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Lady Anna: Chapter 45

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The Lawyers agree


Commentary


When a month had passed by a great many people knew how Mr Daniel Thwaite had come by the wound in his back, but nobody knew it "officially'. There is a wide difference in the qualities of knowledge regarding such matters. In affairs of public interest we often know, or fancy that we know, down to every exact detail, how a thing has been done--who have given the bribes and who have taken them--who has told the lie and who has pretended to believe it--who has peculated and how the public purse has suffered--who was in love with such a one's wife and how the matter was detected, then smothered up, and condoned; but there is no official knowledge, and nothing can be done. The tailor and the Earl, the Countess and her daughter, had become public property since the great trial had been commenced, and many eyes were on them. Before a week had gone by it was known in every club and in every great drawing-room that the tailor had been shot in the shoulder--and it was almost known that the pistol had been fired by the hands of the Countess. The very eminent surgeon into whose hands Daniel had luckily fallen did not press his questions very far when his patient told him that it would be for the welfare of many people that nothing further should be asked on the matter. "An accident has occurred', said Daniel, "as to which I do not intend to say anything further. I can assure you that no injury has been done beyond that which I suffer." The eminent surgeon no doubt spoke of the matter among his friends, but he always declared that he had no certain knowledge as to the hand which fired the pistol.


The women in Keppel Street of course talked. There had certainly been a smoke and a smell of gunpowder. Mrs Richards had heard nothing. Sarah thought that she had heard a noise. They both were sure that Daniel Thwaite had been much the worse for drink--a statement which led to considerable confusion. No pistol was ever seen--though the weapon remained in the old desk for some days, and was at last conveyed out of the house when the Countess left it with all her belongings. She had been afraid to hide it more stealthily or even throw it away, lest her doing so should be discovered. Had the law interfered--had any search-warrant been granted--the pistol would, of course, have been found. As it was, no one asked the Countess a question on the subject. The lawyers who had been her friends, and had endeavoured to guide her through her difficulties, became afraid of her, and kept aloof from her. They had all gone over to the opinion that Lady Anna should be allowed to marry the tailor, and had on that account become her enemies. She was completely isolated, and was now spoken of mysteriously--as a woman who had suffered much, and was nearly mad with grief, as a violent, determined, dangerous being, who was interesting as a subject for conversation, but one not at all desirable as an acquaintance. During the whole of this month the Countess remained in Keppel Street, and was hardly ever seen by any but the inmates of that house.


Lady Anna had returned home all alone, on the evening of the day on which the deed had been done, after leaving her lover in the hands of the old nurse with whose services he had been furnished. The rain was still falling as she came through Russell Square. The distance was indeed short, but she was wet and cold and draggled when she returned; and the criminality of the deed which her mother had committed had come fully home to her mind during the short journey. The door was opened to her by Mrs Richards, and she at once asked for the Countess. "Lady Anna, where have you been?" asked Mrs Richards, who was learning to take upon herself, during these troubles, something of the privilege of finding fault. But Lady Anna put her aside without a word, and went into the parlour. There sat the Countess just as she had been left--except that a pair of candles stood upon the table, and that the tea-things had been laid there. "You are all wet," she said. "Where have you been?"


"He has told me all," the girl replied, without answering the question. "Oh, mamma--how could you do it?"


"Who has driven me to it? It has been you--you, you. Well--what else?"


"Mamma, he has forgiven you."


"Forgiven me! I will not have his forgiveness."


"Oh, mamma--if I forgive you, will you not be friends with us?" She stooped over her mother, and kissed her, and then went on and told what she had to tell. She stood and told it all in a low voice, so that no ear but that of her mother should hear her--how the ball had hit him, how it had been extracted, how nothing had been and nothing should be told, how Daniel would forgive it all and be her friend, if she would let him. "But, mamma, I hope you will be sorry." The Countess sat silent, moody, grim, with her eyes fixed on the table. She would say nothing. "And, mamma--I must go to him every day--to do things for him and to help to nurse him. Of course he will be my husband now." Still the Countess said not a word, either of approval or of dissent. Lady Anna sat down for a moment or two, hoping that her mother would allow her to eat and drink in the room, and that thus they might again begin to live together. But not a word was spoken nor a motion made, and the silence became awful, so that the girl did not dare to keep her seat. "Shall I go, mamma?" she said.


