizzie was compelled to sit upright, and without support. Hitherto Lady Fawn had said very little, and Lizzie’s part was one difficult to play. She had heard of that sermon read every Sunday evening at Fawn Court, and she believed that Lady 112 Fawn was peculiarly religious. “There,” she said, stretching out her hand backwards and clasping the book which lay upon the small table; “there, that shall be my guide. That will teach me how to do my duty by my noble husband.”
Lady Fawn in some surprise took the book from Lizzie’s hand, and found that it was the Bible. “You certainly can’t do better, my dear, than read your Bible,” said Lady Fawn; but there was more of censure than of eulogy in the tone of her voice. She put the Bible down very quietly, and asked Lady when it would suit her to come down to Fawn Court. Lady Fawn had promised her son to give the invitation, and could not now, she thought, avoid giving it.
“Oh, I should like it so much!” said Lizzie. “Whenever it will suit you, I will be there at a minute’s notice.” It was then arranged that she should be at Fawn Court on that day week, and stay for a fortnight. “Of all things that which I most desire now,” said Lizzie, “is to know you and the dear girls, and to be loved by you all.”
Lady Eustace, as soon as she was alone in the room, stood in the middle of it, scowling—for she could scowl. “I’ll not go near them,” she said to herself; “nasty, stupid, dull, puritanical drones. If he don’t like it, he may lump it. After all, it’s no such great catch.” Then she sat down to reflect whether it was or was not a catch. As soon as ever Lord Fawn had left her after the engagement was made, she had begun to tell herself that he was a poor creature, and that she had done wrong. “Only five thousand a year!” she said to herself; for she had not perfectly understood that little explanation which he had given respecting 113 his income. “It’s nothing for a lord.” And now again she murmured to herself, “It’s my money he’s after. He’ll find out that I know how to keep what I have got in my own hands.”
Now that Lady Fawn had been cold to her, she thought still less of the proposed marriage. But there was this inducement for her to go on with it. If they, the Fawn women, thought that they could break it off, she would let them know that they had no such power.
“Well, mamma, you’ve seen her?” said Mrs. Hittaway.
“Yes, my dear; I’ve seen her. I had seen her two or three times before, you know.”
“And you are still in love with her?”
“I never said that I was in love with her, Clara.”
“And what has been fixed?”
“She is to come down to Fawn Court next week, and stay a fortnight with us. Then we shall find out what she is.”
“That will be best, mamma,” said Augusta.
“Mind, mamma; you understand me. I shall tell Frederic plainly just what I think. Of course he will be offended, and if the marriage goes on, the offence will remain—till he finds out the truth.”
“I hope he’ll find out no such truth,” said Lady Fawn. She was, however, quite unable to say a word in behalf of her future daughter-in-law. She said nothing as to that little scene with the Bible, but she never forgot it.114
During the remainder of that Monday and all the Tuesday, Lizzie’s mind was, upon the whole, averse to matrimony. She had told Miss Macnulty of her prospects, with some amount of exultation; and the poor dependent, though she knew that she must be turned out into the street, had congratulated her patroness. “The Vulturess will take you in again, when she knows you’ve nowhere else to go to,” Lizzie had said, displaying indeed some accurate discernment of her aunt’s character. But after Lady Fawn’s visit she spoke of the marriage in a different tone. “Of course, my dear, I shall have to look very close after the settlement.”
“I suppose the lawyers will do that,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Yes; lawyers! That’s all very well. I know what lawyers are. I’m not going to trust any lawyer to give away my property. Of course we shall live at Portray, because his place is in Ireland, and nothing shall take me to Ireland. I told him that from the very first. But I don’t mean to give up my own income. I don’t suppose he’ll venture to suggest such a thing.” And then again she grumbled. “It’s all very well being in the Cabinet——!”
“Is Lord Fawn in the Cabinet?” asked Miss Macnulty, who in such matters was not altogether ignorant.115
“Of course he is,” said Lizzie, with an angry gesture. It may seem unjust to accuse her of being stupidly unacquainted with circumstances, and a liar at the same time; but she was both. She said that Lord Fawn was in the Cabinet because she had heard some one speak of him as not being a Cabinet Minister, and in so speaking appear to slight his political position. Lizzie did not know how much her companion knew, and Miss Macnulty did not comprehend the depth of the ignorance of her patroness. Thus the lies which Lizzie told were amazing to Miss Macnulty. To say that Lord Fawn was in the Cabinet, when all the world knew that he was an Under-Secretary! What good could a woman get from an assertion so plainly, so manifestly false? But Lizzie knew nothing of Under-Secretaries. Lord Fawn was a lord, and even Commoners were in the Cabinet. “Of course he is,” said Lizzie; “but I sha’n’t have my drawing-room made a Cabinet. They sha’n’t come here.” And then again on the Tuesday evening she displayed her independence. “As for those women down at Richmond, I don’t mean to be overrun by them, I can tell you. I said I would go there, and of course I shall keep my word.”
“I think you had better go,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Of course, I shall go. I don’t want anybody to tell me where I’m to go, my dear, and where I’m not. But it’ll be about the first and the last. And as for bringing those dowdy girls out in London, it’s the last thing I shall think of doing. Indeed, I doubt whether they can afford to dress themselves.” As she went up to bed on the Tuesday evening, Miss Macnulty doubted whether the match would go on. She never believed her friend’s statements; but if spoken words might be 116 supposed to mean anything, Lady Eustace’s words on that Tuesday betokened a strong dislike to everything appertaining to the Fawn family. She had even ridiculed Lord Fawn himself, declaring that he understood nothing about anything beyond his office.
And, in truth, Lizzie had almost made up her mind to break it off. All that she would gain did not seem to weigh down with sufficient preponderance all that she would lose. Such were her feelings on the Tuesday night. But on the Wednesday morning she received a note which threw her back violently upon the Fawn interest. The note was as follows:—
“Messrs. Camperdown and Son present their compliments to Lady Eustace. They have received instructions to proceed by law for the recovery of the Eustace diamonds, now in Lady Eustace’s hands, and will feel obliged to Lady Eustace if she will communicate to them the name and address of her attorney.
