"Mrs. Rouncewell? No, Volumnia. She has a son. Indeed, she had two."
My Lady, whose chronic malady of boredom has been sadly aggravated by Volumnia this evening, glances wearily towards the candlesticks and heaves a noiseless sigh.
"And it is a remarkable example of the confusion into which the present age has fallen; of the obliteration of landmarks, the opening of floodgates, and the uprooting of distinctions," says Sir Leicester with stately gloom, "that I have been informed by Mr. Tulkinghorn that Mrs. Rouncewell's son has been invited to go into Parliament."
Miss Volumnia utters a little sharp scream.
"Yes, indeed," repeats Sir Leicester. "Into Parliament."
"I never heard of such a thing! Good gracious, what is the man?" exclaims Volumnia.
"He is called, I believe — an — ironmaster." Sir Leicester says it slowly and with gravity and doubt, as not being sure but that he is called a lead-mistress or that the right word may be some other word expressive of some other relationship to some other metal.
Volumnia utters another little scream.
"He has declined the proposal, if my information from Mr. Tulkinghorn be correct, as I have no doubt it is. Mr. Tulkinghorn being always correct and exact; still that does not," says Sir Leicester, "that does not lessen the anomaly, which is fraught with strange considerations — startling considerations, as it appears to me."
Miss Volumnia rising with a look candlestick-wards, Sir Leicester politely performs the grand tour of the drawing-room, brings one, and lights it at my Lady's shaded lamp.
"I must beg you, my Lady," he says while doing so, "to remain a few moments, for this individual of whom I speak arrived this evening shortly before dinner and requested in a very becoming note" — Sir Leicester, with his habitual regard to truth, dwells upon it — "I am bound to say, in a very becoming and well-expressed note, the favour of a short interview with yourself and MYself on the subject of this young girl. As it appeared that he wished to depart to- night, I replied that we would see him before retiring."
Miss Volumnia with a third little scream takes flight, wishing her hosts — O Lud! — well rid of the — what is it? — ironmaster!
The other cousins soon disperse, to the last cousin there. Sir Leicester rings the bell, "Make my compliments to Mr. Rouncewell, in the housekeeper's apartments, and say I can receive him now."
My Lady, who has heard all this with slight attention outwardly, looks towards Mr. Rouncewell as he comes in. He is a little over fifty perhaps, of a good figure, like his mother, and has a clear voice, a broad forehead from which his dark hair has retired, and a shrewd though open face. He is a responsible-looking gentleman dressed in black, portly enough, but strong and active. Has a perfectly natural and easy air and is not in the least embarrassed by the great presence into which he comes.
"Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock, as I have already apologized for intruding on you, I cannot do better than be very brief. I thank you, Sir Leicester."
The head of the Dedlocks has motioned towards a sofa between himself and my Lady. Mr. Rouncewell quietly takes his seat there.
"In these busy times, when so many great undertakings are in progress, people like myself have so many workmen in so many places that we are always on the flight."
Sir Leicester is content enough that the ironmaster should feel that there is no hurry there; there, in that ancient house, rooted in that quiet park, where the ivy and the moss have had time to mature, and the gnarled and warted elms and the umbrageous oaks stand deep in the fern and leaves of a hundred years; and where the sun-dial on the terrace has dumbly recorded for centuries that time which was as much the property of every Dedlock — while he lasted — as the house and lands. Sir Leicester sits down in an easy-chair, opposing his repose and that of Chesney Wold to the restless flights of ironmasters.
"Lady Dedlock has been so kind," proceeds Mr. Rouncewell with a respectful glance and a bow that way, "as to place near her a young beauty of the name of Rosa. Now, my son has fallen in love with Rosa and has asked my consent to his proposing marriage to her and to their becoming engaged if she will take him — which I suppose she will. I have never seen Rosa until to-day, but I have some confidence in my son's good sense — even in love. I find her what he represents her, to the best of my judgment; and my mother speaks of her with great commendation."
"She in all respects deserves it," says my Lady.
"I am happy, Lady Dedlock, that you say so, and I need not comment on the value to me of your kind opinion of her."
"That," observes Sir Leicester with unspeakable grandeur, for he thinks the ironmaster a little too glib, "must be quite unnecessary."
"Quite unnecessary, Sir Leicester. Now, my son is a very young man, and Rosa is a very young woman. As I made my way, so my son must make his; and his being married at present is out of the question. But supposing I gave my consent to his engaging himself to this pretty girl, if this pretty girl will engage herself to him, I think it a piece of candour to say at once — I am sure, Sir Leicester and Lady Dedlock, you will understand and excuse me — I should make it a condition that she did not remain at Chesney Wold. Therefore, before communicating further with my son, I take the liberty of saying that if her removal would be in any way inconvenient or objectionable, I will hold the matter over with him for any reasonable time and leave it precisely where it is."
Not remain at Chesney Wold! Make it a condition! All Sir Leicester's old misgivings relative to Wat Tyler and the people in the iron districts who do nothing but turn out by torchlight come in a shower upon his head, the fine grey hair of which, as well as of his whiskers, actually stirs with indignation.
"Am I to understand, sir," says Sir Leicester, "and is my Lady to understand" — he brings her in thus specially, first as a point of gallantry, and next as a point of prudence, having great reliance on her sense — "am I to understand, Mr. Rouncewell, and is my Lady to understand, sir, that you consider this young woman too good for Chesney Wold or likely to be injured by remaining here?"
"Certainly not, Sir Leicester,"
"I am glad to hear it." Sir Leicester very lofty indeed.
"Pray, Mr. Rouncewell," says my Lady, warning Sir Leicester off with the slightest gesture of her pretty hand, as if he were a fly, "explain to me what you mean."
"Willingly, Lady Dedlock. There is nothing I could desire more."