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and looks with family intuition, and could easily
be certain thus far. But not even his mother's
skilfulest wiles, nor his favourite sister's coaxing,
could obtain a word or a hint; and when his
father, the squire, who had heard the opinions of
the female part of the family on this head, began,
in his honest blustering way, in their tête-à-têtes
after dinner, to hope that Ralph was thinking
better than to run his head into that confounded
Hamley attorney's noose, Ralph gravely required
Mr. Corbet to explain his meaning, which he
professed not to understand so worded. And
when the squire had, with much perplexity, put
it into the plain terms of hoping that his son
was thinking of breaking off his engagement to
Miss Wilkins, Ralph coolly asked him if he was
aware that, in that case, he should lose all title to
being a man of honour, and might have an
action brought against him for breach of promise?

Yet not the less for all this was the idea in
his mind as a future possibility.

Before very long the Corbet family moved, en
masse, to Stokely Castle for the wedding. Of
course, Ralph associated on equal terms with the
magnates of the county, who were the employers
of Ellinor's father, and spoke of him always as
"Wilkins," just as they spoke of the butler as
"Simmons." Here, too, among a class of men
high above local gossip, and thus unaware of
his engagement, he learnt the popular opinion
respecting his future father-in-law; an opinion
not entirely respectful, though intermingled with
a good deal of personal liking. "Poor Wilkins,"
as they called him, "was sadly extravagant for a
man in his position; had no right to spend
money, and act as if he were a man of independent
fortune." His habits of life were criticised;
and pity, not free from blame, was bestowed
upon him for the losses he had sustained from
his late clerk's disappearance and defalcation.
But what could be expected, if a man did not
choose to attend to his own business?

The wedding went by, as grand weddings do,
without let or hindrance, according to the
approved pattern. A cabinet minister honoured
it, with his presence, and, being a distant relation
of the Morants, remained for a few days after
the grand occasion. During this time he became
rather intimate with Ralph Corbet; many of
their tastes were in common. Ralph took a
great interest in the manner of working out
political questions; in the balance and state
of parties; and had the right appreciation
of the exact qualities on which the minister
piqued himself. In return, the latter was
always on the look-out for promising young
men who, either by their capability of
speech-making, or article-writing, might advance the
views of his party. Recognising, the powers he
most valued in Ralph, he spared no pains to attach
him to his own political set. When they
separated, it was with the full understanding that
they were to see a good deal of each other in
London.

The holiday Ralph allowed himself was passing
rapidly away; but, before he returned to his
chambers and his hard work, he had promised to
spend a few more days with Ellinor; and it
suited him to go straight from the duke's to
Ford Bank. He left the castle soon after breakfast
the luxurious, elegant breakfast, served by
domestics who performed their work with the
accuracy and perfection of machines. He
arrived at Ford Bank before the man-servant had
quite done the dirtier part of his morning's
work, and he came to the glass-door in his
striped cotton jacket, a little soiled, and rolling
up his working apron. Ellinor was not yet
quite strong enough to get up and go out and
gather flowers for the rooms, so those left from
yesterday were rather faded; in short, the
contrast from entire completeness and exquisite
freshness of arrangement struck forcibly upon
Ralph's perceptions, which were critical rather
than appreciative; and, as his affections were
always subdued to his intellect, Ellinor's lovely
face and graceful figure flying to meet him did
not gain his full approval, because her hair
was dressed in an old-fashioned way, her waist
was either too long or too short, her sleeves too
full or too tight for the standard of fashion to
which his eye had been accustomed while scanning
the bridesmaids and various high-born ladies at
Stokely Castle.

But, as he had always piqued himself upon
being able to put on one side all superficial
worldliness in his chase after power, it did not
do for him to shrink from facing and seeing the
incompleteness of moderate means. Only
marriage upon moderate means was gradually
becoming more distasteful to him.

Nor did his intercourse with Lord Bolton, the
cabinet minister before mentioned, tend to
reconcile him to early matrimony. At Lord
Bolton's house he met polished and intellectual
society, and all that smoothness in ministering to
the lower wants in eating and drinking which
seems to provide that the right thing shall
always be at the right place, at the right time,
so that the want of it shall never impede for
an instant the feast of wit or reason; while, if he
went to the houses of his friends, men of the
same college and standing as himself, who had
been seduced into early marriages, he was
uncomfortably aware of numerous inconsistencies
and hitches in their ménages. Besides, the idea
of the possible disgrace that might befal the
family with whom he thought of allying himself
haunted him with the tenacity and also with the
exaggeration of a nightmare whenever he had
overworked himself in his search after available
and profitable knowledge, or had a fit of
indigestion after the exquisite dinners he was learning
so well to appreciate.

Christmas was, of course, to be devoted to his
own family; it was an unavoidable necessity, as
he told Ellinor, while, in reality, he was learning
to find absence from his betrothed something
of a relief. Yet the wranglings and folly of his
home, even blessed by the presence of a Lady

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