“62 New Square, 30 May, 186—.”
The effect of this note was to drive Lizzie back upon the Fawn interest. She was frightened about the diamonds, and was, nevertheless, almost determined not to surrender them. At any rate, in such a strait she would want assistance, either in keeping them or in giving them up. The lawyer’s letter afflicted her with a sense of weakness, and there was strength in the Fawn connection. As Lord Fawn was so poor, perhaps he would adhere to the jewels. She knew that she could not fight Mr. Camperdown with no other assistance than what Messrs. Mowbray and Mopus might give her, and therefore her heart softened toward her betrothed. “I suppose Frederic will be here to-day,” she said to 117 Miss Macnulty, as they sat at breakfast together about noon. Miss Macnulty nodded. “You can have a cab, you know, if you like to go anywhere.” Miss Macnulty said she thought she would go to the National Gallery. “And you can walk back, you know,” said Lizzie.
“I can walk there and back, too,” said Miss Macnulty, in regard to whom it may be said that the last ounce would sometimes almost break the horse’s back.
“Frederic” came, and was received very graciously. Lizzie had placed Mr. Camperdown’s note on the little table behind her, beneath the Bible, so that she might put her hand upon it at once if she could make an opportunity of showing it to her future husband. “Frederic” sat himself beside her, and the intercourse for a while was such as might be looked for between two lovers of whom one was a widow and the other an Under-Secretary of State from the India Office. They were loving, but discreetly amatory, talking chiefly of things material, each flattering the other, and each hinting now and again at certain little circumstances of which a more accurate knowledge seemed to be desirable. The one was conversant with things in general, but was slow; the other was quick as a lizard in turning hither and thither, but knew almost nothing. When she told Lord Fawn that the Ayrshire estate was “her own, to do what she liked with,” she did not know that he would certainly find out the truth from other sources before he married her. Indeed, she was not quite sure herself whether the statement was true or false, though she would not have made it so frequently had her idea of the truth been a fixed idea. It had all been explained to her; but there had been 118 something about a second son, and there was no second son. Perhaps she might have a second son yet, a future little Lord Fawn, and he might inherit it. In regard to honesty, the man was superior to the woman, because his purpose was declared, and he told no lies; but the one was as mercenary as the other. It was not love that had brought Lord Fawn to Mount street.
“What is the name of your place in Ireland?” she asked.
“There is no house, you know.”
“But there was one, Frederic?”
“The town-land where the house used to be is called Killeagent. The old demesne is called Killaud.”
“What pretty names! and—and—does it go a great many miles?” Lord Fawn explained that it did run a good many miles up into the mountains. “How beautifully romantic!” said Lizzie. “But the people live on the mountain and pay rent?”
Lord Fawn asked no such inept questions respecting the Ayrshire property, but he did inquire who was Lizzie’s solicitor. “Of course there will be things to be settled,” he said, “and my lawyer had better see yours. Mr. Camperdown is a——”
“Mr. Camperdown!” almost shrieked Lizzie. Lord Fawn then explained, with some amazement, that Mr. Camperdown was his lawyer. As far as his belief went, there was not a more respectable gentleman in the profession. Then he inquired whether Lizzie had any objection to Mr. Camperdown. “Mr. Camperdown was Sir Florian’s lawyer,” said Lizzie.
“That will make it all the easier, I should think,” said Lord Fawn.
“I don’t know how that may be,” said Lizzie, trying 119 to bring her mind to work upon the subject steadily. “Mr. Camperdown has been very uncourteous to me; I must say that; and, as I think, unfair. He wishes to rob me now of a thing that is quite my own.”
“What sort of a thing?” asked Lord Fawn slowly.
“A very valuable thing. I’ll tell you all about it, Frederic. Of course I’ll tell you everything now. I never could keep back anything from one that I loved. It’s not my nature. There; you might as well read that note.” Then she put her hand back and brought Mr. Camperdown’s letter from under the Bible. Lord Fawn read it very attentively, and as he read it there came upon him a great doubt. What sort of woman was this to whom he had engaged himself because she was possessed of an income? That Mr. Camperdown should be in the wrong in such a matter was an idea which never occurred to Lord Fawn. There is no form of belief stronger than that which the ordinary English gentleman has in the discretion and honesty of his own family lawyer. What his lawyer tells him to do he does. What his lawyer tells him to sign he signs. He buys and sells in obedience to the same direction, and feels perfectly comfortable in the possession of a guide who is responsible and all but divine.
“What diamonds are they?” asked Lord Fawn in a very low voice.
“They are my own—altogether my own. Sir Florian gave them to me. When he put them into my hands he said that they were to be my own for ever and ever. ‘There,’ said he, ‘those are yours to do what you choose with them.’ After that they oughtn’t to ask me to give them back, ought they? If you had been married before, and your wife had given you a keepsake, 120 to keep for ever and ever, would you give it up to a lawyer? You would not like it, would you, Frederic?” She had put her hand on his and was looking up into his face as she asked the question. Again, perhaps, the acting was a little overdone; but there were the tears in her eyes, and the tone of her voice was perfect.
“Mr. Camperdown calls them Eustace diamonds—family diamonds,” said Lord Fawn. “What do they consist of? What are they worth?”
