This idea was strengthened by a short conversation with his father. He had paid a visit to Lastingham with the double object of attending the marriage of one of his sisters, and of trying to persuade the Earl to pay some inconvenient debts. But the moment he mentioned, with due caution, this second reason for his arrival, he found it a hopeless cause. He represented that his income was small, and his prospects of advancement extremely slender.
“Marry,” said the Earl.
“Thank you. I would rather not. I want to get rid of my incumbrances, not to increase them.”
“Marry,” repeated the Earl.
“But whom?” asked his son, staggered by this oracular response.
“She’s fifty, at least.”
“And has a hundred thousand pounds.”
“She would not have me.”
“You are growing modest.”
“Not in that respect. She has refused half-a-dozen offers every season for the last twenty years.”
“What would be the use of that?”
“Too many sons in the way.”
“Lady Adeliza Weymouth?”
Percy made a slight grimace.
“She is a year older than I am, and has a red nose; otherwise——”
“You had better think of it, at any rate,” said the Earl, “and try if she will have you. Depend upon it, a sensible marriage is the best thing for you.”
On which advice the son had dutifully acted. Fortune favoured him so far as to give him opportunities of cultivating the good graces of Lady Adeliza, and matters appeared to be going on prosperously. It seemed, however, that either the gentleman found wooing in earnest to be a more fatiguing business than he had anticipated, or he thought that a short absence might increase the chances in his favour, for on the slightest possible pretence of being sent out by Government he started off one day for Canada.
Now, when Lord Lastingham had spoken so wisely about a sensible marriage, he had been drawing lessons from his own experience. The late Countess had been a very charming woman, of good family, but, like her daughters, “sans dot;” and the infatuation which caused so imprudent a connection not having lasted beyond the first year of matrimony, the Earl had had plenty of time to repent and to calculate, over and over again, how different the fortunes of his house might have been, had he acted, himself, upon the principles he recommended to his son. It was with some displeasure that he heard Edward’s intention of giving up, for a while, his pursuit of a desirable bride, and this displeasure was not lessened by hearing that the truant intended prolonging his expedition, for the purpose of visiting his mother’s nephew, William Bellairs.