"Yes--you had better go." After that they did not see each other again on that evening, and during the week or ten days following they lived apart.


On the following morning, after an early breakfast, Lady Anna went to Great Russell Street, and there she remained the greater part of the day. The people of the house understood that the couple were to be married as soon as their lodger should be well, and had heard much of the magnificence of the marriage. They were kind and good, and the tailor declared very often that this was the happiest period of his existence. Of all the good turns ever done to him, he said, the wound in his back had been the best. As his sweetheart sat by his bedside they planned their future life. They would still go to the distant land on which his heart was set, though it might be only for a while; and she, with playfulness, declared that she would go there as Mrs Thwaite. "I suppose they can't prevent me calling myself Mrs Thwaite, if I please."


"I am not so sure of that," said the tailor. "Evil burs stick fast."


It would be vain now to tell of all the sweet lovers' words that were spoken between them during those long hours--but the man believed that no girl had ever been so true to her lover through so many difficulties as Lady Anna had been to him, and she was sure that she had never varied in her wish to become the wife of the man who had first asked her for her love. She thought much and she thought often of the young lord; but she took the impress of her lover's mind, and learned to regard her cousin, the Earl, as an idle, pretty popinjay, born to eat, to drink, and to carry sweet perfumes. "Just a butterfly," said the tailor.


"One of the brightest butterflies," said the girl.


"A woman should not be a butterfly--not altogether a butterfly," he answered. "But for a man it is surely a contemptible part. Do you remember the young man who comes to Hotspur on the battlefield, or him whom the king sent to Hamlet about the wager? When I saw Lord Lovel at his breakfast table, I thought of them. I said to myself that spermaceti was the 'sovereignest thing on earth for an inward wound', and I told myself that he was of 'very soft society, and great showing'." She smiled, though she did not know the words he quoted, and assured him that her poor cousin Lord Lovel would not trouble him much in the days that were to come. "He will not trouble me at all, but as he is your cousin I would fain that he could be a man. He had a sort of gown on which would have made a grand frock for you, sweetheart--only too smart I fear for my wife." She laughed and was pleased--and remembered without a shade either of regret or remorse the manner in which the popinjay had helped her over the stepping-stones at Bolton Abbey.


But the tailor, though he thus scorned the lord, was quite willing that a share of the property should be given up to him. "Unless you did, how on earth could he wear such grand gowns as that? I can understand that he wants it more than I do, and if there are to be earls, I suppose they should be rich. We do not want it, my girl."


"You will have half, Daniel," she said.


"As far as that goes, I do not want a doit of it--not a penny-piece. When they paid me what became my own by my father's will, I was rich enough--rich enough for you and me too, my girl, if that was all. But it is better that it should be divided. If he had it all he would buy too many gowns; and it may be that with us some good will come of it. As far as I can see, no good comes of money spent on racecourses, and in gorgeous gowns."


This went on from day to day throughout a month, and every day Lady Anna took her place with her lover. After a while her mother came up into the drawing-room in Keppel Street, and then the two ladies again lived together. Little or nothing, however, was said between them as to their future lives. The Countess was quiet, sullen--and to a bystander would have appeared to be indifferent. She had been utterly vanquished by the awe inspired by her own deed, and by the fear which had lasted for some days that she might be dragged to trial for the offence. As that dread subsided she was unable to recover her former spirits. She spoke no more of what she had done and what she had suffered, but seemed to submit to the inevitable. She said nothing of any future life that might be in store for her, and, as far as her daughter could perceive, had no plans formed for the coming time. At last Lady Anna found it necessary to speak of her own plans. "Mamma," she said, "Mr Thwaite wishes that banns should be read in church for our marriage."


"Banns!" exclaimed the Countess.