“I’ll show them to you,” said Lizzie, jumping up and hurrying out of the room. Lord Fawn, when he was alone, rubbed his hands over his eyes and thought about it all. It would be a very harsh measure on the part of the Eustace family and of Mr. Camperdown to demand from her the surrender of any trinket which her late husband might have given her in the manner she had described. But it was, to his thinking, most improbable that the Eustace people or the lawyer should be harsh to a widow bearing the Eustace name. The Eustaces were by disposition lavish, and old Mr. Camperdown was not one who would be strict in claiming little things for rich clients. And yet here was his letter, threatening the widow of the late baronet with legal proceedings for the recovery of jewels which had been given by Sir Florian himself to his wife as a keepsake! Perhaps Sir Florian had made some mistake, and had caused to be set in a ring or brooch for his bride some jewel which he had thought to be his own, but which had, in truth, been an heirloom. If so, the jewel should, of course, be surrendered, or replaced by one of equal value. He was making out some such solution, when Lizzie returned with the morocco case in her hand. “It was the manner in which he gave it to me,” said 121 Lizzie, as she opened the clasp, “which makes its value to me.”
Lord Fawn knew nothing about jewels, but even he knew that if the circle of stones which he saw, with a Maltese cross appended to it, was constituted of real diamonds, the thing must be of great value. And it occurred to him at once that such a necklace is not given by a husband even to a bride in the manner described by Lizzie. A ring, or brooch, or perhaps a bracelet, a lover or a loving lord may bring in his pocket. But such an ornament as this on which Lord Fawn was now looking is given in another sort of way. He felt sure that it was so, even though he was entirely ignorant of the value of the stones. “Do you know what it is worth?” he asked.
Lizzie hesitated a moment and then remembered that “Frederic,” in his present position in regard to herself, might be glad to assist her in maintaining the possession of a substantial property. “I think they say its value is about—ten thousand pounds,” she replied.
“Ten—thousand—pounds!” Lord Fawn riveted his eyes upon them.
“That’s what I am told—by a jeweller.”
“By what jeweller?”
“A man had to come and see them, about some repairs, or something of that kind. Poor Sir Florian wished it. And he said so.”
“What was the man’s name?”
“I forget his name,” said Lizzie, who was not quite sure whether her acquaintance with Mr. Benjamin would be considered respectable.
“Ten thousand pounds! You don’t keep them in the house, do you?”122
“I have an iron case up-stairs for them, ever so heavy.”
“And did Sir Florian give you the iron case?”
Lizzie hesitated for a moment. “Yes,” said she. “That is—no. But he ordered it to be made; and then it came, after he was—dead.”
“He knew their value, then.”
“Oh dear, yes. Though he never named any sum. He told me, however, that they were very—very valuable.”
Lord Fawn did not immediately recognise the falseness of every word that the woman said to him, because he was slow and could not think and hear at the same time. But he was at once involved in a painful maze of doubt and almost of dismay. An action for the recovery of jewels brought against the lady whom he was engaged to marry, on behalf of the family of her late husband, would not suit him at all. To have his hands quite clean, to be above all evil report, to be respectable, as it were, all round, was Lord Fawn’s special ambition. He was a poor man, and a greedy man, but he would have abandoned his official salary at a moment’s notice, rather than there should have fallen on him a breath of public opinion hinting that it ought to be abandoned. He was especially timid, and lived in a perpetual fear lest the newspapers should say something hard of him. In that matter of the Sawab he had been very wretched, because Frank Greystock had accused him of being an administrator of tyranny. He would have liked his wife to have ten thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds very well; but he would rather go without a wife forever—and without a wife’s fortune—than marry a woman subject to an action for claiming 123 diamonds not her own. “I think,” said he at last, “that if you were to put them into Mr. Camperdown’s hands——”
“Into Mr. Camperdown’s hands!”
“And then let the matter be settled by arbitration——”
“Arbitration? That means going to law?”
“No, dearest; that means not going to law. The diamonds would be intrusted to Mr. Camperdown; and then some one would be appointed to decide whose property they were.”
“They’re my property,” said Lizzie.
“But he says they belong to the family.”
“He’ll say anything,” said Lizzie.
“My dearest girl, there can’t be a more respectable man than Mr. Camperdown. You must do something of the kind, you know.”
“I sha’n’t do anything of the kind,” said Lizzie. “Sir Florian Eustace gave them to me, and I shall keep them.” She did not look at her lover as she spoke; but he looked at her, and did not like the change which he saw on her countenance. And he did not like the circumstances in which he found himself placed. “Why should Mr. Camperdown interfere?” continued Lizzie. “If they don’t belong to me, they belong to my son; and who has so good a right to keep them for him as I have? But they belong to me.”
“They should not be kept in a private house like this at all, if they are worth all that money.”
“If I were to let them go, Mr. Camperdown would get them. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to get them. Oh, Frederic, I hope you’ll stand to me, and not see me injured. Of course I only want them for my darling child.”124
Frederic’s face had become very long, and he was much disturbed in his mind. He could only suggest that he himself would go and see Mr. Camperdown and ascertain what ought to be done. To the last he adhered to his assurance that Mr. Camperdown could do no evil; till Lizzie, in her wrath, asked him whether he believed Mr. Camperdown’s word before hers. “I think he would understand a matter of business better than you,” said the prudent lover.
“He wants to rob me,” said Lizzie, “and I shall look to you to prevent it.”
When Lord Fawn took his leave, which he did not do till he had counselled her again and again to leave the matter in Mr. Camperdown’s hands, the two were not in good accord together. It was his fixed purpose, as he declared to her, to see Mr. Camperdown; and it was her fixed purpose, so at least she declared to him, to keep the diamonds, in spite of Mr. Camperdown. “But, my dear, if it’s decided against you,” said Lord Fawn gravely.
“It can’t be decided against me, if you stand by me as you ought to do.”
“I can do nothing,” said Lord Fawn, in a tremor. Then Lizzie looked at him, and her look, which was very eloquent, called him a poltroon as plain as a look could speak. Then they parted, and the signs of affection between them were not satisfactory.
