So Lady Dighton made her first acquaintance with Lucia, not, as Maurice had dreamed of her doing, in bodily presence, but through the golden mist of a lover’s description; in the midst of which she tried to see a common-place rustic beauty, but could not quite succeed; and half against her will began to yield to the illusion (if illusion it was) which presented to her a queenly yet maidenly vision, a brilliant flower which might be worth transplanting from the woods even to the stately shelter of Hunsdon. It was clear enough that this girl, whatever she might be, had too firm a hold upon Maurice’s heart to be easily displaced; and his cousin, not being altogether past the age of romance herself, gave up at once all her vague schemes of match-making in his service, and applied herself to the serious consideration how to obtain from her grandfather the desired leave of absence.
She did not, of course, understand all the story. The impression she derived from what Maurice told her was that Mrs. Costello, after having encouraged the intimacy and affection between her daughter and him up to the time of his great change of position and prospects, had now thought it more honourable to break off their intercourse, and carry her child away, lest he should feel bound to what was now an unequal connection. This idea of Lady Dighton’s arose simply from a misconception of Maurice’s evident reserve in certain parts of his confidence. He thought only of concealing all Mrs. Costello would wish concealed; and she dreamt of no other reason for the change of which he told her, than the very proper and reasonable one of the recent disparity of fortune.
Maurice was so delighted at finding a ready ally that the moment his cousin signified her willingness to help him, he began to fancy his difficulties were half removed, and had to be warned that only the first and least important step had been taken.
“In the next place,” Lady Dighton said, “we must consult Dr. Edwards.”
“What for,” asked Maurice in some perplexity.
“To know whether it would be safe to propose to my grandfather the loss of his heir.”
“But for six weeks? It is really nothing.”
“Nothing to you or me perhaps, but I am afraid it is a good deal to him, poor old man.”
“Louisa, I assure you, I would not ask him to spare me for a day if it were not a thing that must be done now, and that I should all my life regret leaving undone.”
She looked at him with an amused smile. People in love do so overrate trifles; but she was really of opinion that he should go if possible.
“Yes,” she said, “I understand that. And I do not myself see any particular cause for delaying since it must be done. But still I think it would be well to ask the Doctor’s opinion first.”
“That is easy at any rate. He will be here to-morrow morning.”
“And when do you wish to start?”