‘I know he is not immoral.’
‘There you shoot again! Haven’t you a yes or a no for your father?’
Cecilia cast her arms round his neck, and sobbed.
She could not bring it to her lips to say (she would have shunned the hearing) that her defence of Beauchamp, which was a shadowed avowal of the state of her heart, was based on his desire to read to her the conclusion of Dr. Shrapnel’s letter touching a passion to be overcome; necessarily therefore a passion that was vanquished, and the fullest and bravest explanation of his shifting treatment of her: nor would she condescend to urge that her lover would have said he loved her when they were at Steynham, but for the misery and despair of a soul too noble to be diverted from his grief and sense of duty, and, as she believed, unwilling to speak to win her while his material fortune was in jeopardy.
The colonel cherished her on his breast, with one hand regularly patting her shoulder: a form of consolation that cures the disposition to sob as quickly as would the drip of water.
Cecilia looked up into his eyes, and said, ’We will not be parted, papa, ever.’
The colonel said absently: ‘No’; and, surprised at himself, added: ’No, certainly not. How can we be parted? You won’t run away from me? No, you know too well I can’t resist you. I appeal to your judgement, and I must accept what you decide. But he is immoral. I repeat that. He has no roots. We shall discover it before it’s too late, I hope.’
Cecilia gazed away, breathing through tremulous dilating nostrils.
‘One night after dinner at Steynham,’ pursued the colonel, ’Nevil was rattling against the Press, with Stukely Culbrett to prime him: and he said editors of papers were growing to be like priests, and as timid as priests, and arrogant: and for one thing, it was because they supposed themselves to be guardians of the national morality. I forget exactly what the matter was: but he sneered at priests and morality.’
A smile wove round Cecilia’s lips, and in her towering superiority to one who talked nonsense, she slipped out of maiden shame and said: ’Attack Nevil for his political heresies and his wrath with the Press for not printing him. The rest concerns his honour, where he is quite safe, and all are who trust him.’
‘If you find out you’re wrong?’
She shook her head.
‘But if you find out you’re wrong about him,’ her father reiterated piteously, ‘you won’t tear me to strips to have him in spite of it?’
‘No, papa, not I. I will not.’
‘Well, that’s something for me to hold fast to,’ said Colonel Halkett, sighing.