The door was hardly closed behind him before Lizzie began to declare to herself that he shouldn’t escape her. It was not yet twenty-four hours since she had been telling herself that she did not like the engagement and would break it off; and now she was stamping her little feet, and clenching her little hands, and 125 swearing to herself by all her gods that this wretched, timid lordling should not get out of her net. She did, in truth, despise him because he would not clutch the jewels. She looked upon him as mean and paltry because he was willing to submit to Mr. Camperdown. But, yet, she was prompted to demand all that could be demanded from her engagement, because she thought that she perceived a something in him which might produce in him a desire to be relieved from it. No! He should not be relieved. He should marry her. And she would keep the key of that iron box with the diamonds, and he should find what sort of a noise she would make if he attempted to take it from her. She closed the morocco case, ascended with it to her bedroom, locked it up in the iron safe, deposited the little patent key in its usual place round her neck, and then seated herself at her desk, and wrote letters to her various friends, making known to them her engagement. Hitherto she had told no one but Miss Macnulty, and, in her doubts, had gone so far as to desire Miss Macnulty not to mention it. Now she was resolved to blazon forth her engagement before all the world.
The first “friend” to whom she wrote was Lady Linlithgow. The reader shall see two or three of her letters, and that to the countess shall be the first:
“My Dear Aunt: When you came to see me the other day, I cannot say that you were very kind to me, and I don’t suppose you care very much what becomes of me. But I think it right to let you know that I am going to be married. I am engaged to Lord Fawn, 126 who, as you know, is a peer, and a member of Her Majesty’s Government, and a nobleman of great influence. I do not suppose that even you can say anything against such an alliance.
“I am your affectionate niece,
Then she wrote to Mrs. Eustace, the wife of the Bishop of Bobsborough. Mrs. Eustace had been very kind to her in the first days of her widowhood, and had fully recognised her as the widow of the head of her husband’s family. Lizzie had liked none of the Bobsborough people. They were, according to her ideas, slow, respectable, and dull. But they had not found much open fault with her, and she was aware that it was for her interest to remain on good terms with them. Her letter, therefore, to Mrs. Eustace was somewhat less acrid than that written to her Aunt Linlithgow:
“My Dear Mrs. Eustace: I hope you will be glad to hear from me, and will not be sorry to hear my news. I am going to be married again. Of course I am not about to take a step which is in every way so very important without thinking about it a great deal. But I am sure it will be better for my darling little Florian in every way; and as for myself, I have felt for the last two years how unfitted I have been to manage everything myself. I have therefore accepted an offer made to me by Lord Fawn, who is, as you know, a peer of Parliament, and a most distinguished member of Her Majesty’s Government; and he is, too, a nobleman of very great influence in every respect, and has a property in Ireland, extending over ever so many miles, and 127 running up into the mountains. His mansion there is called Killmage, but I am not sure that I remember the name quite rightly. I hope I may see you there some day, and the dear bishop. I look forward with delight to doing something to make those dear Irish happier. The idea of rambling up into our own mountains charms me, for nothing suits my disposition so well as that kind of solitude.
“Of course Lord Fawn is not so rich a man as Sir Florian, but I have never looked to riches for my happiness. Not but what Lord Fawn has a good income from his Irish estates; and then, of course, he is paid for doing Her Majesty’s Government; so there is no fear that he will have to live upon my jointure, which, of course, would not be right. Pray tell the dear bishop and dear Margaretta all this, with my love. You will be happy, I know, to hear that my little Flo is quite well. He is already so fond of his new papa!” [Lizzie’s turn for lying was exemplified in this last statement, for, as it happened, Lord Fawn had never yet seen the child.]
“Believe me to be always
“Your most affectionate niece,
There were two other letters—one to her uncle, the dean, and the other to her cousin Frank. There was great doubt in her mind as to the expediency of writing to Frank Greystock; but at last she decided that she would do it. The letter to the dean need not be given in full, as it was very similar to that written to the bishop’s wife. The same mention was made of her intended husband’s peerage, and the same allusion to 128 Her Majesty’s Government—a phrase which she had heard from Lord Fawn himself. She spoke of the Irish property, but in terms less glowing than she had used in writing to the lady, and ended by asking for her uncle’s congratulation—and blessing. Her letter to Frank was as follows, and, doubtless, as she wrote it, there was present to her mind a remembrance of the fact that he himself might have offered to her, and have had her if he would:
“My Dear Cousin: As I would rather that you should hear my news from myself than from any one else, I write to tell you that I am going to be married to Lord Fawn. Of course I know that there are certain matters as to which you and Lord Fawn do not agree—in politics, I mean; but still I do not doubt but you will think that he is quite able to take care of your poor little cousin. It was only settled a day or two since, but it has been coming on ever so long. You understand all about that, don’t you? Of course you must come to my wedding, and be very good to me—a kind of brother, you know; for we have always been friends, haven’t we? And if the dean doesn’t come up to town, you must give me away. And you must come and see me ever so often; for I have a sort of feeling that I have no one else belonging to me that I can call really my own, except you. And you must be great friends with Lord Fawn, and must give up saying that he doesn’t do his work properly. Of course he does everything better than anybody else could possibly do it, except Cousin Frank.
“I am going down next week to Richmond. Lady Fawn has insisted on my staying there for a fortnight. 129 Oh dear, what shall I do all the time? You must positively come down and see me, and see somebody else too. Only you, naughty coz, you mustn’t break a poor girl’s heart.
