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Lady Anna: Chapter 46

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Hard Lines


Commentary


At the time that the murder was attempted Lord Lovel was in London--and had seen Daniel Thwaite on that morning; but before any confirmed rumour had reached his ears he had left London again on his road to Yoxham. He knew now that he would be endowed with something like ten thousand a year out of the wealth of the late Earl, but that he would not have the hand of his fair cousin, the late Earl's daughter. Perhaps it was as well as it was. The girl had never loved him, and he could now choose for himself--and need not choose till it should be his pleasure to settle himself as a married man. After all, his marriage with Lady Anna would have been a constrained marriage--a marriage which he would have accepted as the means of making his fortune. The girl certainly had pleased him--but it might be that a girl who preferred a tailor would not have continued to please him. At any rate he could not be unhappy with his newly-acquired fortune, and he went down to Yoxham to receive the congratulation of his friends, thinking that it would become him now to make some exertion towards reconciling his uncle and aunt to the coming marriage.


"Have you heard anything about Mr Thwaite?" Mr Flick said to him the day before he started. The Earl had heard nothing. "They say that he has been wounded by a pistol-ball." Lord Lovel stayed some days at a friend's house on his road into Yorkshire, and when he reached the rectory, the rector had received news from London. Mr Thwaite the tailor had been murdered, and it was surmised that the deed had been done by the Countess. "I trust the papers were signed before you left London," said the anxious rector. The documents making over the property were all right, but the Earl would believe nothing of the murder. Mr Thwaite might have been wounded. He had heard so much before--but he was quite sure that it had not been done by the Countess. On the following day further tidings came. Mr Thwaite was doing well, but everybody said that the attempt had been made by Lady Lovel. Thus by degrees some idea of the facts as they had occurred was received at the rectory.


"You don't mean that you want us to have Mr Thwaite here?" said the rector, holding up his hands, upon hearing a proposition made to him by his nephew a day or two later.


"Why not, Uncle Charles?"


"I couldn't do it. I really don't think your aunt could bring herself to sit down to table with him."


"Aunt Jane?"


"Yes, your Aunt Jane--or your Aunt Julia either." Now a quieter lady than Aunt Jane, or one less likely to turn up her nose at any guest whom her husband should choose to entertain, did not exist.


"May I ask my aunts?"


"What good can it do, Frederic?"


"He's going to marry our cousin. He's not at all such a man as you seem to think."


"He has been a journeyman tailor all his life."


"You'll find he'll make a very good sort of gentleman. Sir William Patterson says that he'll be in Parliament before long."


"Sir William! Sir William is always meddling. I have never thought much about Sir William."


"Come, Uncle Charles--you should be fair. If we had gone on quarrelling and going to law, where should I have been now? I should never have got a shilling out of the property. Everybody says so. No doubt Sir William acted very wisely."


"I am no lawyer. I can't say how it might have been. But I may have my doubts if I like. I have always understood that Lady Lovel, as you choose to call her, was never Lord Lovel's wife. For twenty years I have been sure of it, and I can't change so quickly as some other people."


"She is Lady Lovel now. The King and Queen would receive her as such if she went to Court. Her daughter is Lady Anna Lovel."


"It may be so. It is possible."


"If it be not so," said the young lord, thumping the table, "where have I got the money from?" This was an argument that the rector could not answer--so he merely shook his head. "I am bound to acknowledge them after taking her money."


"But not him. You haven't had any of his money. You needn't acknowledge him."


"We had better make the best of it, Uncle Charles. He is going to marry our cousin, and we should stand by her. Sir William very strongly advises me to be present at the marriage, and to offer to give her away."


"The girl you were going to marry yourself!"


"Or else that you should do it. That of course would be better."


The rector of Yoxham groaned when the proposition was made to him. What infinite vexation of spirit and degradation had come to him from these spurious Lovels during the last twelve months! He had been made to have the girl in his house and to give her precedence as Lady Anna, though he did not believe in her; he had been constrained to treat her as the desired bride of his august nephew the Earl--till she had refused the Earl's hand; after he had again repudiated her and her mother because of her base attachment to a low-born artisan, he had been made to re-accept her in spirit, because she had been generous to his nephew--and now he was asked to stand at the altar and give her away to the tailor! And there could come to him neither pleasure nor profit from the concern. All that he had endured he had borne simply for the sake of his family and his nephew. "She is degrading us all--as far as she belongs to us," said the rector. "I can't see why I should be asked to give her my countenance in doing it."


"Everybody says that it is very good of her to be true to the man she loved when she was poor and in obscurity. Sir William says--"


"--Sir William!" muttered the rector between his teeth, as he turned away in disgust. What had been the first word of that minatory speech Lord Lovel did not clearly hear. He had been brought up as a boy by his uncle, and had never known his uncle to offend by swearing. No one in Yoxham would have believed it possible that the parson of the parish should have done so. Mrs Grimes would have given evidence in any court in Yorkshire that it was absolutely impossible. The archbishop would not have believed it though his archdeacon had himself heard the word. All the man's known antecedents since he had been at Yoxham were against the probability. The entire Close at York would have been indignant had such an accusation been made. But his nephew in his heart of hearts believed that the rector of Yoxham had damned the Solicitor-General.


