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- A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 10/79 -
her keep you home evenings, and away from all sorts of horrid places to which you were fond of going."
These words gave Haldane a cue which he at once followed, and he said eagerly:
"If you will be my wife, I will do anything you wish. I will make myself good, great, and renowned for your sake. Your smiles will keep me from every temptation. But I warn you that if you cast me off--if you trifle with me--I shall become a reckless man. I shall be ruined. My only impulse will be self-destruction."
Laura was now thoroughly incensed, and she said indignantly:
"Mr. Haldane, I should think you would be ashamed to talk in that manner. It's the same as if a spoiled boy should say: If you don't give me what I wish, right or wrong, I will do something dreadful. If I ever do love a man, it will be one that I can look up to and respect, and not one who must be coaxed and bribed to give up disgusting vices. If you do not open that door I will call uncle."
The door opened, and Mr. Arnot entered with a heavy frown upon his brow.
Mr. Arnot's library was on the side of the hall opposite to the drawing-room. Though he had been deeply intent upon his writing, he at last became conscious that there were some persons in the parlor who were talking in an unusual manner, and he soon distinguished the voice of his niece. Haldane's words, manner, and glances at the dinner-table at once recurred to him, and stepping silently to the drawing-room door, he heard the latter part of the colloquy narrated in the previous chapter. He was both amused and angry, and while relieved to find that his niece was indulging in no "sentimental nonsense," he had not a particle of sympathy or charity for Haldane, and he determined to give the young man a "lesson that would not soon be forgotten."
"What is the meaning of this ridiculous scene?" he demanded sternly. "What have you been saying to this child?"
Haldane at first had been much abashed by the entrance of his employer; but his tone and manner stung the young fellow into instant anger, and he replied haughtily:
"She is not a child, and what I have said concerns Miss Romeyn only."
"Ah, indeed! I have no right to protect my niece in my own house!"
"My intentions toward Miss Romeyn are entirely honorable, and there is no occasion for protection."
Reassured by her uncle's presence, Laura's nervous apprehension began to give place to something like pity for the youth, who had assumed an attitude befitting high tragedy, and toward whom she felt that she had been a little harsh. Now that he was confronted by one who was disposed to be still more harsh, womanlike, she was inclined to take his part. She would be sorry to have him come to an open rupture with his employer on her account, so she said eagerly:
"Please, uncle, do me the favor of letting the whole matter drop. Mr. Haldane has seen his mistake by this time. I am going home to-morrow, and the affair is too absurd to make any one any more trouble."
Before he could answer, Mrs. Arnot, hearing their voices, and surmising the trouble which she had hoped to prevent, now appeared also, and by her good sense and tact brought the disagreeable scene to a speedy close.
"Laura, my dear," she said quietly, "go up to my room, and I will join you there soon." The young girl gladly obeyed.
There were times when Mrs. Arnot controlled her strong-willed husband in a manner that seemed scarcely to be reconciled with his dictatorial habits. This fact might be explained in part by her wealth, of which he had the use, but which she still controlled, but more truly by her innate superiority, which ever gives supremacy to the nobler and stronger mind when aroused.
Mr. Arnot had become suddenly and vindictively angry with his clerk, who, instead of being overwhelmed with awe and shame at his unexpected appearance, was haughty and even defiant. One of the strongest impulses of this man was to crush out of those in his employ a spirit of independence and individual self-assertion. The idea of a part of his business machinery making such a jarring tumult in his own house! He proposed to instantly cast away the cause of friction, and insert a more stolid human cog-wheel in Haldane's place.
But when his wife said, in a tone which she rarely used:
"Mr. Arnot, before anything further is said upon this matter, I would like to see you in your library"--he followed her without a word.
Before the library door closed, however, he could not forbear snarling.
"I told you that your having this big spoiled boy as an inmate of the house would not work well."
"He has been offering himself to Laura, has he not?" she said quietly.
"I suppose that is the way in which you would explain his absurd, maudlin words. A pitiful offer it was, which she, like a sensible girl, declined without thanks."
"What course do you propose to take toward Haldane?"
"I was on the point of sending him home to his mother, and of suggesting that he remain with her till he becomes something more than a fast, foolish boy. As yet I see no reason for acting differently."
"On just what grounds do you propose to discharge him?"
"Has he not given sufficient cause this evening in his persecution of Laura and his impudence to me?"
"Thomas, you forget that while young Haldane is your clerk, he enjoys a social position quite equal to that which a son of ours would possess, did we have one. Though his course toward Laura has been crude and boyish, I have yet to learn that there has been anything dishonorable. Laura is to us a child; to him she seems a very pretty and attractive girl, and his sudden passion for her is, perhaps, one of the most natural things in the world. Besides, an affair of this kind should be managed quietly and wisely, and not with answering passion. You are angry now; you will see that I am right in the morning. At all events, the name of this innocent girl, my sister's child, must not be bandied about in the gossip of the town. Among young men Haldane passes for a young man. Do you wish to have it the town talk that he has been discharged because he ventured to compliment your niece with the offer of his hand? That he has been premature and rash is chiefly the fault of his years and temperament; but no serious trouble need follow unless we make it ourselves. Laura will return home in a day or two, and if the young fellow is dealt with wisely and kindly, this episode may do much toward making a sensible man of him. If you abruptly discharge him, people will imagine tenfold more than has occurred, and they may surmise positive evil."
"Well, well, have it your own way," said her husband impatiently. "Of course, I do not wish that Laura should become the theme of scandal. But as for this young firebrand of a Haldane, there must be a decided change in him. I cannot bother with him much longer."
"I think I can manage him. At any rate, please make no change that can seem connected with this affair. If you would also exercise a little kindness and forbearance, I do not think you would ever have cause to regret it."
"My office is not an asylum for incapables, lovesick swains, and fast boys. It's a place of business, and if young Haldane can't realize this, there are plenty who can."
"As a favor to me, I will ask you to bear with him as long as possible. Can you not send him to your factory near New York on some errand? New scenes will divert his thoughts, and sudden and acute attacks, like his, usually do not last very long."
"Well, well, I'll see."
Mrs. Arnot returned to the parlor, but Haldane was no longer there. She went to his room, but, though he was within, she could obtain no response to her knocking, or to the kind tone in which she spoke his name. She sighed, but thought that perhaps he would be calmer and more open to reason on the morrow, and, therefore, returned to her own apartment. Indeed, she was glad to do so, for in her ill and suffering condition the strain had already been too great.
She found Laura tearful and troubled, and could not do less than listen to her story.
"Do you think I have done anything wrong, auntie?" asked the girl in deep anxiety.
"No, dear, I think you have acted very sensibly. I wish I could have foreseen the trouble sooner, and saved you both from a disagreeable experience."
"But uncle won't discharge Mr. Haldane on my account, will he?" she continued with almost equal solicitude.
"Certainly not. Egbert has not done anything that should cause his dismissal. I think that the only result will be to teach you both that these are matters which should be left to future years."
"I'm glad they are distant, for I had no idea that love affairs were so intensely disagreeable."
Her aunt smiled, and after a little time the young girl departed to her rest quite comforted and reassured.
The next morning Mrs. Arnot was too ill to appear at breakfast, and her niece would not venture down alone. Haldane and his employer sat down together in grim silence, and, after a cup of coffee only, the former abruptly excused himself and went to the office.
As might have been expected, the young man had passed a restless night, during which all sorts of rash, wild purposes surged through his mind.
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