“Your affectionate cousin,
Somebody, in speaking on Lady Eustace’s behalf, and making the best of her virtues, had declared that she did not have lovers. Hitherto that had been true of her; but her mind had not the less dwelt on the delight of a lover. She still thought of a possible Corsair who would be willing to give up all but his vices for her love, and for whose sake she would be willing to share even them. It was but a dream, but nevertheless it pervaded her fancy constantly. Lord Fawn, peer of Parliament, and member of Her Majesty’s Government, as he was, could not have been such a lover to her. Might it not be possible that there should exist something of romance between her and her cousin Frank? She was the last woman in the world to run away with a man, or to endanger her position by a serious indiscretion; but there might perhaps be a something between her and her cousin, a liaison quite correct in its facts, a secret understanding, if nothing more, a mutual sympathy, which should be chiefly shown in the abuse of all their friends; and in this she could indulge her passion for romance and poetry.130
The news was soon all about London, as Lizzie had intended. She had made a sudden resolve that Lord Fawn should not escape her, and she had gone to work after the fashion we have seen. Frank Greystock had told John Eustace, and John Eustace had told Mr. Camperdown before Lord Fawn himself, in the slow prosecution of his purpose, had consulted the lawyer about the necklace. “God bless my soul; Lord Fawn!” the old lawyer had said when the news was communicated to him. “Well, yes; he wants money. I don’t envy him; that’s all. We shall get the diamonds now, John. Lord Fawn isn’t the man to let his wife keep what doesn’t belong to her.” Then, after a day or two, Lord Fawn had himself gone to Mr. Camperdown’s chambers. “I believe I am to congratulate you, my lord,” said the lawyer. “I’m told you are going to marry——well, I mustn’t really say another of my clients, but the widow of one of them. Lady Eustace is a very beautiful woman, and she has a very pretty income too. She has the whole of the Scotch property for her life.”
“It’s only for her life, I suppose?” said Lord Fawn.
“Oh, no, no; of course not. There’s been some mistake on her part; at least, so I’ve been told. 131 Women never understand. It’s all as clear as daylight. Had there been a second son, the second son would have had it. As it is, it goes with the rest of the property, just as it ought to do, you know. Four thousand a year isn’t so bad, you know, considering that she isn’t more than a girl yet, and that she hadn’t sixpence of her own. When the admiral died, there wasn’t sixpence, Lord Fawn.”
“So I have heard.”
“Not sixpence. It’s all Eustace money. She had six or eight thousand pounds, or something like that, besides. She’s as lovely a young widow as I ever saw, and very clever.”
“Yes, she is clever.”
“By-the-by, Lord Fawn, as you have done me the honour of calling, there’s a stupid mistake about some family diamonds.”
“It is in respect to them that I’ve come,” said Lord Fawn. Then Mr. Camperdown, in his easy, off-hand way, imputing no blame to the lady in the hearing of her future husband, and declaring his opinion that she was doubtless unaware of its value, explained the matter of the necklace. Lord Fawn listened, but said very little. He especially did not say that Lady Eustace had had the stones valued. “They’re real, I suppose?” he asked. Mr. Camperdown assured him that no diamonds more real had ever come from Golconda, or passed through Mr. Garnett’s hands.
“They are as well known as any family diamonds in England,” said Mr. Camperdown. “She has got into bad hands,” continued Mr. Camperdown. “Mowbray and Mopus; horrible people; sharks, that make one blush for one’s profession, and I was really afraid there 132 would have been trouble. But, of course, it’ll be all right now; and if she’ll only come to me, tell her I’ll do everything I can to make things straight and comfortable for her. If she likes to have another lawyer, of course, that’s all right. Only make her understand who Mowbray and Mopus are. It’s quite out of the question, Lord Fawn, that your wife should have anything to do with Mowbray and Mopus.” Every word that Mr. Camperdown said was gospel to Lord Fawn.
And yet, as the reader will understand, Mr. Camperdown had by no means expressed his real opinion in this interview. He had spoken of the widow in friendly terms, declaring that she was simply mistaken in her ideas as to the duration of her interest in the Scotch property, and mistaken again about the diamonds; whereas in truth he regarded her as a dishonest, lying, evil-minded harpy. Had Lord Fawn consulted him simply as a client, and not have come to him an engaged lover, he would have expressed his opinion quite frankly; but it is not the business of a lawyer to tell his client evil things of the lady whom that client is engaged to marry. In regard to the property he spoke the truth, and he spoke what he believed to be the truth when he said that the whole thing would no doubt now be easily arranged. When Lord Fawn took his leave, Mr. Camperdown again declared to himself that as regarded money the match was very well for his lordship; but that, as regarded the woman, Lizzie was dear at the price. “Perhaps he doesn’t mind it,” said Mr. Camperdown to himself, “but I wouldn’t marry such a woman myself, though she owned all Scotland.”
There had been much in the interview to make Lord 133 Fawn unhappy. In the first place, that golden hope as to the perpetuity of the property was at an end. He had never believed that it was so; but a man may hope without believing. And he was quite sure that Lizzie was bound to give up the diamonds, and would ultimately be made to give them up. Of any property in them, as possibly accruing to himself, he had not thought much; but he could not abstain from thinking of the woman’s grasp upon them. Mr. Camperdown’s plain statement, which was gospel to him, was directly at variance with Lizzie’s story. Sir Florian certainly would not have given such diamonds in such a way. Sir Florian would not have ordered a separate iron safe for them, with a view that they might be secure in his wife’s bedroom. And then she had had them valued, and manifestly was always thinking of her treasure. It was very well for a poor, careful peer to be always thinking of his money, but Lord Fawn was well aware that a young woman such as Lady Eustace should have her thoughts elsewhere. As he sat signing letters at the India Board, relieving himself when he was left alone between each batch by standing up with his back to the fireplace, his mind was full of all this. He could not unravel truth quickly, but he could grasp it when it came to him. She was certainly greedy, false, and dishonest. And—worse than all this—she had dared to tell him to his face that he was a poor creature because he would not support her in her greed, and falsehood, and dishonesty! Nevertheless, he was engaged to marry her! Then he thought of one Violet Effingham whom he had loved, and then came over him some suspicion of a fear that he himself was hard and selfish. And yet what was such a one as he to do? 134 It was of course necessary for the maintenance of the very constitution of his country that there should be future Lord Fawns. There could be no future Lord Fawns unless he married; and how could he marry without money? “A peasant can marry whom he pleases,” said Lord Fawn, pressing his hand to his brow, and dropping one flap of his coat, as he thought of his own high and perilous destiny, standing with his back to the fireplace, while a huge pile of letters lay there before him waiting to be signed.
