Lord Colambre endeavoured to answer, and mechanically said something about, ‘happy to have the honour.’ Lady Dashfort, truly happy to see that her blow had hit the mark so well, turned from his lordship without seeming to observe how seriously he was affected; and Lady Isabel sighed, and looked with compassion on Lord Colambre, and then reproachfully at her mother. But Lord Colambre heeded not her looks, and heard not of her sighs; he heard nothing, saw nothing, though his eyes were intently fixed on the genealogy, on which Lady Dashfort was still descanting to Lady Killpatrick. He took the first opportunity he could of quitting the room, and went out to take a solitary walk.
’There he is, departed, but not in peace, to reflect upon what has been said,’ whispered Lady Dashfort to her daughter. ’I hope it will do him a vast deal of good.’
‘None of the women Sans REPROCHE! None!—without one exception,’ said Lord Colambre to himself; ’and Grace Nugent’s mother a St. Omar!—Is it possible? Lady Dashfort seems certain. She could not assert a positive falsehood—no motive. She does not know that Miss Nugent is the person to whom I am attached she spoke at random. And I have heard it first from a stranger—not from my mother. Why was it kept secret from me? Now I understand the reason why my mother evidently never wished that I should think of Miss Nugent—why she always spoke so vehemently against the marriages of relations, of cousins. Why not tell me the truth? It would have had the strongest effect, had she known my mind.’
Lord Colambre had the greatest dread of marrying any woman whose mother had conducted herself ill. His reason, his prejudices, his pride, his delicacy, and even his limited experience, were all against it. All his hopes, his plans of future happiness, were shaken to their very foundation; he felt as if he had received a blow that stunned his mind, and from which he could not recover his faculties. The whole of that day he was like one in a dream. At night the painful idea continually recurred to him; and whenever he was falling asleep, the sound of Lady Dashfort’s voice returned upon his ear, saying the words, ’What could he expect when he married one of the St. Omars? None of the women Sans REPROCHE.’
In the morning he rose early; and the first thing he did was to write a letter to his mother, requesting (unless there was some important reason for her declining to answer the question) that she would immediately relieve his mind from a great uneasiness (he altered the word four times, but at last left it uneasiness). He stated what he had heard, and besought his mother to tell him the whole truth, without reserve.
One morning Lady Dashfort had formed an ingenious scheme for leaving Lady Isabel and Lord Colambre tete-A-tete; but the sudden entrance of Heathcock disconcerted her intentions. He came to beg Lady Dashfort’s interest with Count O’Halloran, for permission to hunt and shoot on his grounds.—’Not for myself, ’pon honour, but for two officers who are quartered at the next town here, who will indubitably hang or drown themselves if they are debarred from sporting.’