“I am sure, sir, you are very kind; I hardly know how to thank you,” faltered poor Herbert. Never in the whole course of his life had he felt so overcome with shame and confusion! Here was this man come to do him a really great and substantial benefit, whilst his own daughter was hidden away in a shameful fashion in the next room! Herbert would sooner that Mr. Miller had pointed a pistol at his head and threatened to shoot him. The deception that he was practising towards this kind-hearted and excellent gentleman struck him to the heart with a sense of guilty remorse.
But what on earth was he to do? He could not reveal the truth to the unconscious father, nor open the door and disclose Beatrice hiding in his bedroom, without absolutely risking the reputation of the girl he loved. There was nothing for it but to go on with the serio-comedy as best he could, and to try and get Mr. Miller off the premises as speedily as possible.
He made an effort to decline the proffered employment.
“It is most kind, most generous of you to have thought of me, but I must tell you that there are many better men, even amongst the juniors, who would do your case more justice than I should.”
“Oh! I believe you have plenty of talent, Mr. Pryme. I’ve been making inquiries about you. You only want an opportunity, and I like giving a young fellow a chance. One must hold out a helping hand to the young ones now and then.”
“Of course, sir, I would do my very best for you, but I really think you are risking your own case by giving it to me.”
“Nonsense—take it and do what you can for me; if you fail, I shall not blame you;” and here suddenly Mr. Miller’s eyes rested upon the sunshade and the gloves upon the table half-a-yard behind his arm. Now, had it been Miss Miller’s mother who, in the place of her father, had been seated in Herbert’s wooden arm-chair, the secret of her proximity would have been revealed the very instant the maternal eyes had been set upon that sunshade and those gloves. Mrs. Miller could have sworn to that little white lace, ivory-handled toy, with its coquettish pink ribbon bows, had she seen it amongst a hundred others, nor would it have been easy to have deceived the mother’s eyes in the matter of the gray peau de suede gloves and the dainty little veil, such as her daughter was in the habit of wearing. But a father’s perceptions in these matters are not accurate. Mr. Miller had not the remotest idea what his child’s sunshade was like, nor, indeed, whether she had any sunshade at all. Nevertheless, as his eyes alighted upon these indications of a feminine presence which lay upon the young barrister’s table, they remained fixed there with distinct disapproval. These obnoxious articles of female attire of course conveyed clearly to the elder man’s perceptions, in a broad and general sense, the fatal word “woman,” and woman in this case meant “vice.”