General Goodwin, followed by my father, came down and led me aside after I had warned Temple not to let my father elude him. The General was greatly ruffled. ‘Clara tells me she can rely on you,’ he said. ’I am at the end of my arguments with that man, short of sending him to the lock-up. You will pardon me, Mr. Harry; I foresaw the scrapes in store for you, and advised you.’
‘You did, General,’ I confessed. ’Will you tell me what it is Prince Ernest is in dread of?’
’A pitiable scandal, sir; and if he took my recommendation, he would find instant means of punishing the man who dares to threaten him. You know it.’
I explained that I was aware of the threat, not of the degree of the prince’s susceptibility; and asked him if he had seen the princess.
‘I have had the honour,’ he replied, stiffly. ’You gain nothing with her by this infamous proceeding.’
I swallowed my anger, and said, ‘Do you accuse me, General?’
‘I do not accuse you,’ he returned, unbendingly. ’You chose your path some ten or twelve years ago, and you must take the consequences. I foresaw it; but this I will say, I did not credit the man with his infernal cleverness. If I speak to you at all, I must speak my mind. I thought him a mere buffoon and spendthrift, flying his bar-sinister story for the sake of distinction. He has schemed up to this point successfully: he has the prince in his toils. I would cut through them, as I have informed Prince Ernest. I daresay different positions lead to different reasonings; the fellow appears to have a fascination over him. Your father, Mr. Harry, is guilty now—he is guilty, I reiterate, now of a piece of iniquity that makes me ashamed to own him for a countryman.’
The General shook himself erect. ‘Are you unable to keep him in?’ he asked.
My nerves were pricking and stinging with the insults I had to listen to, and conscience’s justification of them.
He repeated the question.
‘I will do what I can,’ I said, unsatisfactorily to myself and to him, for he transposed our situations, telling me the things he would say and do in my place; things not dissimilar to those I had already said and done, only more toweringly enunciated; and for that reason they struck me as all the more hopelessly ineffectual, and made me despair.
My dumbness excited his ire. ‘Come,’ said he; ’the lady is a spoilt child. She behaved foolishly; but from your point of view you should feel bound to protect her on that very account. Do your duty, young gentleman. He is, I believe, fond of you, and if so, you have him by a chain. I tell you frankly, I hold you responsible.’
His way of speaking of the princess opened an idea of the world’s, in the event of her name falling into its clutches.
I said again, ‘I will do what I can,’ and sang out for Temple.
He was alone. My father had slipped from him to leave a card at the squire’s hotel. General Goodwin touched Temple on the shoulder kindly, in marked contrast to his treatment of me, and wished us good-night. Nothing had been heard of my father by Janet, but while I was sitting with her, at a late hour, his card was brought up, and a pencilled entreaty for an interview the next morning.