Walter turned suddenly calm, for these words pricked his conscience.
“You are right,” said he. “I am a blackguard, and you are an angel of purity and goodness. Forgive me, I will never tempt nor torment you again. For pity’s sake forgive me. You don’t know what men’s passions are. Forgive me!”
“With all my heart, dear,” said Mary, crying gently.
He put both arms suddenly round her neck and kissed her wet eyes with a sigh of despair. Then he seemed to tear himself away by a great effort, and she leaned limp and powerless on the gate, and heard his footsteps die away into the night. They struck chill upon her foreboding heart, for she felt that they were parted.
THE GORDIAN KNOT.
Walter, however, would not despair until he had laid the alternative before his father. He did so, firmly but coolly.
His father, irritated by the scene with Bartley, treated Walter’s proposal with indignant scorn.
Walter continued to keep his temper, and with some reluctance asked him whether he owed nothing, not even a sacrifice of his prejudices, to a son who had never disobeyed him, and had improved his circumstances.
“Come, sir,” said he; “when the happiness of my life is at stake I venture to lay aside delicacy, and ask you whether I have not been a good son, and a serviceable one to you?”
“Yes, Walter,” said the Colonel, “with this exception.”
“Then now or never give me my reward.”
“I’ll try,” said the grim Colonel; “but I see it will be hard work. However, I’ll try and save you from a mesalliance.”
“A mesalliance, sir? Why, she is a Clifford.”
“The deuce she is!”
“As much a Clifford as I am.”
“That is news to me.”
“Why, one of her parents was a Clifford, and your own sister. And one of mine was an Irish woman.”
“Yes; an O’Ryan; not a trader; not a small-coal man.”
“Like the Marquis of Londonderry, sir, and the Earl of Durham. Come, father, don’t sacrifice your son, and his happiness and his love for you, to notions the world has outlived. Commerce does not lower a gentleman, nor speculation either, in these days. The nobility and the leading gentry of these islands are most of them in business. They are all shareholders, and often directors of railways, and just as much traders as the old coach proprietors were. They let their land, and so do you, to the highest bidder, not for honor or any romantic sentiment, but for money, and that is trade. Mr. Bartley is his own farmer; well, so was Mr. Coke, of Norfolk, and the Queen made him a peer for it—what a sensible sovereign! Are Rothschild and Montefiore shunned for their speculations by the nobility? Whom do their daughters marry? Trade rules the world, and keeps it from stagnation. Genius writes, or paints, or plays Hamlet—for money; and is respected in exact proportion to the amount of money it gets. Charity holds bazars, and sells at one hundred per cent. profit, and nearly every new church is a trade speculation. Is my happiness and hers to be sacrificed to the chimeras and crotchets that everybody in England but you has outlived?”