"Why is it best, sir?" returned Richard hastily. "It was not when we opened our hearts to you. You did not say so then."
"I have had experience since. I don't blame you, Rick, but I have had experience since."
"You mean of me, sir."
"Well! Yes, of both of you," said Mr. Jarndyce kindly. "The time is not come for your standing pledged to one another. It is not right, and I must not recognize it. Come, come, my young cousins, begin afresh! Bygones shall be bygones, and a new page turned for you to write your lives in."
Richard gave an anxious glance at Ada but said nothing.
"I have avoided saying one word to either of you or to Esther," said Mr. Jarndyce, "until now, in order that we might be open as the day, and all on equal terms. I now affectionately advise, I now most earnestly entreat, you two to part as you came here. Leave all else to time, truth, and steadfastness. If you do otherwise, you will do wrong, and you will have made me do wrong in ever bringing you together."
A long silence succeeded.
"Cousin Richard," said Ada then, raising her blue eyes tenderly to his face, "after what our cousin John has said, I think no choice is left us. Your mind may he quite at ease about me, for you will leave me here under his care and will be sure that I can have nothing to wish for — quite sure if I guide myself by his advice. I — I don't doubt, cousin Richard," said Ada, a little confused, "that you are very fond of me, and I — I don't think you will fall in love with anybody else. But I should like you to consider well about it too, as I should like you to be in all things very happy. You may trust in me, cousin Richard. I am not at all changeable; but I am not unreasonable, and should never blame you. Even cousins may be sorry to part; and in truth I am very, very sorry, Richard, though I know it's for your welfare. I shall always think of you affectionately, and often talk of you with Esther, and — and perhaps you will sometimes think a little of me, cousin Richard. So now," said Ada, going up to him and giving him her trembling hand, "we are only cousins again, Richard — for the time perhaps — and I pray for a blessing on my dear cousin, wherever he goes!"
It was strange to me that Richard should not be able to forgive my guardian for entertaining the very same opinion of him which he himself had expressed of himself in much stronger terms to me. But it was certainly the case. I observed with great regret that from this hour he never was as free and open with Mr. Jarndyce as he had been before. He had every reason given him to be so, but he was not; and solely on his side, an estrangement began to arise between them.
In the business of preparation and equipment he soon lost himself, and even his grief at parting from Ada, who remained in Hertfordshire while he, Mr. Jarndyce, and I went up to London for a week. He remembered her by fits and starts, even with bursts of tears, and at such times would confide to me the heaviest self- reproaches. But in a few minutes he would recklessly conjure up some undefinable means by which they were both to be made rich and happy for ever, and would become as gay as possible.
It was a busy time, and I trotted about with him all day long, buying a variety of things of which he stood in need. Of the things he would have bought if he had been left to his own ways I say nothing. He was perfectly confidential with me, and often talked so sensibly and feelingly about his faults and his vigorous resolutions, and dwelt so much upon the encouragement he derived from these conversations that I could never have been tired if I had tried.
There used, in that week, to come backward and forward to our lodging to fence with Richard a person who had formerly been a cavalry soldier; he was a fine bluff-looking man, of a frank free bearing, with whom Richard had practised for some months. I heard so much about him, not only from Richard, but from my guardian too, that I was purposely in the room with my work one morning after breakfast when he came.
"Good morning, Mr. George," said my guardian, who happened to be alone with me. "Mr. Carstone will be here directly. Meanwhile, Miss Summerson is very happy to see you, I know. Sit down."
He sat down, a little disconcerted by my presence, I thought, and without looking at me, drew his heavy sunburnt hand across and across his upper lip.
"You are as punctual as the sun," said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Military time, sir," he replied. "Force of habit. A mere habit in me, sir. I am not at all business-like."
"Yet you have a large establishment, too, I am told?" said Mr. Jarndyce.
"Not much of a one, sir. I keep a shooting gallery, but not much of a one."
"And what kind of a shot and what kind of a swordsman do you make of Mr. Carstone?" said my guardian.
"Pretty good, sir," he replied, folding his arms upon his broad chest and looking very large. "If Mr. Carstone was to give his full mind to it, he would come out very good."
"But he don't, I suppose?" said my guardian.
"He did at first, sir, but not afterwards. Not his full mind. Perhaps he has something else upon it — some young lady, perhaps." His bright dark eyes glanced at me for the first time.
"He has not me upon his mind, I assure you, Mr. George," said I, laughing, "though you seem to suspect me."
He reddened a little through his brown and made me a trooper's bow. "No offence, I hope, miss. I am one of the roughs."
"Not at all," said I. "I take it as a compliment."
If he had not looked at me before, he looked at me now in three or four quick successive glances. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said to my guardian with a manly kind of diffidence, "but you did me the honour to mention the young lady's name — "
"Miss Summerson," he repeated, and looked at me again.
"Do you know the name?" I asked.
"No, miss. To my knowledge I never heard it. I thought I had seen you somewhere."
"I think not," I returned, raising my head from my work to look at him; and there was something so genuine in his speech and manner that I was glad of the opportunity. "I remember faces very well."
"So do I, miss!" he returned, meeting my look with the fullness of his dark eyes and broad forehead. "Humph! What set me off, now, upon that!"
His once more reddening through his brown and being disconcerted by his efforts to remember the association brought my guardian to his relief.
"Have you many pupils, Mr. George?"
"They vary in their number, sir. Mostly they're but a small lot to live by."
"And what classes of chance people come to practise at your gallery?"
"All sorts, sir. Natives and foreigners. From gentlemen to 'prentices. I have had Frenchwomen come, before now, and show themselves dabs at pistol-shooting. Mad people out of number, of course, but THEY go everywhere where the doors stand open."
"People don't come with grudges and schemes of finishing their practice with live targets, I hope?" said my guardian, smiling.
"Not much of that, sir, though that HAS happened. Mostly they come for skill — or idleness. Six of one, and half-a-dozen of the other. I beg your pardon," said Mr. George, sitting stiffly upright and squaring an elbow on each knee, "but I believe you're a Chancery suitor, if I have heard correct?"
"I am sorry to say I am."
"I have had one of YOUR compatriots in my time, sir."
"A Chancery suitor?" returned my guardian. "How was that?"