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I can forgive excess of passion, I can pardon an excessive warmth of heart—but cold, calculating selfishness I cannot endure, and selfishness in a girl of fifteen or even seventeen is so unnatural a vice that it is doubly hateful.
Well, up stairs I went, with my head whirling, determined not, in the first instance, to mention what had occurred: for, in fact, I was so little resolved how to act, that I held it prudent to keep this new episode in our family history a secret at present even from Harriet.
Contrasted with the scene just ended below was that which I beheld on entering my wife's room above. I had never beheld her angry before; but angry she was; and having been left by herself during my interview with Kittington to brood over her anger, was really quite animated. It was, however, of the gentlest nature of rage, and in its highest paroxysms never rose to fever heat. Woman-like, however, she disdained the idea of any longer affecting civility or even toleration as regarded Mrs. Brandyball, or of submitting for any ulterior consideration to her imperious sway. The reference to matters of our domestic economy, which were so strictly confidential, seemed to irritate my poor love more than anything, and the dictation about the wine and the wine-merchant, "so insolent!" "so impertinent!" "What business could Cuthbert have to tell her?" "As for his not recollecting whether my baby was a boy or a girl, I am glad of it," said Harriet. "He—though he is your brother— should not be its godfather, if it never had a godfather."
"Mercy on us, Harriet!" said I, laughing at the earnestness of her half-whispered rage: "why, where have you cherished all this volcanic fire which you are pouring out upon poor Cuthbert?"
"Poor Cuthbert!" said Harriet: "I wish, my dear Gilbert, he had been poor Cuthbert— we should then have been humbler, and happier, and independent."
"Never mind, my dear girl," said I; "recollect we can always fall back upon that—
'With thee conversing I forget all time.
I care as little or less than you for what are called the world's luxuries; but I do care for a brother's love. I lament the loss of that, and I think I ought to make a struggle to regain it."
"Why should you have lost it, Gilbert?" asked Harriet, naturally enough. "We did all we could to make him happy—unfortunately my approaching confinement prevented my showing Mrs. Brandyball so much attention as I otherwise would; but, as for Kate and"
"Hah!" said I, involuntarily.
"I am sure all the children had their way," continued my poor wife.
"Yes, they have had their way too much," replied I: "but looking back is useless. The question is, how we are to act upon this letter? I know exactly, by the tenor of your conversation, the course you would pursue; but there are various things to be considered—more now than before—every hour adds new difficulties— new events transpire—in short, confusion seems worse confounded."
"Now, then," said Harriet, starting from her languid, listless attitude, "I know what Mr. Kittington has been here about."
I stared with astonishment.
"What," said I, with affected surprise, "can Mr. Kittington's calling here have to do with our decision upon that letter?"
"Everything, Gilbert," said Harriet, shaking her head, as much as to deprecate my efforts at mystification. "It won't do, Gilbert; she has written him a love-letter."
"Why, Harriet," said I, thrown off my guard completely, "that girl Foxcroft has been listening."
"Not she, upon my honour, that I know of," said Harriet; "and I am not particularly grateful to you for supposing that I should pick up information by any such means; however, you have let out the secret, which was no secret to me; for although I was ignorant of the actual fact, I had seen enough of Miss Kitty's conduct to the man to be quite prepared for such an event. So, then, we shall afford conversation for the whole county."
"No, love, no," said I; "you have, with all a woman's prescience, hit upon the truth; but the secret is safe in the keeping of Mr. Kittington."
"Is that likely?" said Harriet.
"I will pledge my honour," said I; "but let me implore you to be equally cautious—not even to your mother drop a hint of the circumstance. The disclosure has laid a new load of difficulties upon us, and what is to be done must form a new feature of our present debate. Here is the precious epistle, in which the advantages of a brilliant boarding-school education develope themselves, not only in the expression of feelings and sentiments suited to other ages and stations than those of Miss Kitty, but in occasional orthographical slips, which prove, as Foote said of the "Agoos" which were "kurd hear," that the young ladies' fascinations are not spells.