‘Oh! that is what made him so distant and cautious, is it?’ laughed Albinia. ‘I think Mrs. Emily might as well not have betrayed it.’
‘Betrayed! What could have passed?’
’Oh! Emily and Fred saw it as plain as I did. Why, it does not do credit to your discernment, Maurice; papa found it out long ago, and told me.’
’Yes, that he did, and did not mind the notion at all; rather liked it, in fact.’
‘Well!’ said Mr. Ferrars, in a different tone, ’it is a very queer business! I certainly did not think the lad showed any symptoms. He said he had heard gossip about it before, and had tried to be careful; his aunt talked to him once, but, as he said, it would be nothing but the rankest treason to think of such a thing, on the terms on which he is treated.’
‘Ay, that’s it!’ said Albinia; ‘he acts most perfectly.’
‘Perfectly indeed, if that were acting,’ said Mr. Ferrars.
‘And what made him speak to you?’ asked Winifred.
’He wanted to consult me. He said it was very hard on him, for all the pleasure he had came from his intercourse with Willow Lawn; and he could not bear to keep at a distance, because it looked as if he bad not forgotten the old folly about the caricature; but he was afraid of the report coming to your ears or Mr. Kendal’s, because you would think it so wrong and shameful an abuse of your kindness.’
‘And that’s his whole concern?’
‘So he told me.’
‘And what advice did you give him?’
’I told him Bayford was bent on gossip, and no one heeded it less than my respected brother and sister.’
’That was famous of you, Maurice. I was afraid you would have put it upon his honour and the state of his own heart.’
‘Sooth to say, I did not think his heart appeared very ticklish.’
’Oh! Maurice, Maurice! But you’ve not been there to see the hot fits and the cold fits! It is a very fine thermometer whether he says Sophy or Miss Kendal.’
‘And you say Edmund perceived this?’
’Much you would trust my unassisted ’cuteness! I tell you he did, and that it will make him happier than anything.’
’Very well; then my advice will have done no harm. I did not think there had been so much self-control in an Irishman.’
‘Had he not better say, so much blindness in the rector of Fairmead?’ laughed Albinia.
‘And pray what course is the affair to take?’
’The present, I suppose. Some catastrophe will occur at last to prove to him that we honour him, and don’t view it as outrageous presumption; and then—oh! there can be no doubt that he will have a share in the bank; and Sophy may buy toleration for his round O. After all, he has the best of it as to ancestry, and we Kendals need not turn up our noses at banking.’
’I think he will be too proud to address her, except on equality as to money matters.’