'Not at all. I like Ned too--or, as you say, love him--that's the word among such near relations. I'm very fond of Ned. He's an amazingly good fellow, and a handsome fellow--foolish and weak as yet; that's all. But the thing is, Haredale--for I'll be very frank, as I told you I would at first--independently of any dislike that you and I might have to being related to each other, and independently of the religious differences between us--and damn it, that's important--I couldn't afford a match of this description. Ned and I couldn't do it. It's impossible.'
'Curb your tongue, in God's name, if this conversation is to last,' retorted Mr Haredale fiercely. 'I have said I love my niece. Do you think that, loving her, I would have her fling her heart away on any man who had your blood in his veins?'
'You see,' said the other, not at all disturbed, 'the advantage of being so frank and open. Just what I was about to add, upon my honour! I am amazingly attached to Ned--quite doat upon him, indeed--and even if we could afford to throw ourselves away, that very objection would be quite insuperable.--I wish you'd take some wine?'
'Mark me,' said Mr Haredale, striding to the table, and laying his hand upon it heavily. 'If any man believes--presumes to think-- that I, in word or deed, or in the wildest dream, ever entertained remotely the idea of Emma Haredale's favouring the suit of any one who was akin to you--in any way--I care not what--he lies. He lies, and does me grievous wrong, in the mere thought.'
'Haredale,' returned the other, rocking himself to and fro as in assent, and nodding at the fire, 'it's extremely manly, and really very generous in you, to meet me in this unreserved and handsome way. Upon my word, those are exactly my sentiments, only expressed with much more force and power than I could use--you know my sluggish nature, and will forgive me, I am sure.'
'While I would restrain her from all correspondence with your son, and sever their intercourse here, though it should cause her death,' said Mr Haredale, who had been pacing to and fro, 'I would do it kindly and tenderly if I can. I have a trust to discharge, which my nature is not formed to understand, and, for this reason, the bare fact of there being any love between them comes upon me to-night, almost for the first time.'
'I am more delighted than I can possibly tell you,' rejoined Mr Chester with the utmost blandness, 'to find my own impression so confirmed. You see the advantage of our having met. We understand each other. We quite agree. We have a most complete and thorough explanation, and we know what course to take.--Why don't you taste your tenant's wine? It's really very good.'
'Pray who,' said Mr Haredale, 'have aided Emma, or your son? Who are their go-betweens, and agents--do you know?'
'All the good people hereabouts--the neighbourhood in general, I think,' returned the other, with his most affable smile. 'The messenger I sent to you to-day, foremost among them all.'
'The idiot? Barnaby?'
'You are surprised? I am glad of that, for I was rather so myself. Yes. I wrung that from his mother--a very decent sort of woman-- from whom, indeed, I chiefly learnt how serious the matter had become, and so determined to ride out here to-day, and hold a parley with you on this neutral ground.--You're stouter than you used to be, Haredale, but you look extremely well.'
'Our business, I presume, is nearly at an end,' said Mr Haredale, with an expression of impatience he was at no pains to conceal. 'Trust me, Mr Chester, my niece shall change from this time. I will appeal,' he added in a lower tone, 'to her woman's heart, her dignity, her pride, her duty--'
'I shall do the same by Ned,' said Mr Chester, restoring some errant faggots to their places in the grate with the toe of his boot. 'If there is anything real in this world, it is those amazingly fine feelings and those natural obligations which must subsist between father and son. I shall put it to him on every ground of moral and religious feeling.