I folded up the letter carefully: it was almost as precious as a letter from Margaret herself. That night I passed sleeplessly, revolving in my mind every possible course that I could take at the interview of the morrow. It would be a difficult and a delicate business. I knew nothing of Mr. Sherwin’s character; yet I must trust him with a secret which I dared not trust to my own father. Any proposals for paying addresses to his daughter, coming from one in my position, might appear open to suspicion. What could I say about marriage? A public, acknowledged marriage was impossible: a private marriage might be a bold, if not fatal proposal. I could come to no other conclusion, reflect as anxiously as I might, than that it was best for me to speak candidly at all hazards. I could be candid enough when it suited my purpose!
It was not till the next day, when the time approached for my interview with Mr. Sherwin, that I thoroughly roused myself to face the plain necessities of my position. Determined to try what impression appearances could make on him, I took unusual pains with my dress; and more, I applied to a friend whom I could rely on as likely to ask no questions—I write this in shame and sorrow: I tell truth here, where it is hard penance to tell it—I applied, I say, to a friend for the loan of one of his carriages to take me to North Villa; fearing the risk of borrowing my father’s carriage, or my sister’s—knowing the common weakness of rank-worship and wealth-worship in men of Mr. Sherwin’s order, and meanly determining to profit by it to the utmost. My friend’s carriage was willingly lent me. By my directions, it took me up at the appointed hour, at a shop where I was a regular customer.
On my arrival at North Villa, I was shown into what I presumed was the drawing-room.
Everything was oppressively new. The brilliantly-varnished door cracked with a report like a pistol when it was opened; the paper on the walls, with its gaudy pattern of birds, trellis-work, and flowers, in gold, red, and green on a white ground, looked hardly dry yet; the showy window-curtains of white and sky-blue, and the still showier carpet of red and yellow, seemed as if they had come out of the shop yesterday; the round rosewood table was in a painfully high state of polish; the morocco-bound picture books that lay on it, looked as if they had never been moved or opened since they had been bought; not one leaf even of the music on the piano was dogs-eared or worn. Never was a richly furnished room more thoroughly comfortless than this—the eye ached at looking round it. There was no repose anywhere. The print of the Queen, hanging lonely on the wall, in its heavy gilt frame, with a large crown at the top, glared on you: the paper, the curtains, the carpet glared on you: the books, the wax-flowers in glass-cases, the chairs in flaring chintz-covers, the china plates