‘That will suit grandada,’ Janet said. ’He commissioned me before going to bed to write the same for him.’
She related that the prince was in a state of undisguised distraction. From what I could comprehend—it appeared incredible—he regarded his daughter’s marriage as the solution of the difficulty, the sole way out of the meshes.
‘Is not that her wish?’ said Temple; perhaps with a wish of his own.
‘Oh, if you think a lady like the Princess Ottilia is led by her wishes,’ said Janet. Her radiant perception of an ideal in her sex (the first she ever had) made her utterly contemptuous toward the less enlightened.
We appointed the next morning at half-past eleven for my father’s visit.
‘Not a minute later,’ Janet said in my ear, urgently. ’Don’t—don’t let him move out of your sight, Harry! The princess is convinced you are not to blame.’
I asked her whether she had any knowledge of the squire’s designs.
‘I have not, on my honour,’ she answered. ’But I hope . . . It is so miserable to think of this disgraceful thing! She is too firm to give way. She does not blame you. I am sure I do not; only, Harry, one always feels that if one were in another’s place, in a case like this, I could and would command him. I would have him obey me. One is not born to accept disgrace even from a father. I should say, “You shall not stir, if you mean to act dishonourably.” One is justified, I am sure, in breaking a tie of relationship that involves you in dishonour. Grandada has not spoken a word to me on the subject. I catch at straws. This thing burns me! Oh, good-night, Harry. I can’t sleep.’
‘Good-night,’ she called softly to Temple on the stairs below. I heard the poor fellow murmuring good-night to himself in the street, and thought him happier than I. He slept at a room close to the hotel.
A note from Clara Goodwin adjured me, by her memory of the sweet, brave, gracious fellow she loved in other days, to be worthy of what I had been. The General had unnerved her reliance on me.
I sat up for my father until long past midnight. When he came his appearance reminded me of the time of his altercation with Baroness Turckems under the light of the blazing curtains: he had supped and drunk deeply, and he very soon proclaimed that I should find him invincible, which, as far as insensibility to the strongest appeals to him went, he was.
’Deny you love her, deny she loves you, deny you are one—I knot you fast!’
He had again seen Prince Ernest; so he said, declaring that the Prince positively desired the marriage; would have it. ‘And I,’ he dramatized their relative situations, ‘consented.’
After my experience of that night, I forgive men who are unmoved by displays of humour. Commonly we think it should be irresistible. His description of the thin-skinned sensitive prince striving to run and dodge for shelter from him, like a fever-patient pursued by a North-easter, accompanied by dozens of quaint similes full of his mental laughter, made my loathing all the more acute. But I had not been an equal match for him previous to his taking wine; it was waste of breath and heart to contend with him. I folded my arms tight, sitting rigidly silent, and he dropped on the sofa luxuriously.