Their hearts never grow, my dear ma'am, till after thirty. I don't believe, no, I do NOT believe, that I had any heart myself when I was Ned's age.'
'Oh sir,' said Mrs Varden, 'I think you must have had. It's impossible that you, who have so much now, can ever have been without any.'
'I hope,' he answered, shrugging his shoulders meekly, 'I have a little; I hope, a very little--Heaven knows! But to return to Ned; I have no doubt you thought, and therefore interfered benevolently in his behalf, that I objected to Miss Haredale. How very natural! My dear madam, I object to him--to him--emphatically to Ned himself.'
Mrs Varden was perfectly aghast at the disclosure.
'He has, if he honourably fulfils this solemn obligation of which I have told you--and he must be honourable, dear Mrs Varden, or he is no son of mine--a fortune within his reach. He is of most expensive, ruinously expensive habits; and if, in a moment of caprice and wilfulness, he were to marry this young lady, and so deprive himself of the means of gratifying the tastes to which he has been so long accustomed, he would--my dear madam, he would break the gentle creature's heart. Mrs Varden, my good lady, my dear soul, I put it to you--is such a sacrifice to be endured? Is the female heart a thing to be trifled with in this way? Ask your own, my dear madam. Ask your own, I beseech you.'
'Truly,' thought Mrs Varden, 'this gentleman is a saint. But,' she added aloud, and not unnaturally, 'if you take Miss Emma's lover away, sir, what becomes of the poor thing's heart then?'
'The very point,' said Mr Chester, not at all abashed, 'to which I wished to lead you. A marriage with my son, whom I should be compelled to disown, would be followed by years of misery; they would be separated, my dear madam, in a twelvemonth. To break off this attachment, which is more fancied than real, as you and I know very well, will cost the dear girl but a few tears, and she is happy again. Take the case of your own daughter, the young lady downstairs, who is your breathing image'--Mrs Varden coughed and simpered--'there is a young man (I am sorry to say, a dissolute fellow, of very indifferent character) of whom I have heard Ned speak--Bullet was it--Pullet--Mullet--'
'There is a young man of the name of Joseph Willet, sir,' said Mrs Varden, folding her hands loftily.
'That's he,' cried Mr Chester. 'Suppose this Joseph Willet now, were to aspire to the affections of your charming daughter, and were to engage them.'
'It would be like his impudence,' interposed Mrs Varden, bridling, 'to dare to think of such a thing!'
'My dear madam, that's the whole case. I know it would be like his impudence. It is like Ned's impudence to do as he has done; but you would not on that account, or because of a few tears from your beautiful daughter, refrain from checking their inclinations in their birth. I meant to have reasoned thus with your husband when I saw him at Mrs Rudge's this evening--'
'My husband,' said Mrs Varden, interposing with emotion, 'would be a great deal better at home than going to Mrs Rudge's so often. I don't know what he does there. I don't see what occasion he has to busy himself in her affairs at all, sir.'
'If I don't appear to express my concurrence in those last sentiments of yours,' returned Mr Chester, 'quite so strongly as you might desire, it is because his being there, my dear madam, and not proving conversational, led me hither, and procured me the happiness of this interview with one, in whom the whole management, conduct, and prosperity of her family are centred, I perceive.'
With that he took Mrs Varden's hand again, and having pressed it to his lips with the highflown gallantry of the day--a little burlesqued to render it the more striking in the good lady's unaccustomed eyes--proceeded in the same strain of mingled sophistry, cajolery, and flattery, to entreat that her utmost influence might be exerted to restrain her husband and daughter from any further promotion of Edward's suit to Miss Haredale, and from aiding or abetting either party in any way.