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Lady Anna: Chapter 26

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The Keswick Poet


Commentary


Infinite difficulties were now complicating themselves on the head of poor Daniel Thwaite. The packet which the Countess addressed to him did not reach him in London, but was forwarded after him down to Cumberland, whither he had hurried on receipt of news from Keswick that his father was like to die. The old man had fallen in a fit, and when the message was sent it was not thought likely that he would ever see his son again. Daniel went down to the north as quickly as his means would allow him, going by steamer to Whitehaven, and thence by coach to Keswick. His entire wages were but thirty-five shillings a week, and on that he could not afford to travel by the mail to Keswick. But he did reach home in time to see his father alive, and to stand by the bedside when the old man died.

  • “ever see his son again,” … The message was not sent to Josephine. Nor did she visit his funeral later.
  • “did reach home in time to see his father alive,” … Blood is thicker than water.

Though there was not time for many words between them, and though the apathy of coming death had already clouded the mind of Thomas Thwaite, so that he, for the most part, disregarded--as dying men do disregard--those things which had been fullest of interest to him; still something was said about the Countess and Lady Anna. "Just don't mind them any further, Dan," said the father.

  • ‘Just don’t mind them any further, Dan” … It was not only the attitude of the old man, but his insight into human nature told him that much.

"Indeed that will be best," said Daniel.

"Yes, in truth. What can they be to the likes o' you? Give me a drop of brandy, Dan." The drop of brandy was more to him now than the Countess; but though he thought but little of this last word, his son thought much of it. What could such as the Countess and her titled daughter be to him, Daniel Thwaite, the broken tailor? For, in truth, his father was dying a broken man. There was as much owed by him in Keswick as all the remaining property would pay; and as for the business, it had come to that, that the business was not worth preserving.

The old tailor died and was buried, and all Keswick knew that he had left nothing behind him, except the debt that was due to him by the Countess, as to which, opinion in the world of Keswick varied very much. There were those who said that the two Thwaites, father and son, had known very well on which side their bread was buttered, and that Daniel Thwaite would now, at his father's death, become the owner of bonds to a vast amount on the Lovel property. It was generally understood in Keswick that the Earl's claim was to be abandoned, that the rights of the Countess and her daughter were to be acknowledged, and that the Earl and his cousin were to become man and wife. If so, the bonds would be paid, and Daniel Thwaite would become a rich man. Such was the creed of those who believed in the debt. But there were others who did not believe in the existence of any such bonds, and who ridiculed the idea of advances of money having been made. The old tailor had, no doubt, relieved the immediate wants of the Countess by giving her shelter and food, and had wasted his substance in making journeys, and neglecting his business; but that was supposed to be all. For such services on behalf of the father, it was not probable that much money would be paid to the son; and the less so, as it was known in Keswick that Daniel Thwaite had quarrelled with the Countess. As this latter opinion preponderated, Daniel did not find that he was treated with any marked respect in his native town.

  • “As this latter opinion preponderated, Daniel did not find,” … People never naturally take the side of the poor.

The old man did leave a will--a very simple document, by which everything that he had was left to his son. And there was this paragraph in it; "I expect that the Countess Lovel will repay to my son Daniel all moneys that I have advanced on her behalf." As for bonds--or any single bond--Daniel could find none. There was an account of certain small items due by the Countess, of long date, and there was her ladyship's receipt for a sum of £500, which had apparently been lent at the time of the trial for bigamy. Beyond this he could find no record of any details whatever, and it seemed to him that his claim was reduced to something less than £600. Nevertheless, he had understood from his father that the whole of the old man's savings had been spent on behalf of the two ladies, and he believed that some time since he had heard a sum named exceeding £6,000. In his difficulty he asked a local attorney, and the attorney advised him to throw himself on the generosity of the Countess. He paid the attorney some small fee, and made up his mind at once that he would not take the lawyer's advice. He would not throw himself on the generosity of the Countess.

  • “thrown himself on the generosity of the Countess.” Typical of the public.

