"And did you?"
"Oh! Of course I did."
Sir Leicester gives a nod, approving and confirmatory. Very proper. The iron gentleman, having said that he would do it, was bound to do it. No difference in this respect between the base metals and the precious. Highly proper.
"And pray has he done so?"
"Really, Lady Dedlock, I cannot make you a definite reply. I fear not. Probably not yet. In our condition of life, we sometimes couple an intention with our--our fancies which renders them not altogether easy to throw off. I think it is rather our way to be in earnest."
Sir Leicester has a misgiving that there may be a hidden Wat Tylerish meaning in this expression, and fumes a little. Mr. Rouncewell is perfectly good-humoured and polite, but within such limits, evidently adapts his tone to his reception.
"Because," proceeds my Lady, "I have been thinking of the subject, which is tiresome to me."
"I am very sorry, I am sure."
"And also of what Sir Leicester said upon it, in which I quite concur"--Sir Leicester flattered--"and if you cannot give us the assurance that this fancy is at an end, I have come to the conclusion that the girl had better leave me."
"I can give no such assurance, Lady Dedlock. Nothing of the kind."
"Then she had better go."
"Excuse me, my Lady," Sir Leicester considerately interposes, "but perhaps this may be doing an injury to the young woman which she has not merited. Here is a young woman," says Sir Leicester, magnificently laying out the matter with his right hand like a service of plate, "whose good fortune it is to have attracted the notice and favour of an eminent lady and to live, under the protection of that eminent lady, surrounded by the various advantages which such a position confers, and which are unquestionably very great--I believe unquestionably very great, sir--for a young woman in that station of life. The question then arises, should that young woman be deprived of these many advantages and that good fortune simply because she has"--Sir Leicester, with an apologetic but dignified inclination of his head towards the ironmaster, winds up his sentence--"has attracted the notice of Mr Rouncewell's son? Now, has she deserved this punishment? Is this just towards her? Is this our previous understanding?"
"I beg your pardon," interposes Mr. Rouncewell's son's father. "Sir Leicester, will you allow me? I think I may shorten the subject. Pray dismiss that from your consideration. If you remember anything so unimportant--which is not to be expected--you would recollect that my first thought in the affair was directly opposed to her remaining here."
Dismiss the Dedlock patronage from consideration? Oh! Sir Leicester is bound to believe a pair of ears that have been handed down to him through such a family, or he really might have mistrusted their report of the iron gentleman's observations.
"It is not necessary," observes my Lady in her coldest manner before he can do anything but breathe amazedly, "to enter into these matters on either side. The girl is a very good girl; I have nothing whatever to say against her, but she is so far insensible to her many advantages and her good fortune that she is in love--or supposes she is, poor little fool--and unable to appreciate them."
Sir Leicester begs to observe that wholly alters the case. He might have been sure that my Lady had the best grounds and reasons in support of her view. He entirely agrees with my Lady. The young woman had better go.
"As Sir Leicester observed, Mr. Rouncewell, on the last occasion when we were fatigued by this business," Lady Dedlock languidly proceeds, "we cannot make conditions with you. Without conditions, and under present circumstances, the girl is quite misplaced here and had better go. I have told her so. Would you wish to have her sent back to the village, or would you like to take her with you, or what would you prefer?"
"Lady Dedlock, if I may speak plainly--"
"By all means."
"--I should prefer the course which will the soonest relieve you of the incumbrance and remove her from her present position."
"And to speak as plainly," she returns with the same studied carelessness, "so should I.