Then came a statement of the young lady’s case from Bath.
‘Look at that! look at that!’ cried the squire, and went on, ’Look at that!’ in a muffled way. There was a touch of dignity in his unforced anger.
My aunt winced displeasingly to my sight: ’I see nothing to astonish one.’
‘Nothing to astonish one !’ The squire set his mouth in imitation of her.
’You see nothing to astonish one? Well, ma’am, when a man grows old enough to be a grandfather, I do see something astonishing in a child of nineteen—by George! it’s out o’ nature. But you women like monstrosities. Oh! I understand. Here’s an heiress to fifteen thousand a year. It’s not astonishing if every ruined gambler and scapegrace in the kingdom’s hunting her hot! no, no! that’s not astonishing. I suppose she has her money in a coal mine.’
The squire had some of his in a coal-mine; my mother once had; it was the delivery of a blow at my father, signifying that he had the scent for this description of wealth. I left the room. The squire then affected that my presence had constrained him, by bellowing out epithets easy for me to hear in the hall and out on the terrace. He vowed by solemn oath he was determined to save this girl from ruin. My aunt’s speech was brief.
I was summoned to Bath by my father in a curious peremptory tone implying the utmost urgent need of me.
I handed the letter to the squire at breakfast, saying, ’You must spare me for a week or so, sir.’
He spread the letter flat with his knife, and turned it over with his fork.
‘Harry,’ said he, half-kindly, and choking, ‘you’re better out of it.’
‘I’m the best friend he could have by him, sir.’
‘You’re the best tool he could have handy, for you’re a gentleman.’
‘I hope I shan’t offend you, grandfather, but I must go.’
’Don’t you see, Harry Richmond, you’re in for an infernal marriage ceremony there!’
‘The young lady is not of age,’ interposed my aunt.
’Eh? An infernal elopement, then. It’s clear the girl’s mad-head’s cracked as a cocoa-nut bowled by a monkey, brains nowhere. Harry, you’re not a greenhorn; you don’t suspect you’re called down there to stop it, do you? You jump plump into a furious lot of the girl’s relatives; you might as well take a header into a leech-pond. Come! you’re a man; think for yourself. Don’t have this affair on your conscience, boy. I tell you, Harry Richmond, I’m against your going. You go against my will; you offend me, sir; you drag my name and blood into the mire. She’s Welsh, is she? Those Welsh are addle-pated, every one. Poor girl!’
He threw a horrible tremour into his accent of pity.
My aunt expressed her view mildly, that I was sent for to help cure the young lady of her delusion.
‘And take her himself!’ cried the squire. ’Harry, you wouldn’t go and do that? Why, the law, man, the law—the whole country ’d be up about it. You’ll be stuck in a coloured caricature!’