By this time Percy had returned to London. His mother remained; but the terms understood between her niece and herself were those of icy politeness and reserve. I learned afterwards that something of an understanding had also been arrived at between Percy and Harry; ever since learning the particulars of which, I have liked the young rascal a great deal better. So I will trouble my reader to take an interest in my report of the affair.
Percy met Harry at the gate, after one of his professional visits, and accosted him thus:
"Mr. Armstrong, my mother says you have been rude to her."
"I am not in the least aware of it, Mr. Percy."
"Oh! I don't care much. She is provoking. Besides, she can take care of herself. That's not it."
"What is it, then?"
"What do you mean about Adela?"
"I have said nothing more than that she has had a sharp attack of intermittent fever, which is going off."
"Come, come--you know what I mean."
"I may suspect, but I don't choose to answer hints, the meaning of which I only suspect. I might make a fool of myself."
"Well, I'll be plain. Are you in love with her?"
"Suppose I were, you are not the first to whom I should think it necessary to confess."
"Well, are you paying your addresses to her?"
"I am sorry I cannot consent to make my answers as frank as your questions. You have the advantage of me in straightforwardness, I confess. Only you have got sun and wind of me both."
"Come, come--I hate dodging."
"I daresay you do. But just let me shift round a bit, and see what you will do then.--Are you in love with Miss Cathcart?"
"Upon my word, I shouldn't have thought it. Here have we been all positively conspiring to do her good, and you have been paying ten times the attention to the dogs and horses that you have paid to her."
"By Jove! it's quite true. But I couldn't somehow."
"Then she hasn't encouraged you?"
"By Jupiter! you are frank enough now.--No, damn it--not a bit.--But she used to like me, and she would again, if you would let her alone."
"Now, Mr. Percy, I'll tell you what.--I don't believe you are a bit in love with her."
"She's devilish pretty."
"And I declare I think she got prettier and prettier every day till this cursed ague took her.--Your fault too, my mother says."
"We'll leave your mother out of the question now, if you please. Do you know what made her look prettier and prettier--for you are quite right about that?"
"No. I suppose you were giving her arsenic."
"No. I was giving her the true elixir vitae, unknown even to the Rosicrucians."
"I will explain myself. Her friend, Mr. Smith--"
"Old bachelor--yes.--Mr. Smith and I agreed that she was dying of ennui; and so we got up this story-club, and got my brother and the rest to bear a hand in it. It did her all the good the most sanguine of us could have hoped for."
"I thought it horrid slow."
"I am surprised at that, for you were generally asleep."
"I was forced, in self-defence. I couldn't smoke."
"It gave her something to think about."
"So it seems."
"Now, Mr. Percy, how could you think you had the smallest chance with her, when here was the first one and then another turning each the flash of his own mental prism upon her weary eyes, and healing them with light; while you would not take the smallest trouble to gratify her, or even to show yourself to anything like advantage?--My dear fellow, what a fool you are!"
"Come, come--you began with frankness, and I've only gone on with it. You are a good-hearted fellow, and ought to be made something of."
"At all events, you make something of yourself, to talk of your own productions as the elixir vitae."
"You forget that I am in disgrace as well as yourself on that score; for I have not read a word of my own since the club began."
"Then how the devil should I be worse off than you?"
"I didn't say you were. I only said you did your best to place yourself at a disadvantage. I at least took a part in the affair, although a very humble one. But depend upon it, a girl like Miss Cathcart thinks more of mental gifts, than of any outward advantages which a man may possess; and in the company of those who think, a fellow's good looks don't go for much. She could not help measuring you by those other men--and women too. But you may console yourself with the reflection that there are plenty of girls, and pretty ones too, of a very different way of judging; and for my part you are welcome to the pick of them."
"You mean to say that I sha'n't have Addie?"
"Not in the least. But, come now--do you think yourself worthy of a girl like that?"
"No. Do you?"
"No. But I should not feel such a hypocrite if she thought me worthy, as to give her up on that ground."
"Then what do you mean?"
"To win her, if I can."
"But if you are a gentleman, you will let me say so myself, and not betray my secret."
"Damned if I do! Good luck to you! There's my hand. I believe you're a good fellow after all. I wish I had seen you ride to hounds. They tell me it's a sight."
"Thank you heartily. But what are you going to do?"
"Go back to the sweet-flowing Thames, and the dreams of the desk."
"Well--be a man as well as a gentleman. Don't be a fool."
"Hang it all! I believe it was her money, after all, I was in love with. Good-bye!"
But the poor fellow looked grave enough as he went away. And I trust that, before long, he, too, began to reap some of the good corn that grows on the wintry fields of disappointment.--I have my eye upon him; but it is little an old fogie like me can do with a fellow like Percy.