I shall represent to him that we cannot possibly afford it--that I have always looked forward to his marrying well, for a genteel provision for myself in the autumn of life--that there are a great many clamorous dogs to pay, whose claims are perfectly just and right, and who must be paid out of his wife's fortune. In short, that the very highest and most honourable feelings of our nature, with every consideration of filial duty and affection, and all that sort of thing, imperatively demand that he should run away with an heiress.'
'And break her heart as speedily as possible?' said Mr Haredale, drawing on his glove.
'There Ned will act exactly as he pleases,' returned the other, sipping his wine; 'that's entirely his affair. I wouldn't for the world interfere with my son, Haredale, beyond a certain point. The relationship between father and son, you know, is positively quite a holy kind of bond.--WON'T you let me persuade you to take one glass of wine? Well! as you please, as you please,' he added, helping himself again.
'Chester,' said Mr Haredale, after a short silence, during which he had eyed his smiling face from time to time intently, 'you have the head and heart of an evil spirit in all matters of deception.'
'Your health!' said the other, with a nod. 'But I have interrupted you--'
'If now,' pursued Mr Haredale, 'we should find it difficult to separate these young people, and break off their intercourse--if, for instance, you find it difficult on your side, what course do you intend to take?'
'Nothing plainer, my good fellow, nothing easier,' returned the other, shrugging his shoulders and stretching himself more comfortably before the fire. 'I shall then exert those powers on which you flatter me so highly--though, upon my word, I don't deserve your compliments to their full extent--and resort to a few little trivial subterfuges for rousing jealousy and resentment. You see?'
'In short, justifying the means by the end, we are, as a last resource for tearing them asunder, to resort to treachery and--and lying,' said Mr Haredale.
'Oh dear no. Fie, fie!' returned the other, relishing a pinch of snuff extremely. 'Not lying. Only a little management, a little diplomacy, a little--intriguing, that's the word.'
'I wish,' said Mr Haredale, moving to and fro, and stopping, and moving on again, like one who was ill at ease, 'that this could have been foreseen or prevented. But as it has gone so far, and it is necessary for us to act, it is of no use shrinking or regretting. Well! I shall second your endeavours to the utmost of my power. There is one topic in the whole wide range of human thoughts on which we both agree. We shall act in concert, but apart. There will be no need, I hope, for us to meet again.'
'Are you going?' said Mr Chester, rising with a graceful indolence. 'Let me light you down the stairs.'
'Pray keep your seat,' returned the other drily, 'I know the way. So, waving his hand slightly, and putting on his hat as he turned upon his heel, he went clanking out as he had come, shut the door behind him, and tramped down the echoing stairs.
'Pah! A very coarse animal, indeed!' said Mr Chester, composing himself in the easy-chair again. 'A rough brute. Quite a human badger!'
John Willet and his friends, who had been listening intently for the clash of swords, or firing of pistols in the great room, and had indeed settled the order in which they should rush in when summoned--in which procession old John had carefully arranged that he should bring up the rear--were very much astonished to see Mr Haredale come down without a scratch, call for his horse, and ride away thoughtfully at a footpace. After some consideration, it was decided that he had left the gentleman above, for dead, and had adopted this stratagem to divert suspicion or pursuit.
As this conclusion involved the necessity of their going upstairs forthwith, they were about to ascend in the order they had agreed upon, when a smart ringing at the guest's bell, as if he had pulled it vigorously, overthrew all their speculations, and involved them in great uncertainty and doubt.