He stood under the trees until Trefusis reappeared on his way home, making, Erskine thought, as much noise with his heels on the gravel as a regiment of delicately bred men would have done. He stopped for a moment to make inquiry at the lodge as he went out; then his footsteps died away in the distance.
Erskine, chilled, stiff, and with a sensation of a bad cold coming on, went into the house, and was relieved to find that Gertrude had retired, and that Lady Brandon, though she had been sure that he had ridden into the river in the dark, had nevertheless provided a warm supper for him.
Erskine soon found plenty of themes for his newly begotten cynicism. Gertrude’s manner towards him softened so much that he, believing her heart given to his rival, concluded that she was tempting him to make a proposal which she had no intention of accepting. Sir Charles, to whom he told what he had overheard in the avenue, professed sympathy, but was evidently pleased to learn that there was nothing serious in the attentions Trefusis paid to Agatha. Erskine wrote three bitter sonnets on hollow friendship and showed them to Sir Charles, who, failing to apply them to himself, praised them highly and showed them to Trefusis without asking the author’s permission. Trefusis remarked that in a corrupt society expressions of dissatisfaction were always creditable to a writer’s sensibility; but he did not say much in praise of the verse.
“Why has he taken to writing in this vein?” he said. “Has he been disappointed in any way of late? Has he proposed to Miss Lindsay and been rejected?”
“No,” said Sir Charles surprised by this blunt reference to a subject they had never before discussed. “He does not intend to propose to Miss Lindsay.”
“But he did intend to.”
“He certainly did, but he has given up the idea.”
“Why?” said Trefusis, apparently disapproving strongly of the renunciation.
Sir Charles shrugged his shoulders and did not reply.
“I am sorry to hear it. I wish you could induce him to change his mind. He is a nice fellow, with enough to live on comfortably, whilst he is yet what is called a poor man, so that she could feel perfectly disinterested in marrying him. It will do her good to marry without making a pecuniary profit by it; she will respect herself the more afterwards, and will neither want bread and butter nor be ashamed of her husband’s origin, in spite of having married for love alone. Make a match of it if you can. I take an interest in the girl; she has good instincts.”