Mr. Dale was confounded; the weakly sapling caught in a gust falls back as he did.
“Advocate?” he said. He had little breath.
“His impassioned advocate, I repeat; for I have the highest opinion of him. You see, sir, I am acquainted with the circumstances. I believe,” Dr. Middleton half turned to the ladies, “we must, until your potent inducements, Mr. Dale, have been joined to my instances, and we overcome what feminine scruples there may be, treat the circumstances as not generally public. Our Strephon may be chargeable with shyness. But if for the present it is incumbent on us, in proper consideration for the parties, not to be nominally precise, it is hardly requisite in this household that we should be. He is now for protesting indifference to the state. I fancy we understand that phase of amatory frigidity. Frankly, Mr. Dale, I was once in my life myself refused by a lady, and I was not indignant, merely indifferent to the marriage-tie.”
“My daughter has refused him, sir?”
“Temporarily it would appear that she has declined the proposal.”
“He was at liberty? . . . he could honourably? . . .”
“His best friend and nearest relative is your guarantee.”
“I know it; I hear so; I am informed of that: I have heard of the proposal, and that he could honourably make it. Still, I am helpless, I cannot move, until I am assured that my daughter’s reasons are such as a father need not underline.”
“Does the lady, perchance, equivocate?”
“I have not seen her this morning; I rise late. I hear an astounding account of the cause for her departure from Patterne, and I find her door locked to me—no answer.”
“It is that she had no reasons to give, and she feared the demand for them.”
“Ladies!” dolorously exclaimed Mr. Dale.
“We guess the secret, we guess it!” they exclaimed in reply; and they looked smilingly, as Dr. Middleton looked.
“She had no reasons to give?” Mr. Dale spelled these words to his understanding. “Then, sir, she knew you not adverse?”
“Undoubtedly, by my high esteem for the gentleman, she must have known me not adverse. But she would not consider me a principal. She could hardly have conceived me an obstacle. I am simply the gentleman’s friend. A zealous friend, let me add.”
Mr. Dale put out an imploring hand; it was too much for him.
“Pardon me; I have a poor head. And your daughter the same, sir?”
“We will not measure it too closely, but I may say, my daughter the same, sir. And likewise—may I not add—these ladies.”
Mr. Dale made sign that he was overfilled. “Where am I! And Laetitia refused him?”
“Temporarily, let us assume. Will it not partly depend on you, Mr. Dale?”