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'Then it is true what they say,' said Sol, bringing down his fist upon the table. 'I know your meaning well enough. What's to be done? If I could only see her this minute, she might be kept out of it.'
'You think your presence would influence your sister--if you could see her before the wedding?'
'I think it would. But who's to get at her?'
'I am going, so you had better come on with me--unless it would be best for your father to come.'
'Perhaps it might,' said the bewildered Sol. 'But he will not be able to get away; and it's no use for Dan to go. If anybody goes I must! If she has made up her mind nothing can be done by writing to her.'
'I leave at once to see Lord Mountclere,' the other continued. 'I feel that as my brother is evidently ignorant of the position of Mrs. Petherwin's family and connections, it is only fair in me, as his nearest relative, to make them clear to him before it is too late.'
'You mean that if he knew her friends were working-people he would not think of her as a wife? 'Tis a reasonable thought. But make your mind easy: she has told him. I make a great mistake if she has for a moment thought of concealing that from him.'
'She may not have deliberately done so. But--and I say this with no ill-feeling--it is a matter known to few, and she may have taken no steps to undeceive him. I hope to bring him to see the matter clearly. Unfortunately the thing has been so secret and hurried that there is barely time. I knew nothing until this morning--never dreamt of such a preposterous occurrence.'
'Preposterous! If it should come to pass, she would play her part as his lady as well as any other woman, and better. I wish there was no more reason for fear on my side than there is on yours! Things have come to a sore head when she is not considered lady enough for such as he. But perhaps your meaning is, that if your brother were to have a son, you would lose your heir-presumptive title to the cor'net of Mountclere? Well, 'twould be rather hard for ye, now I come to think o't--upon my life, 'twould.'
'The suggestion is as delicate as the ---- atmosphere of this vile room. But let your ignorance be your excuse, my man. It is hardly worth while for us to quarrel when we both have the same object in view: do you think so?'
'That's true--that's true. When do you start, sir?'
'We must leave almost at once,' said Mountclere, looking at his watch. 'If we cannot catch the two o'clock train, there is no getting there to-night--and to-morrow we could not possibly arrive before one.'
'I wish there was time for me to go and tidy myself a bit,' said Sol, anxiously looking down at his working clothes. 'I suppose you would not like me to go with you like this?'
'Confound the clothes! If you cannot start in five minutes, we shall not be able to go at all.'
'Very well, then--wait while I run across to the shop, then I am ready. How do we get to the station?'
'My carriage is at the corner waiting. When you come out I will meet you at the gates.'
Sol then hurried downstairs, and a minute or two later Mr. Mountclere followed, looking like a man bent on policy at any price. The carriage was brought round by the time that Sol reappeared from the yard. He entered and sat down beside Mountclere, not without a sense that he was spoiling good upholstery; the coachman then allowed the lash of his whip to alight with the force of a small fly upon the horses, which set them up in an angry trot. Sol rolled on beside his new acquaintance with the shamefaced look of a man going to prison in a van, for pedestrians occasionally gazed at him, full of what seemed to himself to be ironical surprise.
'I am afraid I ought to have changed my clothes after all,' he said, writhing under a perception of the contrast between them. 'Not knowing anything about this, I ain't a bit prepared. If I had got even my second-best hat, it wouldn't be so bad.'
'It makes no difference,' said Mountclere inanimately.
'Or I might have brought my portmantle, with some things.'
'It really is not important.'
On reaching the station they found there were yet a few minutes to spare, which Sol made use of in writing a note to his father, to explain what had occurred.
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The Hand of Ethelberta -- by Thomas Hardy