"Yes, mamma; he thinks it best." The Countess made no further observation. If the thing was to be, it mattered little to her whether they were to be married by banns or by licence--whether her girl should walk down to church like a maid servant, or be married with all the pomp and magnificence to which her rank and wealth might entitle her. How could there be splendour, how even decency, in such a marriage as this? She at any rate would not be present, let them be married in what way they would. On the fourth Sunday after the shot had been fired the banns were read for the first time in Bloomsbury Church, and the future bride was described as Anna Lovel--commonly called Lady Anna Lovel--spinster. Neither on that occasion or on either of the two further callings, did anyone get up in church to declare that impediment existed why Daniel Thwaite the tailor and Lady Anna Lovel should not be joined together in holy matrimony.


In the meantime the lawyers had been at work dividing the property, and in the process of doing so it had been necessary that Mr Goffe should have various interviews with the Countess. She also, as the undisputed widow of the late intestate Earl, was now a very rich woman, with an immense income at her control. But no one wanted assistance from her. There was her revenue, and she was doomed to live apart with it in her solitude--with no fellow-creature to rejoice with her in her triumph, with no dependant whom she could make happy with her wealth. She was a woman with many faults--but covetousness was not one of them. If she could have given it all to the young Earl--and her daughter with it, she would have been a happy woman. Had she been permitted to dream that it was all so settled that her grandchild would become of all Earl Lovels the most wealthy and most splendid, she would have triumphed indeed. But, as it was, there was no spot in her future career brighter to her than those long years of suffering which she had passed in the hope that some day her child might be successful. Triumph indeed! There was nothing before her but solitude and shame.


Nevertheless she listened to Mr Goffe, and signed the papers that were put before her. When, however, he spoke to her of what was necessary for the marriage--as to the settlement, which must, Mr Goffe said, be made as to the remaining moiety of her daughter's property--she answered curtly that she knew nothing of that. Her daughter's affairs were no concern of hers. She had, indeed, worked hard to establish her daughter's rights, but her daughter was now of age, and could do as she pleased with her own. She would not even remain in the room while the matter was being discussed. "Lady Anna and I have separate interests," she said haughtily.


Lady Anna herself simply declared that half of her estate should be made over to her cousin, and that the other half should go to her husband. But the attorney was not satisfied to take instructions on a matter of such moment from one so young. As to all that was to appertain to the Earl, the matter was settled. The Solicitor-General and Serjeant Bluestone had acceded to the arrangement, and the Countess herself had given her assent before she had utterly separated her own interests from those of her daughter. In regard to so much, Mr Goffe could go to work in conjunction with Mr Flick without a scruple; but as to that other matter there must be consultations, conferences, and solemn debate. The young lady, no doubt, might do as she pleased; but lawyers can be very powerful. Sir William was asked for his opinion, and suggested that Daniel Thwaite himself should be invited to attend at Mr Goffe's chambers, as soon as his wound would allow him to do so. Daniel, who did not care for his wound so much as he should have done, was with Mr Goffe on the following morning, and heard a lengthy explanation from the attorney. The Solicitor-General had been consulted--this Mr Goffe said, feeling that a tailor would not have a word to say against so high an authority--the Solicitor-General had been consulted, and was of opinion that Lady Anna's interests should be guarded with great care. A very large property, he might say a splendid estate, was concerned. Mr Thwaite of course understood that the family had been averse to this marriage--naturally very averse. Now, however, they were prepared to yield.


The tailor interrupted the attorney at this period of his speech. "We don't want anybody to yield, Mr Goffe. We are going to do what we please, and don't know anything about yielding."


Mr Goffe remarked that all that might be very well, but that, as so large a property was at stake, the friends of the lady, according to all usage, were bound to interfere. A settlement had already been made in regard to the Earl.


"You mean, Mr Goffe, that Lady Anna has given her cousin half her money?"


The attorney went on to say that Mr Thwaite might put it in that way if he pleased. The deeds had already been executed. With regard to the other moiety Mr Thwaite would no doubt not object to a trust deed, by which it should be arranged that the money should be invested in land, the interest to be appropriated to the use of Lady Anna, and the property be settled on the eldest son. Mr Thwaite would, of course, have the advantage of the income during his wife's life. The attorney, in explaining all this, made an exceedingly good legal exposition, and then waited for the tailor's assent.


