'Dear madam,' he said, pressing her hand delicately to his lips; 'be seated.'
Mrs Varden called up quite a courtly air, and became seated.
'You guess my object?' said Mr Chester, drawing a chair towards her. 'You divine my purpose? I am an affectionate parent, my dear Mrs Varden.'
'That I am sure you are, sir,' said Mrs V.
'Thank you,' returned Mr Chester, tapping his snuff-box lid. 'Heavy moral responsibilities rest with parents, Mrs Varden.'
Mrs Varden slightly raised her hands, shook her head, and looked at the ground as though she saw straight through the globe, out at the other end, and into the immensity of space beyond.
'I may confide in you,' said Mr Chester, 'without reserve. I love my son, ma'am, dearly; and loving him as I do, I would save him from working certain misery. You know of his attachment to Miss Haredale. You have abetted him in it, and very kind of you it was to do so. I am deeply obliged to you--most deeply obliged to you-- for your interest in his behalf; but my dear ma'am, it is a mistaken one, I do assure you.'
Mrs Varden stammered that she was sorry--'
'Sorry, my dear ma'am,' he interposed. 'Never be sorry for what is so very amiable, so very good in intention, so perfectly like yourself. But there are grave and weighty reasons, pressing family considerations, and apart even from these, points of religious difference, which interpose themselves, and render their union impossible; utterly im-possible. I should have mentioned these circumstances to your husband; but he has--you will excuse my saying this so freely--he has NOT your quickness of apprehension or depth of moral sense. What an extremely airy house this is, and how beautifully kept! For one like myself--a widower so long-- these tokens of female care and superintendence have inexpressible charms.'
Mrs Varden began to think (she scarcely knew why) that the young Mr Chester must be in the wrong and the old Mr Chester must he in the right.
'My son Ned,' resumed her tempter with his most winning air, 'has had, I am told, your lovely daughter's aid, and your open-hearted husband's.'
'--Much more than mine, sir,' said Mrs Varden; 'a great deal more. I have often had my doubts. It's a--'
'A bad example,' suggested Mr Chester. 'It is. No doubt it is. Your daughter is at that age when to set before her an encouragement for young persons to rebel against their parents on this most important point, is particularly injudicious. You are quite right. I ought to have thought of that myself, but it escaped me, I confess--so far superior are your sex to ours, dear madam, in point of penetration and sagacity.'
Mrs Varden looked as wise as if she had really said something to deserve this compliment--firmly believed she had, in short--and her faith in her own shrewdness increased considerably.
'My dear ma'am,' said Mr Chester, 'you embolden me to be plain with you. My son and I are at variance on this point. The young lady and her natural guardian differ upon it, also. And the closing point is, that my son is bound by his duty to me, by his honour, by every solemn tie and obligation, to marry some one else.'
'Engaged to marry another lady!' quoth Mrs Varden, holding up her hands.
'My dear madam, brought up, educated, and trained, expressly for that purpose. Expressly for that purpose.--Miss Haredale, I am told, is a very charming creature.'
'I am her foster-mother, and should know--the best young lady in the world,' said Mrs Varden.
'I have not the smallest doubt of it. I am sure she is. And you, who have stood in that tender relation towards her, are bound to consult her happiness. Now, can I--as I have said to Haredale, who quite agrees--can I possibly stand by, and suffer her to throw herself away (although she IS of a Catholic family), upon a young fellow who, as yet, has no heart at all? It is no imputation upon him to say he has not, because young men who have plunged deeply into the frivolities and conventionalities of society, very seldom have.