Mary looked at him steadily for some time before she committed herself to reply, and then merely asked him what he meant to do for the old men.
Why, its a long story, and I dont know that I can make you understand it. John Hiram made a will, and left his property in charity for certain poor old men, and the proceeds, instead of going to the benefit of these men, goes chiefly into the pocket of the warden, and the bishops steward.
And you mean to take away from Mr. Harding his share of it?
I dont know what I mean yet. I mean to inquire about it. I mean to see who is entitled to this property. I mean to see, if I can, that justice be done to the poor of the city of Barchester generally, who are, in fact, the legatees under the will. I mean, in short, to put the matter right, if I can.
And why are you to do this, John?
You might ask the same question of anybody else, said he: and according to that, the duty of righting these poor men would belong to nobody. If we are to act on that principle, the weak are never to be protected, injustice is never to be opposed, and no one is to struggle for the poor! And Bold began to comfort himself in the warmth of his own virtue.
But is there no one to do this but you, who have known Mr. Harding so long? Surely, John, as a friend, as a young friend, so much younger than Mr. Harding
Thats womans logic, all over, Mary. What has age to do with it? Another man might plead that he was too old; and as to his friendship, if the thing itself be right, private motives should never be allowed to interfere. Because I esteem Mr. Harding, is that a reason that I should neglect a duty which I owe to these old men? or should I give up a work which my conscience tells me is a good one, because I regret the loss of his society?
And Eleanor, John? said the sister, looking timidly into her brothers face.
Eleanor, that is, Miss Harding, if she thinks fitthat is, if her fatheror rather, if sheor, indeed, he,if they find it necessarybut there is no necessity now to talk about Eleanor Harding; but this I will say, that if she has the kind of spirit for which I give her credit, she will not condemn me for doing what I think to be a duty. And Bold consoled himself with the consolation of a Roman.
Mary sat silent for awhile, till at last her brother reminded her that the notes must be answered, and she got up, and placed her desk before her, took out her pen and paper, wrote on it slowly,
Pakenham Villas, Tuesday morning.
My dear Eleanor,
and then stopped, and looked at her brother.
Well, Mary, why dont you write it?
Oh, John, said she, dear John, pray think better of this.
Think better of what? said he.
Of this about the hospital,of all this about Mr. Harding,of what you say about those old men. Nothing can call upon you,no duty can require you to set yourself against your oldest, your best friend. Oh, John, think of Eleanor; youll break her heart and your own.
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