"Are those Lady Anna's instructions?"


Mr Goffe replied that the proposal was made in accordance with the advice of the Solicitor-General.


"I'll have nothing to do with such a settlement," said the tailor. "Lady Anna has given away half her money, and may give away the whole if she pleases. She will be the same to me whether she comes full-handed or empty. But when she is my wife her property shall be my property--and when I die there shall be no such abomination as an eldest son." Mr Goffe was persuasive, eloquent, indignant, and very wise. All experience, all usage, all justice, all tradition, required that there should be some such settlement as he had suggested. But it was in vain. "I don't want my wife to have anything of her own before marriage," said he; "but she certainly shall have nothing after marriage--independent of me." For a man with sound views of domestic power and marital rights always choose a Radical! In this case there was no staying him. The girl was all on his side, and Mr Goffe, with infinite grief, was obliged to content himself with binding up a certain portion of the property to make an income for the widow, should the tailor die before his wife. And thus the tailor's marriage received the sanction of all the lawyers.


A day or two after this Daniel Thwaite called upon the Countess. It was now arranged that they should be married early in July, and questions had arisen as to the manner of the ceremony. Who should give away the bride? Of what nature should the marriage be? Should there be any festival? Should there be bridesmaids? Where should they go when they were married? What dresses should be bought? After what fashion should they be prepared to live? Those, and questions of a like nature, required to be answered, and Lady Anna felt that these matters should not be fixed without some reference to her mother. It had been her most heartfelt desire to reconcile the Countess to the marriage--to obtain, at any rate, so much recognition as would enable her mother to be present in the church. But the Countess had altogether refused to speak on the subject, and had remained silent, gloomy, and impenetrable. Then Daniel had himself proposed that he would see her, and on a certain morning he called. He sent up his name, with his compliments, and the Countess allowed him to be shown into her room. Lady Anna had begged that it might be so, and she had yielded--yielded without positive assent, as she had now done in all matters relating to this disastrous marriage. On that morning, however, she had spoken a word. "If Mr Thwaite chooses to see me, I must be alone." And she was alone when the tailor was shown into the room. Up to that day he had worn his arm in a sling--and should then have continued to do so; but, on this visit of peace to her who had attempted to be his murderer, he put aside this outward sign of the injury she had inflicted on him. He smiled as he entered the room, and she rose to receive him. She was no longer a young woman--and no woman of her age or of any other had gone through rougher usage--but she could not keep the blood out of her cheeks as her eyes met his, nor could she summon to her support that hard persistency of outward demeanour with which she had intended to arm herself for the occasion. "So you have come to see me, Mr Thwaite?" she said.


"I have come, Lady Lovel, to shake hands with you, if it may be so, before my marriage with your daughter. It is her wish that we should be friends--and mine also." So saying, he put out his hand, and the Countess slowly gave him hers. "I hope the time may come, Lady Lovel, when all animosity may be forgotten between you and me, and nothing be borne in mind but the old friendship of former years."


"I do not know that that can be," she said.


"I hope it may be so. Time cures all things--and I hope it may be so."


"There are sorrows, Mr Thwaite, which no time can cure. You have triumphed, and can look forward to the pleasures of success. I have been foiled, and beaten, and broken to pieces. With me the last is worse even than the first. I do not know that I can ever have another friend. Your father was my friend."


"And I would be so also."


"You have been my enemy. All that he did to help me--all that others have done since to forward me on my way, has been brought to nothing--by you! My joys have been turned to grief, my rank has been made a disgrace, my wealth has become like ashes between my teeth--and it has been your doing. They tell me that you will be my daughter's husband. I know that it must be so. But I do not see that you can be my friend."


"I had hoped to find you softer, Lady Lovel."


"It is not my nature to be soft. All this has not tended to make me soft. If my daughter will let me know from time to time that she is alive, that is all that I shall require of her. As to her future career, I cannot interest myself in it as I had hoped to do. Goodbye, Mr Thwaite. You need fear no further interference from me."


So the interview was over, and not a word had been said about the attempt at murder.


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