‘I TELL you what,’ said Sophia, suddenly breaking from the silence in which they had been driving during the first few minutes after they left the cottage: we will have my proposed consultation with mamma all the same as if Mr. Maynard was with us; and she shall write to Lord Littmass, and I will add a postscript; and you shall take it with you to-morrow. And so we shall all be helping, like the fairies, to marry the prince and princess.’
And a pretty piece of what schoolboys would call œs triplex, on my part, at least, he will think it. No, no; much as I may sympathise with the actors or sufferers, you must do it without me if you are going to enact the part of a providence to these good folks.’
‘That is so like you horrid men. You never will put yourselves to the least trouble to do any good to anybody but your own selves. Now my motto is, to secure what happiness I can for everybody in this world. I suppose you think that if it is to be it will be, either in this world or in another?’
‘I suppose,’ rejoined Noel, ‘that it is to fill up the vacuum of single life that women so love to bestow their solicitudes upon others.’
‘Well, you needn’t twit me with my single-hood. It may be my misfortune, but it certainly is not my fault. But you hate people to be doing anything.’
‘I hate only hurry and bustle and unwarranted interference. Nature works by imperceptible attraction. Her catastrophes are but incidental. Her grace is supreme – devoid of visible effort. And I am inclined to think that woman works most effectually when she most nearly imitates nature in this respect.’
‘And you would have little partial me attempt to rival the grand style of omnipotent Nature!’
‘Surely; if we wish to be considered homogeneous with the rest of that of which we are a part.’
‘I have not forgotten your rudeness in calling me “three fine days and a thunderstorm.” Artic circle, region of frost, fog, and iceberg, I dub you: where nature works, if it work at all, in silence, and coldness, and everlasting death. My temperate, or, if you will, torrid zone, before your frozen one!’ And she lashed her ponies impetuously onwards.
‘And now that the thunderstorm has cleared the air, pray tell me whether your anxiety is really to promote your end; or merely to do something, that may or may not promote it?’
‘No, sir: much as I love doing, you ought to know by this time that I don’t go on your plan, and do mischief rather than do nothing.’
‘My plan! Thunderstorm coming on again.’
‘Yes, it is your plan – in spite of all I said about your hating work, which is quite true – to tease me by bringing your northern currents to chill my warm intentions and energies.’
‘How dearly women love personalities! Two men would have discussed the affairs of your protégés, if they discussed them at all, without a word about their own characters, or personal relations, or anything whatever but what might throw light upon the matter. I suppose, however, that if women were scientifically educated, we should not love them so well.’
‘I don’t believe it would make a bit of difference. We love men just as well, whether they are scientifically educated or not. More fools we, for it is little they deserve it,’ said Sophia, hastily dashing away the tears which, in spite of herself, persisted in dimming her bright eyes.
Without appearing to notice her emotion, Noel continued: ‘If you suppose that the interference of another man will have a beneficial effect upon Lord Littmass, I think you very much mistake both his character and that of men in general. He may take from you and Lady Bevan a good deal that he would not for a moment stand from a man; especially from one almost young enough to be his grandson. The complication becomes, after your discovery of to-day, more of a family one than ever; and the fewer the people who mix themselves up in it, the better for all parties.’
‘Well, at any rate, if I find that I really need your help, you will give it to me?’
‘You have not now to learn that, I hope,’ said Noel in a softer tone.