Theobald’s engagement was all very well as far as it went, but there was an old gentleman with a bald head and rosy cheeks in a counting-house in Paternoster Row who must sooner or later be told of what his son had in view, and Theobald’s heart fluttered when he asked himself what view this old gentleman was likely to take of the situation. The murder, however, had to come out, and Theobald and his intended, perhaps imprudently, resolved on making a clean breast of it at once. He wrote what he and Christina, who helped him to draft the letter, thought to be everything that was filial, and expressed himself as anxious to be married with the least possible delay. He could not help saying this, as Christina was at his shoulder, and he knew it was safe, for his father might be trusted not to help him. He wound up by asking his father to use any influence that might be at his command to help him to get a living, inasmuch as it might be years before a college living fell vacant, and he saw no other chance of being able to marry, for neither he nor his intended had any money except Theobald’s fellowship, which would, of course, lapse on his taking a wife.
Any step of Theobald’s was sure to be objectionable in his father’s eyes, but that at three-and-twenty he should want to marry a penniless girl who was four years older than himself, afforded a golden opportunity which the old gentleman—for so I may now call him, as he was at least sixty—embraced with characteristic eagerness.
“The ineffable folly,” he wrote, on receiving his son’s letter, “of your fancied passion for Miss Allaby fills me with the gravest apprehensions. Making every allowance for a lover’s blindness, I still have no doubt that the lady herself is a well-conducted and amiable young person, who would not disgrace our family, but were she ten times more desirable as a daughter-in-law than I can allow myself to hope, your joint poverty is an insuperable objection to your marriage. I have four other children besides yourself, and my expenses do not permit me to save money. This year they have been especially heavy, indeed I have had to purchase two not inconsiderable pieces of land which happened to come into the market and were necessary to complete a property which I have long wanted to round off in this way. I gave you an education regardless of expense, which has put you in possession of a comfortable income, at an age when many young men are dependent. I have thus started you fairly in life, and may claim that you should cease to be a drag upon me further. Long engagements are proverbially unsatisfactory, and in the present case the prospect seems interminable. What interest, pray, do you suppose I have that I could get a living for you? Can I go up and down the country begging people to provide for my son because he has taken it into his head to want to get married without sufficient means?