'So much! Then I should say, Ned, that as nearly as I remember, its skirts vanished from human knowledge, about eighteen or nineteen years ago. It was about that time when I came to live in these chambers (once your grandfather's, and bequeathed by that extremely respectable person to me), and commenced to live upon an inconsiderable annuity and my past reputation.'
'You are jesting with me, sir,' said Edward.
'Not in the slightest degree, I assure you,' returned his father with great composure. 'These family topics are so extremely dry, that I am sorry to say they don't admit of any such relief. It is for that reason, and because they have an appearance of business, that I dislike them so very much. Well! You know the rest. A son, Ned, unless he is old enough to be a companion--that is to say, unless he is some two or three and twenty--is not the kind of thing to have about one. He is a restraint upon his father, his father is a restraint upon him, and they make each other mutually uncomfortable. Therefore, until within the last four years or so-- I have a poor memory for dates, and if I mistake, you will correct me in your own mind--you pursued your studies at a distance, and picked up a great variety of accomplishments. Occasionally we passed a week or two together here, and disconcerted each other as only such near relations can. At last you came home. I candidly tell you, my dear boy, that if you had been awkward and overgrown, I should have exported you to some distant part of the world.'
'I wish with all my soul you had, sir,' said Edward.
'No you don't, Ned,' said his father coolly; 'you are mistaken, I assure you. I found you a handsome, prepossessing, elegant fellow, and I threw you into the society I can still command. Having done that, my dear fellow, I consider that I have provided for you in life, and rely upon your doing something to provide for me in return.'
'I do not understand your meaning, sir.'
'My meaning, Ned, is obvious--I observe another fly in the cream- jug, but have the goodness not to take it out as you did the first, for their walk when their legs are milky, is extremely ungraceful and disagreeable--my meaning is, that you must do as I did; that you must marry well and make the most of yourself.'
'A mere fortune-hunter!' cried the son, indignantly.
'What in the devil's name, Ned, would you be!' returned the father. 'All men are fortune-hunters, are they not? The law, the church, the court, the camp--see how they are all crowded with fortune- hunters, jostling each other in the pursuit. The stock-exchange, the pulpit, the counting-house, the royal drawing-room, the senate,--what but fortune-hunters are they filled with? A fortune- hunter! Yes. You ARE one; and you would be nothing else, my dear Ned, if you were the greatest courtier, lawyer, legislator, prelate, or merchant, in existence. If you are squeamish and moral, Ned, console yourself with the reflection that at the very worst your fortune-hunting can make but one person miserable or unhappy. How many people do you suppose these other kinds of huntsmen crush in following their sport--hundreds at a step? Or thousands?'
The young man leant his head upon his hand, and made no answer.
'I am quite charmed,' said the father rising, and walking slowly to and fro--stopping now and then to glance at himself in the mirror, or survey a picture through his glass, with the air of a connoisseur, 'that we have had this conversation, Ned, unpromising as it was. It establishes a confidence between us which is quite delightful, and was certainly necessary, though how you can ever have mistaken our positions and designs, I confess I cannot understand. I conceived, until I found your fancy for this girl, that all these points were tacitly agreed upon between us.'
'I knew you were embarrassed, sir,' returned the son, raising his head for a moment, and then falling into his former attitude, 'but I had no idea we were the beggared wretches you describe.