`My dear fellow,' said Herbert, `let the near prospect of our separation - for, it is very near - be my justification for troubling you about yourself. Have you thought of your future?'
`No, for I have been afraid to think of any future.'
`But yours cannot be dismissed; indeed, my dear dear Handel, it must not be dismissed. I wish you would enter on it now, as far as a few friendly words go, with me.'
`I will,' said I.
`In this branch house of ours, Handel, we must have a--'
I saw that his delicacy was avoiding the right word, so I said, `A clerk.'
`A clerk. And I hope it is not at all unlikely that he may expand (as a clerk of your acquaintance has expanded) into a partner. Now, Handel - in short, my dear boy, will you come to me?'
There was something charmingly cordial and engaging in the manner in which after saying `Now, Handel,' as if it were the grave beginning of a portentous business exordium, he had suddenly given up that tone, stretched out his honest hand, and spoken like a schoolboy.
`Clara and I have talked about it again and again,' Herbert pursued, `and the dear little thing begged me only this evening, with tears in her eyes, to say to you that if you will live with us when we come together, she will do her best to make you happy, and to convince her husband's friend that he is her friend too. We should get on so well, Handel!'
I thanked her heartily, and I thanked him heartily, but said I could not yet make sure of joining him as he so kindly offered. Firstly, my mind was too preoccupied to be able to take in the subject clearly. Secondly - Yes! Secondly, there was a vague something lingering in my thoughts that will come out very near the end of this slight narrative.
`But if you thought, Herbert, that you could, without doing any injury to your business, leave the questions open for a little while--'
`For any while,' cried Herbert. `Six months, a year!'
`Not so long as that,' said I. `Two or three months at most.'
Herbert was highly delighted when we shook hands on this arrangement, and said he could now take courage to tell me that he believed he must go away at the end of the week.
`And Clara?' said I.
`The dear little thing,' returned Herbert, `holds dutifully to her father as long as he lasts; but he won't last long. Mrs Whimple confides to me that the is certainly going.'
`Not to say an unfeeling thing,' said I, `he cannot do better than go.'
`I am afraid that must be admitted,' said Herbert: `and then I shall come back for the dear little thing, and the dear little thing and I will walk quietly into the nearest church. Remember! The blessed darling comes of no family, my dear Handel, and never looked into the red book, and hasn't a notion about her grandpapa. What a fortune for the son of my mother!'
On the Saturday in that same week, I took my leave of Herbert - full of bright hope, but sad and sorry to leave me - as he sat on one of the seaport mail coaches. I went into a coffee-house to write a little note
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