"I hope not, my boy; I hope not that. Do not tell me that a heartless scoundrel is to take my name when I am gone."
"I am not a heartless scoundrel," said Fred Neville, jumping up from his seat.
"Then what is it that you mean? You have thought, have you not, of the duties of the high position to which you are called? You do not suppose that wealth is to be given to you, and a great name, and all the appanages and power of nobility, in order that you may eat more, and drink more, and lie softer than others. It is because some think so, and act upon such base thoughts, that the only hereditary peerage left in the world is in danger of encountering the ill will of the people. Are you willing to be known only as one of those who have disgraced their order?"
"I do not mean to disgrace it."
"But you will disgrace it if you marry such a girl as that. If she were fit to be your wife, would not the family of Lord Kilfenora have known her?"
"I don't think much of their not knowing her, uncle."
"Who does know her? Who can say that she is even what she pretends to be? Did you not promise me that you would make no such marriage?"
He was not strong to defend his Kate. Such defence would have been in opposition to his own ideas, in antagonism with the scheme which he had made for himself. He understood, almost as well as did his uncle, that Kate O'Hara ought not to be made Countess of Scroope. He too thought that were she to be presented to the world as the Countess of Scroope, she would disgrace the title. And yet he would not be a villain! And yet he would not give her up! He could only fall back upon his scheme. "Miss O'Hara is as good as gold," he said; "but I acknowledge that she is not fit to be mistress of this house."
"Fred," said the Earl, almost in a passion of affectionate solicitude, "do not go back to Ireland. We will arrange about the regiment. No harm shall be done to any one. My health will be your excuse, and the lawyers shall arrange it all."
"I must go back," said Neville. Then the Earl fell back in his chair and covered his face with his hands. "I must go back; but I will give you my honour as a gentleman to do nothing that shall distress you."
"You will not marry her?"