You have asked me to meet you. I am here. Why do we stand face to face again?'
'Still the same frank and sturdy character, I see!'
'Good or bad, sir, I am,' returned the other, leaning his arm upon the chimney-piece, and turning a haughty look upon the occupant of the easy-chair, 'the man I used to be. I have lost no old likings or dislikings; my memory has not failed me by a hair's-breadth. You ask me to give you a meeting. I say, I am here.'
'Our meeting, Haredale,' said Mr Chester, tapping his snuff-box, and following with a smile the impatient gesture he had made-- perhaps unconsciously--towards his sword, 'is one of conference and peace, I hope?'
'I have come here,' returned the other, 'at your desire, holding myself bound to meet you, when and where you would. I have not come to bandy pleasant speeches, or hollow professions. You are a smooth man of the world, sir, and at such play have me at a disadvantage. The very last man on this earth with whom I would enter the lists to combat with gentle compliments and masked faces, is Mr Chester, I do assure you. I am not his match at such weapons, and have reason to believe that few men are.'
'You do me a great deal of honour Haredale,' returned the other, most composedly, 'and I thank you. I will be frank with you--'
'I beg your pardon--will be what?'
'Hab!' cried Mr Haredale, drawing his breath. 'But don't let me interrupt you.'
'So resolved am I to hold this course,' returned the other, tasting his wine with great deliberation; 'that I have determined not to quarrel with you, and not to be betrayed into a warm expression or a hasty word.'
'There again,' said Mr Haredale, 'you have me at a great advantage. Your self-command--'
'Is not to be disturbed, when it will serve my purpose, you would say'--rejoined the other, interrupting him with the same complacency. 'Granted. I allow it. And I have a purpose to serve now. So have you. I am sure our object is the same. Let us attain it like sensible men, who have ceased to be boys some time.-- Do you drink?'
'With my friends,' returned the other.
'At least,' said Mr Chester, 'you will be seated?'
'I will stand,' returned Mr Haredale impatiently, 'on this dismantled, beggared hearth, and not pollute it, fallen as it is, with mockeries. Go on.'
'You are wrong, Haredale,' said the other, crossing his legs, and smiling as he held his glass up in the bright glow of the fire. 'You are really very wrong. The world is a lively place enough, in which we must accommodate ourselves to circumstances, sail with the stream as glibly as we can, be content to take froth for substance, the surface for the depth, the counterfeit for the real coin. I wonder no philosopher has ever established that our globe itself is hollow. It should be, if Nature is consistent in her works.'
'YOU think it is, perhaps?'
'I should say,' he returned, sipping his wine, 'there could be no doubt about it. Well; we, in trifling with this jingling toy, have had the ill-luck to jostle and fall out. We are not what the world calls friends; but we are as good and true and loving friends for all that, as nine out of every ten of those on whom it bestows the title. You have a niece, and I a son--a fine lad, Haredale, but foolish. They fall in love with each other, and form what this same world calls an attachment; meaning a something fanciful and false like the rest, which, if it took its own free time, would break like any other bubble. But it may not have its own free time--will not, if they are left alone--and the question is, shall we two, because society calls us enemies, stand aloof, and let them rush into each other's arms, when, by approaching each other sensibly, as we do now, we can prevent it, and part them?'
'I love my niece,' said Mr Haredale, after a short silence. 'It may sound strangely in your ears; but I love her.'
'Strangely, my good fellow!' cried Mr Chester, lazily filling his glass again, and pulling out his toothpick.