LADY BEVAN and Sophia had another visitor that afternoon. It wanted but a little of dinner-time when Lord Littmass drove up to their door and inquired for them. Entering the drawing-room with a brisk, cheerful air, he made an excuse for his backwardness in welcoming them to town, expressed his satisfaction at being able to snatch a few minutes from his engagements to see them, and said that he hoped to be quite at their service on the following day, when he expected to be relieved from the press of business that had of late engrossed him.
‘My ward, too,’ be continued, will then be quite prepared to extend her allegiance and affection to –– to –– may I say her aunt and cousin?’ said he, looking inquiringly towards Sophia.
‘You may indeed,’ exclaimed that young lady, with a rapidity and decision that astonished and somewhat alarmed him. However, he went on, –
‘Only you will excuse her being a little distraite and preoccupied at the commencement of her new intercourse. For the fact is,’ he said, sinking his voice, ‘she is a good deal worried at being obliged to exercise her decision, for the first time in her life, and to break with her old friend and playmate. I feared at one time that I should have had to warn him off the course, as it were; for there are many reasons why such a marriage is inadmissible. But I am rejoiced to find that, although she has a natural regard for him as an old and almost only friend at all near her own age, the prospect of any closer connection with him is entirely repugnant to her. He, on his part, is unable to accept such decision, except direct from herself; and he is therefore coming this evening to receive his dismissal at her own lips. I am, of course, much grieved for his disappointment, but think that he has behaved very foolishly in contemplating marriage at all. He is a mere student, a working man by nature, and one whose natural vocations are science and celibacy. It is just one of those cases in which “a young man married is a man that’s marred.” He has fine abilities, and all his own fortune to make.’
And so Lord Littmass ran on, as if fearing to let another speak, and believing that Sophia was in ignorance of the secret of James Maynard’s parentage. Had he been aware that it was no secret to her, he would as soon have entered a lion’s den as encounter the vivacious indignation which he was too conscious she would not only feel, but express, at the part he was playing.
Neither of the ladies taking advantage of the brief pause in his speech to offer a remark, Lord Littmass resumed, –
‘Now, poor James is not altogether a stranger to either of you, and I understand that you both have expressed some interest for him. Learning that young Mr. Noel is a friend to him, I had some thoughts of getting him to use his influence to induce him to withdraw himself from inevitable mortification. But Mr. Noel is at present abroad. Do you think that you could, between you, do something towards withdrawing him from his present pursuit, and influencing him into settling down to his real vocation? He goes but little into society; and, indeed, has but few acquaintances in London. Now, it occurs to me that if you can get him to come and visit you, the conversation of my lively young friend here will cause a diversion in his mind that it will be a real charity to bring about. To suggest something of this sort with respect to him is one of the objects I have at heart
just now. Another idea that has occurred to me relates to our esteemed young friend, Mr. Edmund Noel. I can scarcely expect ladies to join me willingly in match-breaking, but in match-making they are rarely backward. Now, having observed both parties closely, I have attained a conviction that he and Margaret Waring are singularly suited to each other. You, my dear Miss Sophia, will have an opportunity of forming a judgment on this point after she returns with you to Devonshire; and if your verdict agrees with mine, I shall be sincerely grateful for any aid that you may give me in bringing about an intimacy between them.’
‘I really cannot stay any longer now, Lord Littmass. Mamma will entertain you,’ said Sophia, getting up abruptly from her seat, and running out of the room. She said afterwards that she was in such a rage with him, that she felt she could not listen any longer without swearing at him. Lady Bevan remarked, by way of apology, that Sophia had to dress for dinner, and added, –
‘I have been anxious to see you, cousin, both because I have begun to feel that I ought sooner to have taken some notice of my poor sister’s child, and because I feared that you were in some trouble or embarrassment. I hope you will always remember that you have a warm friend, as well as relative, in me; and that I have some little in my power in case of need. Now, tell me about the child. From what you said just now, I gather that she has much improved of late upon her former condition. Do you think that she will readily take to her late-found relations?’
‘I will answer for it. Any difficulties there may be will not be on that score. To-morrow morning I will send her, and you shall judge for yourselves. But really at present I must tear myself away. When I get the pressing business of the moment over, you shall know all I have to tell you. I venture to think it may be more, and more welcome, than you anticipate.’
And Lord Littmass left the house, murmuring to himself, –
‘The first interview over; but how about the next? The danger is only postponed, not escaped. Harriet’s words seemed to refer to money. Can she have heard or suspected anything? And what did Sophia’s abrupt exit mean? Is she in love with young Noel? If so, I have indeed made a mess of it.’
And he returned home, to eat a hasty dinner and await James Maynard.