It was a Saturday evening, and as there was no House there was nothing to hurry him away from the office. He was the occupier for the time of a large, well-furnished official room, looking out into St. James’s Park; and as he glanced round it he told himself that his own happiness must be there, and not in the domesticity of a quiet home. The House of Lords, out of which nobody could turn him, and official life—as long as he could hold to it—must be all in all to him. He had engaged himself to this woman, and he must—marry her. He did not think that he could now see any way of avoiding that event. Her income would supply the needs of her home, and then there might probably be a continuation of Lord Fawns. The world might have done better for him—had he been able to find favour in Violet Effingham’s sight. He was a man capable of love, and very capable of constancy to a woman true to him. Then he wiped away a tear as he sat down to sign the huge batch of letters. As he read some special letter in which instructions were conveyed as to the insufficiency of the Sawab’s claims, he thought of Frank Greystock’s attack upon him, and of Frank Greystock’s cousin. There had been a time in which 135 he had feared that the two cousins would become man and wife. At this moment he uttered a malediction against the member for Bobsborough, which might perhaps have been spared had the member been now willing to take the lady off his hands. Then the door was opened, and the messenger told him that Mrs. Hittaway was in the waiting-room. Mrs. Hittaway was, of course, at once made welcome to the Under-Secretary’s own apartment.
Mrs. Hittaway was a strong-minded woman—the strongest-minded probably of the Fawn family—but she had now come upon a task which taxed all her strength to the utmost. She had told her mother that she would tell “Frederic” what she thought about his proposed bride, and she had now come to carry out her threat. She had asked her brother to come and dine with her, but he had declined. His engagements hardly admitted of his dining with his relatives. She had called upon him at the rooms he occupied in Victoria street, but of course she had not found him. She could not very well go to his club; so now she had hunted him down at his office. From the very commencement of the interview Mrs. Hittaway was strong-minded. She began the subject of the marriage, and did so without a word of congratulation. “Dear Frederic,” she said, “you know that we have all got to look up to you.”
“Well, Clara, what does that mean?”
“It means this—that you must bear with me, if I am more anxious as to your future career than another sister might be.”
“Now I know you are going to say something unpleasant.”136
“Yes, I am, Frederic. I have heard so many bad things about Lady Eustace!”
The Under-Secretary sat silent for a while in his great arm-chair. “What sort of evil things do you mean, Clara?” he asked at last. “Evil things are said of a great many people—as you know. I am sure you would not wish to repeat slanders.”
Mrs. Hittaway was not to be silenced after this fashion. “Not slanders, certainly, Frederic. But when I hear that you intend to raise this lady to the rank and position of your wife, then of course the truth or falsehood of these reports becomes a matter of great moment to us all. Don’t you think you had better see Mr. Camperdown?”
“I have seen him.”
“And what does he say?”
“What should he say? Lady Eustace has, I believe, made some mistake about the condition of her property, and people who have heard it have been good-natured enough to say that the error has been wilful. That is what I call slander, Clara.”
“And you have heard about her jewels?” Mrs. Hittaway was alluding here to the report which had reached her as to Lizzie’s debt to Harter and Benjamin when she married Sir Florian; but Lord Fawn of course thought of the diamond necklace.
“Yes,” said he, “I have heard all about them. Who told you?”
“I have known it ever so long. Sir Florian never got over it.” Lord Fawn was again in the dark, but he did not choose to commit himself by asking further questions. “And then her treatment of Lady Linlithgow, who was her only friend before she married, was 137 something quite unnatural. Ask the dean’s people what they think of her. I believe even they would tell you.”
“Frank Greystock desired to marry her himself.”
“Yes, for her money, perhaps; because he has not got a farthing in the world. Dear Frederic, I only wish to put you on your guard. Of course this is very unpleasant, and I shouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it my duty. I believe she is artful and very false. She certainly deceived Sir Florian Eustace about her debts; and he never held up his head after he found out what she was. If she has told you falsehoods, of course you can break it off. Dear Frederic, I hope you won’t be angry with me.”
“Is that all?” he asked.
“Yes, that is all.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” he said. “Of course it isn’t very pleasant.”
“No, I know it is not pleasant,” said Mrs. Hittaway, rising, and taking her departure with an offer of affectionate sisterly greeting, which was not accepted with cordiality.
It was very unpleasant. That very morning Lord Fawn had received letters from the Dean and the Bishop of Bobsborough congratulating him on his intended marriage, both those worthy dignitaries of the Church having thought it expedient to verify Lizzie’s statements. Lord Fawn was, therefore, well aware that Lady Eustace had published the engagement. It was known to everybody, and could not be broken off without public scandal.138
There was great perturbation down at Fawn Court. On the day fixed, Monday, June 5, Lizzie arrived. Nothing further had been said by Lady Fawn to urge the invitation; but, in accordance with the arrangement already made, Lady Eustace, with her child, her nurse, and her own maid, was at Fawn Court by four o’clock. A very long letter had been received from Mrs. Hittaway that morning, the writing of which must have seriously interfered with the tranquillity of her Sunday afternoon. Lord Fawn did not make his appearance at Richmond on the Saturday evening, nor was he seen on the Sunday. That Sunday was, we may presume, chiefly devoted to reflection. He certainly did not call upon his future wife. His omission to do so, no doubt, increased Lizzie’s urgency in the matter of her visit to Richmond. Frank Greystock had written to congratulate her. “Dear Frank,” she had said in reply, “a woman situated as I am has so many things to think of. Lord Fawn’s position will be of service to my child. Mind you come and see me at Fawn Court. I count so much on your friendship and assistance.”
Of course she was expected at Richmond, although throughout the morning Lady Fawn had entertained almost a hope that she wouldn’t come. “He was only lukewarm in defending her,” Mrs. Hittaway had said 139 in her letter, “and I still think that there may be an escape.” Not even a note had come from Lord Fawn himself, nor from Lady Eustace. Possibly something violent might have been done, and Lady Eustace would not appear. But Lady Eustace did appear, and, after a fashion, was made welcome at Fawn Court.