There was, however, more cause for malediction, and further provocations to wrath, in store for the rector. The Earl had not as yet opened all his budget, or let his uncle know the extent of the sacrifice that was to be demanded from him. Sir William had been very urgent with the young nobleman to accord everything that could be accorded to his cousin. "It is not of course for me to dictate," he had said, "but as I have been allowed so far to give advice somewhat beyond the scope of my profession, perhaps you will let me say that in mere honesty you owe her all that you can give. She has shared everything with you, and need have given nothing. And he, my lord, had he been so minded, might no doubt have hindered her from doing what she has done. You owe it to your honour to accept her and her husband with an open hand. Unless you can treat her with cousinly regard you should not have taken what has been given to you as a cousin. She has recognised you to your great advantage as the head of her family, and you should certainly recognise her as belonging to it. Let the marriage be held down at Yoxham. Get your uncle and aunt to ask her down. Do you give her away, and let your uncle marry them. If you can put me up for a night in some neighbouring farmhouse, I will come and be a spectator. It will be for your honour to treat her after that fashion." The programme was a large one, and the Earl felt that there might be some difficulty.


But in the teeth of that dubious malediction he persevered, and his next attack was upon Aunt Julia. "You liked her--did you not?"


"Yes--I liked her." The tone implied great doubt. "I liked her, till I found that she had forgotten herself."


"But she didn't forget herself. She just did what any girl would have done, living as she was living. She has behaved nobly to me."


"She has behaved no doubt conscientiously."


"Come, Aunt Julia! Did you ever know any other woman to give away ten thousand a year to a fellow simply because he was her cousin? We should do something for her. Why should you not ask her down here again?"


"I don't think my brother would like it."


"He will if you tell him. And we must make a gentleman of him."


"My dear Frederic, you can never wash a blackamoor white."


"Let us try. Don't you oppose it. It behoves me, for my honour, to show her some regard after what she has done for me."


Aunt Julia shook her head, and muttered to herself some further remark about negroes. The inhabitants of the Yoxham rectory--who were well born, ladies and gentlemen without a stain, who were hitherto free from all base intermarriages, and had nothing among their male cousins below soldiers and sailors, parsons and lawyers, who had successfully opposed an intended marriage between a cousin in the third degree and an attorney because the alliance was the level of the Lovels, were peculiarly averse to any intermingling of ranks. They were descended from ancient earls, and their chief was an earl of the present day. There was but one titled young lady now among them--and she had only just won her right to be so considered. There was but one Lady Anna--and she was going to marry a tailor! "Duty is duty," said Aunt Julia as she hurried away. She meant her nephew to understand that duty commanded her to shut her heart against any cousin who could marry a tailor.


The lord next attacked Aunt Jane. "You wouldn't mind having her here?"


"Not if your uncle thought well of it," said Mrs Lovel.


"I'll tell you what my scheme is." Then he told it all. Lady Anna was to be invited to the rectory. The tailor was to be entertained somewhere near on the night preceding his wedding. The marriage was to be celebrated by his uncle in Yoxham Church. Sir William was to be asked to join them. And the whole thing was to be done exactly as though they were all proud of the connection.


"Does your uncle know?" asked Mrs Lovel, who had been nearly stunned by the proposition.


"Not quite. I want you to suggest it. Only think, Aunt Jane, what she has done for us all!" Aunt Jane couldn't think that very much had been done for her. They were not to be enriched by the cousin's money. They had never been interested in the matter on their own account. They wanted nothing. And yet they were to be called upon to have a tailor at their board--because Lord Lovel was the head of their family. But the Earl was the Earl; and poor Mrs Lovel knew how much she owed to his position. "If you wish it of course I'll tell him, Frederic."


"I do wish it--and I'll be so much obliged to you."


The next morning the parson had been told all that was required of him, and he came down to prayers as black as a thunder-cloud. It had been before suggested to him that he should give the bride away, and though he had grievously complained of the request, he knew that he must do it should the Earl still demand it. He had no power to oppose the head of the family. But he had never thought then that he would be asked to pollute his own rectory by the presence of that odious tailor. While he was shaving that morning very religious ideas had filled his mind. What a horrible thing was wickedness! All this evil had come upon him and his because the late Earl had been so very wicked a man! He had sworn to his wife that he would not bear it. He had done and was ready to do more almost than any other uncle in England. But this he could not endure. Yet when he was shaving, and thinking with religious horror of the iniquities of that iniquitous old lord, he knew that he would have to yield. "I daresay they wouldn't come," said Aunt Julia. "He won't like to be with us any more than we shall like to have him." There was some comfort in that hope; and trusting to it the rector had yielded everything before the third day was over.


"And I may ask Sir William?" said the Earl.


"Of course we shall be glad to see Sir William Patterson if you choose to invite him," said the rector, still oppressed by gloom. "Sir William Patterson is a gentleman, no doubt, and a man of high standing. Of course I and your aunt will be pleased to receive him. As a lawyer I don't think much of him--but that has nothing to do with it." It may be remarked here that though Mr Lovel lived for a great many years after the transactions which are here recorded, he never gave way in reference to the case that had been tried. If the lawyers had persevered as they ought to have done, it would have been found out that the Countess was no Countess, that the Lady Anna was no Lady Anna, and that all the money had belonged by right to the Earl. With that belief--with that profession of belief--he went to his grave an old man of eighty.


In the meantime he consented that the invitation should be given. The Countess and her daughter were to be asked to Yoxham--the use of the parish church was to be offered for the ceremony; he was to propose to marry them; the Earl was to give the bride away; and Daniel Thwaite the tailor was to be asked to dine at Yoxham rectory on the day before the marriage! The letters were to be written from the rectory by Aunt Julia, and the Earl was to add what he pleased for himself. "I suppose this sort of trial is sent to us for our good," said the rector to his wife that night in the sanctity of their bedroom.


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