"Likely enough, Father Marty."
"In course you will. Sorrow a doubt of that." Then the priest paused.
"And why shouldn't I?" asked Neville.
"I'm not saying that you shouldn't, Mr. Neville. It wouldn't be civil nor yet nathural after knowing them as you have done. If you didn't go they'd be thinking there was a rason for your staying away, and that'd be worse than all. But, Mr. Neville--"
"Out with it, Father Marty." Fred knew what was coming fairly well, and he also had thought a good deal upon the matter.
"Them two ladies, Mr. Neville, live up there all alone, with sorrow a human being in the world to protect them,--barring myself."
"Why should they want protection?"
"Just because they're lone women, and because one of them is very young and very beautiful."
"They are both beautiful," said Neville.
"'Deed and they are,--both of 'em. The mother can look afther herself, and after a fashion, too, she can look afther her daughter. I shouldn't like to be the man to come in her way when he'd once decaived her child. You're a young man, Mr. Neville."
"That's my misfortune."
"And one who stands very high in the world. They tell me you're to be a great lord some day."
"Either that or a little one," said Neville, laughing.
"Anyways you'll be a rich man with a handle to your name. To me, living here in this out of the way parish, a lord doesn't matter that." And Father Marty gave a fillip with his fingers. "The only lord that matters me is me bishop. But with them women yonder, the title and the money and all the grandeur goes a long way. It has been so since the world began. In riding a race against you they carry weight from the very awe which the name of an English Earl brings with it."
"Why should they ride a race against me?"
"Why indeed,--unless you ride a race against them! You wouldn't wish to injure that young thing as isn't yet out of her teens?"
"God forbid that I should injure her."
"I don't think that you're the man to do it with your eyes open, Mr. Neville. If you can't spake her fair in the way of making her your wife, don't spake her fair at all. That's the long and the short of it, Mr. Neville. You see what they are. They're ladies, if there is a lady living in the Queen's dominions. That young thing is as beautiful as Habe, as innocent as a sleeping child, as soft as wax to take impression. What armour has she got against such a one as you?"