There was then still living in that neighbourhood a great man, a poet, who had nearly carried to its close a life of great honour and of many afflictions. He was one who, in these, his latter days, eschewed all society, and cared to see no faces but those of the surviving few whom he had loved in early life. And as those few survivors lived far away, and as he was but little given to move from home, his life was that of a recluse. Of the inhabitants of the place around him, who for the most part had congregated there since he had come among them, he saw but little, and his neighbours said that he was sullen and melancholic. But, according to their degrees, he had been a friend to Thomas Thwaite, and now, in his emergency, the son called upon the poet. Indifferent visitors, who might be and often were intruders, were but seldom admitted at that modest gate; but Daniel Thwaite was at once shown into the presence of the man of letters. They had not seen each other since Daniel was a youth, and neither would have known the other. The poet was hardly yet an old man, but he had all the characteristics of age. His shoulders were bent, and his eyes were deep set in his head, and his lips were thin and fast closed. But the beautiful oval of his face was still there, in spite of the ravages of years, of labours, and of sorrow; and the special brightness of his eye had not yet been dimmed. "I have been sorry, Mr Thwaite, to hear of your father's death," said the poet. "I knew him well, but it was some years since, and I valued him as a man of singular probity and spirit." Then Daniel craved permission to tell his story--and he told it all from beginning to end--how his father and he had worked for the Countess and her girl, how their time and then their money had been spent for her; how he had learned to love the girl, and how, as he believed, the girl had loved him. And he told with absolute truth the whole story, as far as he knew it, of what had been done in London during the last nine months. He exaggerated nothing, and did not scruple to speak openly of his own hopes. He showed his letter to the Countess, and her note to him, and while doing so hid none of his own feelings. Did the poet think that there was any reason why, in such circumstances, a tailor should not marry the daughter of a Countess? And then he gave, as far as he knew it, the history of the money that had been advanced, and produced a copy of his father's will. "And now, sir, what would you have me do?"

"When you first spoke to the girl of love, should you not have spoken to the mother also, Mr Thwaite?"

"Would you, sir, have done so?"

"I will not say that--but I think that I ought. Her girl was all that she had."

"It may be that I was wrong. But if the girl loves me now--"

"I would not hurt your feelings for the world, Mr Thwaite."

"Do not spare them, sir. I did not come to you that soft things might be said to me."

"I do not think it of your father's son. Seeing what is your own degree in life and what is theirs, that they are noble and of an old nobility, among the few hothouse plants of the nation, and that you are one of the people--a blade of corn out of the open field, if I may say so--born to eat your bread in the sweat of your brow, can you think that such a marriage would be other than distressing to them?"

"Is the hothouse plant stronger or better, or of higher use, than the ear of corn?"

"Have I said that it was, my friend? I will not say that either is higher in God's sight than the other, or better, or of a nobler use. But they are different; and though the differences may verge together without evil when the limits are near, I do not believe in graftings so violent as this."

"You mean, sir, that one so low as a tailor should not seek to marry so infinitely above himself as with the daughter of an Earl."

"Yes, Mr Thwaite, that is what I mean; though I hope that in coming to me you knew me well enough to be sure that I would not willingly offend you."

"There is no offence--there can be no offence. I am a tailor, and am in no sort ashamed of my trade. But I did not think, sir, that you believed in lords so absolutely as that."

"I believe but in one Lord," said the poet. "In Him who, in His wisdom and for His own purposes, made men of different degrees."

"Has it been His doing, sir--or the devil's?"

"Nay, I will not discuss with you a question such as that. I will not at any rate discuss it now."

"I have read, sir, in your earlier books--"

"Do not quote my books to me, either early or late. You ask me for advice, and I give it according to my ability. The time may come too, Mr Thwaite,'--and this he said laughing--"when you also will be less hot in your abhorrence of a nobility than you are now."

"Never!"

"Ah--'tis so that young men always make assurances to themselves of their own present wisdom."

"You think then that I should give her up entirely?"

"I would leave her to herself, and to her mother--and to this young lord, if he be her lover."

"But if she loves me! Oh, sir, she did love me once. If she loves me, should I leave her to think, as time goes on, that I have forgotten her? What chance can she have if I do not interfere to let her know that I am true to her?"

"She will have the chance of becoming Lady Lovel, and of loving her husband."

"Then, sir, you do not believe in vows of love?"

