‘What has Mr. Sweeting besides his curacy?’

This question seemed to tickle Malone amazingly. He laughed for full three minutes before he answered it.

‘What has Sweeting? Why, David has his harp, or flute, which comes to the same thing. He has a sort of pinchbeck watch; ditto, ring; ditto, eyeglass—that’s what he has.’

‘How would he propose to keep Miss Sykes in gowns only?’

‘Ha! ha! excellent! I’ll ask him that next time I see him. I’ll roast him for his presumption. But no doubt he expects old Christopher Sykes would do something handsome. He is rich, is he not? They live in a large house.’

‘Sykes carries on an extensive concern.’

‘Therefore he must be wealthy, eh?’

‘Therefore he must have plenty to do with his wealth, and in these times would be about as likely to think of drawing money from the business to give dowries to his daughters as I should be to dream of pulling down the cottage there, and constructing on its ruins a house as large as Fieldhead.’

‘Do you know what I heard, Moore, the other day?’

‘No; perhaps that I was about to effect some such change. Your Briarfield gossips are capable of saying that or sillier things.’

‘That you were going to take Fieldhead on a lease— I thought it looked a dismal place, by-the-by, to- night as I passed it—and that it was your intention to settle a Miss Sykes there as mistress—to be married, in short. Ha! ha! Now, which is it? Dora, I am sure; you said she was the handsomest.’

‘I wonder how often it has been settled that I was to be married since I came to Briarfield! They have assigned me every marriageable single woman by turns in the district. Now it was the two Misses Wynns—first the dark, then the light one; now the red-haired Miss Armitage, then the mature Ann Pearson; at present you throw on my shoulders all the tribe of the Misses Sykes. On what grounds this gossip rests God knows. I visit nowhere; I seek female society about as assiduously as you do, Mr. Malone. If ever I go to Whinbury, it is only to give Sykes or Pearson a call in their counting-house, where our discussions run on other topics than matrimony, and our thoughts are occupied with other things than courtships, establishments, dowries—the cloth we can’t sell, the hands we can’t employ, the mills we can’t run, the perverse course of events generally which we cannot alter, fill our hearts, I take it, pretty well at present, to the tolerably complete exclusion of such figments as lovemaking, etc.’

‘I go along with you completely, Moore. If there is one notion I hate more than another, it is that of marriage—I mean marriage in the vulgar, weak sense, as a mere matter of sentiment: two beggarly fools agreeing to unite their indigence by some fantastic tie of feeling. Humbug! But an advantageous connection, such as can be formed in consonance with dignity of views and permanency of solid interests, is not so bad, eh?’

‘No,’ responded Moore, in an absent manner.

The subject seemed to have no interest for him; he did not pursue it. After sitting for some time gazing at the fire with a preoccupied air, he suddenly turned his head.

‘Hark!’ said he. ‘Did you hear wheels?’

Rising, he went to the window, opened it, and listened. He soon closed it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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