+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

and an unfavourable point of view. He took
counsel of his inborn cowardice, and his inborn
cunning; and proposed a solution of the
difficulty, discovered by himself.

"Why should we tell Lecount at all?" he
asked. "What right has Lecount to know?
Can't we be married, without letting her into the
secret? And can't somebody tell her afterwards,
when we are both out of her reach?"

Captain Wragge received this proposal with
an expression of surprise, which did infinite
credit to his power of control over his own
countenance. His foremost object, throughout
the interview, had been to conduct it to this
pointor, in other words, to make the first idea
of keeping the marriage a secret from Mrs.
Lecount, emanate from Noel Vanstone instead of
from himself. No one knew better than the
captain that the only responsibilities which a
weak man ever accepts, are responsibilities which
can be perpetually pointed out to him as resting
exclusively on his own shoulders.

"I am accustomed to set my face against
clandestine proceedings of all kinds," said Captain
Wragge. "But there are exceptions to the
strictest rules; and I am bound to admit, Mr.
Vanstone, that your position in this matter is an
exceptional position if ever there was one yet.
The course you have just proposedhowever
unbecoming I may think it; however distasteful
it may be to myselfwould not only spare you a
very serious embarrassment (to say the least of
it), but would also protect you from the personal
assertion of those pecuniary claims on the part
of your housekeeper, to which you have already
adverted. These are both desirable results to
achieveto say nothing of the removal, on my
side, of all apprehension of annoyance to my niece.
On the other hand, however, a marriage solemnised
with such privacy as you propose, must be
a hasty marriagefor, as we are situated, the
longer the delay, the greater will be the risk that
our secret may escape our keeping. I am not
against hasty marriages, where a mutual flame is
fanned by an adequate income. My own was a
love-match, contracted in a hurry. There are
plenty of instances in the experience of every one,
of short courtships and speedy marriages, which
have turned up trumpsI beg your pardon
which have turned out well, after all. But if you
and my niece, Mr. Vanstone, are to add one to the
number of these cases, the usual preliminaries of
marriage among the higher classes must be
hastened by some means. You doubtless
understand me, as now referring to the subject of

"I'll take another teaspoonful of brandy," said
Mr. Noel Vanstone, holding out his glass with
a trembling hand, as the word "settlements"
passed Captain Wragge's lips.

"I'll take a teaspoonful with you," said the
captain, nimbly dismounting from the pedestal
of his respectability, and sipping his brandy with
the highest relish. Mr. Noel Vanstone, after
nervously following his host's example, composed
himself to meet the coming ordeal, with reclining
head, and grasping handsin the position
familiarly associated to all civilised humanity, with a
seat in a dentist's chair.

The captain put down his empty glass, and got
up again on his pedestal.

"We were talking of settlements," he resumed.
"I have already mentioned, Mr. Vanstone, at an
earlier period of our conversation, that
my niece presents the man of her choice with no
other dowry than the most inestimable of all
giftsthe gift of herself. This circumstance,
however (as you are no doubt aware), does not
disentitle me to make the customary stipulations
with her future husband. According to the
usual course in this matter, my lawyer would see
yoursconsultations would take placedelays
would occurstrangers would be in possession
of your intentionsand Mrs. Lecount would,
sooner or later, arrive at that knowledge of the
truth, which you are anxious to keep from her.
Do you agree with me, so far?"

Unutterable apprehension closed Mr. Noel
Vanstone's lips. He could only reply by an
inclination of the head.

"Very good," said the captain. " Now, sir,
yon may possibly have observed that I am a man
of a very original turn of mind. If I have not
hitherto struck you in that light, it may then
be necessary to mention that there are some
subjects on which I persist in thinking for
myself. The subject of marriage settlements is
one of them. What, let me ask you, does a
parent or guardian in my present position, usually
do? After having trusted the man whom he has
chosen for his son-in-law with the sacred deposit
of a woman's happinesshe turns round on that
man, and declines to trust him with the infinitely
inferior responsibility of providing for her
pecuniary future. He fetters his son-in-law with the
most binding document the law can produce;
and employs with the husband of his own child,
the same precautions which he would use if he
were dealing with a stranger and a rogue. I
call such conduct as this, inconsistent and
unbecoming in the last degree. You will not find it
my course of conduct, Mr. Vanstoneyou will
not find me preaching what I don't practise. If
I trust you with my niece, I trust you with every
inferior responsibility towards her and towards
me. Give me your hand, sirtell me on your
word of honour that you will provide for your wife,
as becomes her position and your meansand the
question of settlements is decided between us,
from this moment, at once and for ever!" Having
carried out Magdalen's instructions in this lofty
tone, he threw open his respectable frock-coat,
and sat, with head erect and hand extended, the
model of parental feeling, and the picture of
human integrity.

For one moment, Mr. Noel Vanstone remained
literally petrified by astonishment. The next,
he started from his chair, and wrung the hand of
his magnanimous friend, in a perfect transport of
admiration. Never yet, throughout his long and