"How am I to answer that?" said the poet. "Surely I do believe in vows of love. I have written much of love, and have ever meant to write the truth, as I knew it, or thought that I knew it. But the love of which we poets sing is not the love of the outer world. It is more ecstatic, but far less serviceable. It is the picture of that which exists, but grand with imaginary attributes, as are the portraits of ladies painted by artists who have thought rather of their art than of their models. We tell of a constancy in love which is hardly compatible with the usages of this as yet imperfect world. Look abroad, and see whether girls do not love twice, and young men thrice. They come together, and rub their feathers like birds, and fancy that each has found in the other an eternity of weal or woe. Then come the causes of their parting. Their fathers perhaps are Capulets and Montagues, but their children, God be thanked, are not Romeos and Juliets. Or money does not serve, or distance intervenes, or simply a new face has the poor merit of novelty. The constancy of which the poets sing is the unreal--I may almost say the unnecessary--constancy of a Juliet. The constancy on which our nature should pride itself is that of an Imogen. You read Shakespeare, I hope, Mr Thwaite."

"I know the plays you quote, sir. Imogen was a king's daughter, and married a simple gentleman."

"I would not say that early vows should mean nothing," continued the poet, unwilling to take notice of the point made against him. "I like to hear that a girl has been true to her first kiss. But this girl will have the warrant of all the world to justify a second choice. And can you think that because your company was pleasant to her here among your native mountains, when she knew none but you, that she will be indifferent to the charms of such a one as you tell me this Lord Lovel is? She will have regrets--remorse even; she will sorrow, because she knows that you have been good to her. But she will yield, and her life will be happier with him--unless he be a bad man, which I do not know--than it would be with you. Would there be no regrets, think you, no remorse, when she found that as your wife she had separated herself from all that she had been taught to regard as delightful in this world? Would she be happy in quarrelling with her mother and her new-found relatives? You think little of noble blood, and perhaps I think as little of it in matters relating to myself. But she is noble, and she will think of it. As for your money, Mr Thwaite, I should make it a matter of mere business with the Countess, as though there was no question relating to her daughter. She probably has an account of the money, and doubtless will pay you when she has means at her disposal."

Daniel left his Mentor without another word on his own behalf, expressing thanks for the counsel that had been given to him, and assuring the poet that he would endeavour to profit by it. Then he walked away, over the very paths on which he had been accustomed to stray with Anna Lovel, and endeavoured to digest the words that he had heard. He could not bring himself to see their truth. That he should not force the girl to marry him, if she loved another better than she loved him, simply by the strength of her own obligation to him, he could understand. But that it was natural that she should transfer to another the affection that she had once bestowed upon him, because that other was a lord, he would not allow. Not only his heart but all his intellect rebelled against such a decision. A transfer so violent would, he thought, show that she was incapable of loving. And yet this doctrine had come to him from one who, as he himself had said, had written much of love.

But, though he argued after this fashion with himself, the words of the old poet had had their efficacy. Whether the fault might be with the girl, or with himself, or with the untoward circumstances of the case, he determined to teach himself that he had lost her. He would never love another woman. Though the Earl's daughter could not be true to him, he, the suitor, would be true to the Earl's daughter. There might no longer be Romeos among the noble Capulets and the noble Montagues--whom indeed he believed to be dead to faith; but the salt of truth had not therefore perished from the world. He would get what he could from this wretched wreck of his father's property--obtain payment if it might be possible of that poor £500 for which he held the receipt--and then go to some distant land in which the wisest of counsellors would not counsel him that he was unfit because of his trade to mate himself with noble blood.

When he had proved his father's will he sent a copy of it up to the Countess with the following letter--

Keswick, November 4, 183--

My Lady,

I do not know whether your ladyship will yet have heard of my father's death. He died here on the 24th of last month. He was taken with apoplexy on the 15th, and never recovered from the fit. I think you will be sorry for him.

I find myself bound to send your ladyship a copy of his will. Your ladyship perhaps may have some account of what money has passed between you and him. I have none except a receipt for £500 given to you by him many years ago. There is also a bill against your ladyship for 71 18 s. 9 d. It may be that no more is due than this, but you will know. I shall be happy to hear from your ladyship on the subject, and am,

Yours respectfully, Daniel Thwaite

But he still was resolved that before he departed for the far western land he would obtain from Anna Lovel herself an expression of her determination to renounce him.


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