The Fawn ladies were not good hypocrites. Lady Fawn had said almost nothing to her daughters of her visit to Mount street, but Augusta had heard the discussion in Mrs. Hittaway’s drawing-room as to the character of the future bride. The coming visit had been spoken of almost with awe, and there was a general conviction in the dovecote that an evil thing had fallen upon them. Consequently, their affection to the new comer, though spoken in words, was not made evident by signs and manners. Lizzie herself took care that the position in which she was received should be sufficiently declared. “It seems so odd that I am to come among you as a sister,” she said. The girls were forced to assent to the claim, but they assented coldly. “He has told me to attach myself especially to you,” she whispered to Augusta. The unfortunate chosen one, who had but little strength of her own, accepted the position, and then, as the only means of escaping the embraces of her newly-found sister, pleaded the violence of a headache. “My mother,” said Lizzie to Lady Fawn.
“Yes, my dear,” said Lady Fawn. “One of the girls had perhaps better go up and show you your room.—I am very much afraid about it,” said Lady Fawn to her daughter Amelia. Amelia replied only by shaking her head.
On the Tuesday morning there came a note from 140 Lord Fawn to his lady love. Of course the letter was not shown, but Lizzie received it at the breakfast table, and read it with many little smiles and signs of satisfaction. And then she gave out various little statements as having been made in that letter. He says this, and he says that, and he is coming here, and going there, and he will do one thing, and he won’t do the other. We have often seen young ladies crowing over their lovers’ letters, and it was pleasant to see Lizzie crowing over hers. And yet there was but very little in the letter. Lord Fawn told her that what with the House and what with the Office, he could not get down to Richmond before Saturday; but that on Saturday he would come. Then he signed himself “Yours affectionately, Fawn.” Lizzie did her crowing very prettily. The outward show of it was there to perfection, so that the Fawn girls really believed that their brother had written an affectionate lover’s letter. Inwardly Lizzie swore to herself, as she read the cold words with indignation, that the man should not escape her.
The days went by very tediously. On the Wednesday and the Friday Lady Eustace made an excuse of going up to town, and insisted on taking the unfortunate Augusta with her. There was no real reason for these journeys to London, unless that glance which on each occasion was given to the contents of the iron case was a real reason. The diamonds were safe, and Miss Macnulty was enjoying herself. On the Friday Lizzie proposed to Augusta that they should jointly make a raid upon the member of Her Majesty’s Government at his office; but Augusta positively refused to take such a step. “I know he would be angry,” pleaded Augusta.141
“Pshaw! who cares for his anger?” said Lizzie. But the visit was not made.
On the Saturday—the Saturday which was to bring Lord Fawn down to dinner—another most unexpected visitor made his appearance. At about three o’clock Frank Greystock was at Fawn Court. Now it was certainly understood that Mr. Greystock had been told not to come to Fawn Court as long as Lucy Morris was there. “Dear Mr. Greystock, I’m sure you will take what I say as I mean it,” Lady Fawn had whispered to him. “You know how attached we all are to our dear little Lucy. Perhaps you know ——.” There had been more of it; but the meaning of it all was undoubtedly this, that Frank was not to pay visits to Lucy Morris at Fawn Court. Now he had come to see his cousin Lizzie Eustace.
On this occasion Lady Fawn, with Amelia and two of the other girls, were out in the carriage. The unfortunate Augusta had been left at home with her bosom friend; while Cecilia and Nina were supposed to be talking French with Lucy Morris. They were all out in the grounds, sitting upon the benches, and rambling among the shrubberies, when of a sudden Frank Greystock was in the midst of them. Lizzie’s expression of joy at seeing her cousin was almost as great as though he had been in fact a brother. She ran up to him and grasped his hand, and hung on his arm, and looked up into his face, and then burst into tears. But the tears were not violent tears. There were just three sobs, and two bright eyes full of water, and a lace handkerchief, and then a smile. “Oh, Frank,” she said, “it does make one think so of old times.” Augusta had by this time been almost persuaded to believe 142 in her—though the belief by no means made the poor young woman happy. Frank thought that his cousin looked very well, and said something as to Lord Fawn being “the happiest fellow going.” “I hope I shall make him happy,” said Lizzie, clasping her hands together.
Lucy meanwhile was standing in the circle with the others. It never occurred to her that it was her duty to run away from the man she loved. She had shaken hands with him, and felt something of affection in his pressure. She did not believe that his visit was made entirely to his cousin, and had no idea at the moment of disobeying Lady Fawn. During the last few days she had been thrown very much with her old friend Lizzie, and had been treated by the future peeress with many signs of almost sisterly affection. “Dear Lucy,” Lizzie had said, “you can understand me. These people—oh, they are so good, but they can’t understand me.” Lucy had expressed a hope that Lord Fawn understood her. “Oh, Lord Fawn—well, yes; perhaps—I don’t know. It so often happens that one’s husband is the last person to understand one.”
“If I thought so, I wouldn’t marry him,” said Lucy.
“Frank Greystock will understand you,” said Lizzie. It was indeed true that Lucy did understand something of her wealthy friend’s character, and was almost ashamed of the friendship. With Lizzie Greystock she had never sympathised, and Lizzie Eustace had always been distasteful to her. She already felt that the less she should see of Lizzie Fawn the better she should like it.
Before an hour was over Frank Greystock was walking round the shrubberies with Lucy—and was walking with Lucy alone. It was undoubtedly the fact that Lady 143 Eustace had contrived that it should be so. The unfitness of the thing recommended it to her. Frank could hardly marry a wife without a shilling. Lucy would certainly not think at all of shillings. Frank, as Lizzie knew, had been almost at her feet within the last fortnight, and might, in some possible emergency, be there again. In the midst of such circumstances nothing could be better than that Frank and Lucy should be thrown together. Lizzie regarded all this as romance. Poor Lady Fawn, had she known it all, would have called it diabolical wickedness and inhuman cruelty.
“Well, Lucy, what do you think of it?” Frank Greystock said to her.
“Think of what, Mr. Greystock?”
“You know what I mean—this marriage?”
“How should I be able to think? I have never seen them together. I suppose Lord Fawn isn’t very rich. She is rich. And then she is very beautiful. Don’t you think her very beautiful?”
“Sometimes exquisitely lovely.”
“Everybody says so, and I am sure it is the fact. Do you know—but perhaps you’ll think I am envious.”
“If I thought you envious of Lizzie, I should have to think you very foolish at the same time.”
“I don’t know what that means”—she did know well enough what it meant—“but sometimes to me she is almost frightful to look at.”
“In what way?”
“Oh, I can’t tell you. She looks like a beautiful animal that you are afraid to caress for fear it should bite you—an animal that would be beautiful if its eyes were not so restless and its teeth so sharp and so white.”144
“How very odd.”
“Why odd, Mr. Greystock?”
“Because I feel exactly in the same way about her. I am not in the least afraid that she’ll bite me; and as for caressing the animal—that kind of caressing which you mean—it seems to me to be just what she’s made for. But I do feel sometimes that she is like a cat.”
“Something not quite so tame as a cat,” said Lucy.
“Nevertheless she is very lovely, and very clever. Sometimes I think her the most beautiful woman I ever saw in the world.”
“Do you, indeed?”
“She will be immensely run after as Lady Fawn. When she pleases she can make her own house quite charming. I never knew a woman who could say pretty things to so many people at once.”
“You are making her out to be a paragon of perfection, Mr. Greystock.”
“And when you add to all the rest that she has four thousand a year, you must admit that Lord Fawn is a lucky man.”
“I have said nothing against it.”
“Four thousand a year is a very great consideration, Lucy.”
Lucy for a while said nothing. She was making up her mind that she would say nothing—that she would make no reply indicative of any feeling on her part. But she was not sufficiently strong to keep her resolution. “I wonder, Mr. Greystock,” she said, “that you did not attempt to win the great prize yourself. Cousins do marry.”
He had thought of attempting it, and at this moment 145 he would not lie to her. “The cousinship had nothing to do with it,” he said.
“Perhaps you did think of it.”
“I did, Lucy. Yes, I did. Thank God, I only thought of it.” She could not refrain herself from looking up into his face and clasping her hands together. A woman never so dearly loves a man as when he confesses that he has been on the brink of a great crime, but has refrained and has not committed it. “I did think of it. I am not telling you that she would have taken me. I have no reason whatever for thinking so.”
“I am sure she would,” said Lucy, who did not in the least know what words she was uttering.
“It would have been simply for her money—her money and her beauty. It would not have been because I love her.”
“Never—never ask a girl to marry you unless you love her, Mr. Greystock.”
“Then there is only one that I can ever ask,” said he. There was nothing, of course, that she could say to this. If he did not choose to go further, she was not bound to understand him. But would he go further? She felt at the moment that an open declaration of his love to herself would make her happy forever, even though it should be accompanied by an assurance that he could not marry her. If they only knew each other—that it was so between them—that, she thought, would be enough for her. And as for him—if a woman could bear such a position, surely he might bear it. “Do you know who that one is?” he asked.
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
“Lucy, is that true?”146
“What does it matter?”
“Lucy; look at me, Lucy,” and he put his hand upon her arm.
“No, no, no,” she said.
“I love you so well, Lucy, that I never can love another. I have thought of many women, but could never even think of one as a woman to love except you. I have sometimes fancied I could marry for money and position, to help myself on in the world by means of a wife; but when my mind has run away with me, to revel amidst ideas of feminine sweetness, you have always—always been the heroine of the tale, as the mistress of the happy castle in the air.”
“Have I?” she asked.
“Always, always. As regards this,” and he struck himself on the breast, “no man was ever more constant. Though I don’t think much of myself as a man, I know a woman when I see her.” But he did not ask her to be his wife; nor did he wait at Fawn Court till Lady Fawn had come back with the carriage.
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.
eight thousand pounds had been left her, but of that he took no account. It might be probable that she would have spent it.
[Lord Fawn, for all his minor shortcomings, is not a fool.]
he had offered himself thrice to Madame Max Goesler
text has Max-Goesler
“Or extravagant,” said Georgiana, the third.
[When next mentioned, her name will be spelled Georgina. She will also be called the fourth daughter; this seems to depend on whether you count all eight daughters, or only the seven unmarried ones.]
she was bound to be obedient, though over thirty years old
[Wasn’t it just two years since the unmarried Fawn daughters were described as ranging in age from twenty-seven down?]
and asked Lady Eustace when it would suit her to come down to Fawn Court
text has Estace
It may seem unjust to accuse her of being stupidly unacquainted with circumstances, and a liar at the same time; but she was both.
[Yup. Definitely a strong similarity.]
“62 New Square, 30 May, 186—.”
[Quotation marks added for consistency. (Fortnightly Review prints this short letter inline, with the expected close quote after the date. Since the final line isn’t a separate paragraph, there is no occasion for a supplementary open quote.)]
“It’s only for her life, I suppose?” said Lord Fawn. / “Oh, no, no; of course not.
[I cannot say I understand how Mr. Camperdown’s words are in any way a response to Lord Fawn’s question, since he means Oh, yes, yes, only for her life. The Fortnightly Review has the same text; I was hoping to find that a paragraph had been omitted.]
Mrs. Hittaway was a strong-minded woman
[But not, I don’t think, in the sense that “strong-minded” would come to have by the end of the century.]
the day fixed, Monday, June 5
[June 5 fell on a Monday in 1871, the year The Eustace Diamonds began publication. I honestly was not expecting that. (But readers familiar with this site know that I was obliged to look it up.)]