Read CHAPTER III - WHAT IS HONOUR? of That Stick , free online book, by Charlotte M. Yonge, on

‘Here is a bit of news for you,’ said Sir Edward Kenton, as, after a morning of work with his agent, both came in to the family luncheon.  ’Mr. Burford tells me that the Northmoor title has descended on his agent, Morton.’

‘That stick!’ exclaimed George, the son and heir.

‘Not altogether a stick, Mr. Kenton,’ said the bald-headed gentlemanly agent.  ‘He is very worthy and industrious!’

Frederica Kenton and her brother looked at each other as if this character were not inconsistent with that of a stick.

‘Poor man!’ said their mother.  ‘Is it not a great misfortune to him?’

‘I should think him sensible and methodical,’ said Sir Edward.  ’By the way, did you not tell me that it was his diligence that discovered the clause to which our success was owing in the Stockpen suit?’

’Yes, Sir Edward, through his indefatigable diligence in reading over every document connected with the matter.  I take shame to myself,’ he added, smiling, ’for it was in a letter that I had read and put aside, missing that passage.’

‘Then I am under great obligations to him?’ said Sir Edward.

’I could also tell of what only came to my knowledge many years later, and not through himself, of attempts made to tamper with his integrity, and gain private information from him which he had steadily baffled.’

‘There must be much in him,’ said Lady Kenton, ’if only he is not spoilt!’

‘I am afraid he is heavily weighted,’ said Mr. Burford.  ’His brother’s widow and children are almost entirely dependent on him, more so, in my opinion, than he should have allowed.’

‘Exactly what I should expect from such a sheep,’ said George Kenton.

‘There is this advantage,’ said the lawyer, ’it has prevented his marrying.’

‘At least that fatal step has been averted,’ said the lady, smiling.

’But unluckily there is an entanglement, an endless engagement to a governess at Miss Lang’s.’

‘Oh,’ cried Freda, who once, during a long absence of the family abroad, had been disposed of at Miss Lang’s, ’there was always a kind of whisper among us that Miss Marshall was engaged, though it was high treason to be supposed to know.’

‘Was that the one you called Creepmouse?’ asked her brother.

’George, you should not bring up old misdeeds!  She was a harmless old thing.  I believe the tinies were very fond of her, but we elders had not much to do with her, only we used to think her horridly particular.’

‘Does that mean conscientious?’ asked her father.

’Perhaps it does; and though I was rather a goose then, I really believe she was very kind, and did not want to be tiresome.’

‘A lady?’ asked her mother.

‘I suppose so, but she was so awfully quiet there was no knowing.’

‘Poor thing!’ observed Lady Kenton, in a tone of commiseration.

‘I think Morton told me that she was a clergy-orphan,’ said Mr. Burford, ’and considered her as rather above him, for his father was a ruined farmer and horse-breeder, and I only took him into my office out of respect for his mother, though I never had a better bargain in my life.  Of course, however, this unlucky engagement cannot stand.’

‘Indeed!’ said the Baronet drily.  ’Would you have him begin his career with an act of baseness?’

‘No ­no, Sir Edward, I did not mean ­’ said Mr. Burford, rather abashed; ’but the lady might be worked on to resign her pretensions, since persistence might not be for the happiness of either party; and he really ought to marry a lady of fortune, say his cousin, Miss Morton, for I understand that the Northmoor property was never considerable.  The late Mr. Morton was very extravagant, and there are heavy burthens on the estate, by the settlement on his widow, Lady Adela, and on the late Lord’s daughter.  Miss Lang tells me likewise that Miss Marshall is full of doubts and scruples, and is almost persuaded that it is incumbent on her to drop the engagement at any cost to herself.  She is very conscientious!’

‘Poor thing!’ sighed more than one voice.

‘It is a serious question,’ continued the solicitor, ’and I own that I think it would be better for both if she were induced to release him.’

‘Has she no relations of her own?’

’None that I ever heard of.  She has always spent her holidays at Miss Lang’s.’

‘Well, Mr. Burford,’ exclaimed Freda, ’I think you are frightfully cruel to my poor little Creep-mouse.’

‘Nay, Freda,’ said her mother; ’all that Mr. Burford is considering is whether it would be for the happiness or welfare of either to be raised to a position for which she is not prepared.’

‘I thought you were on her side, mother.’

‘There are no sides, Freda,’ said her father reprovingly.  ’The whole must rest with the persons chiefly concerned, and no one ought to interfere or influence them in either direction.’  Having thus rebuked Mr. Burford quite as much as his daughter, he added, ’Where is Lord Northmoor now?’

’He wrote to me from Northmoor after the funeral, Sir Edward, saying that he would return on Saturday.  Of course, though three months’ notice would be due, I should not expect it, as I told him at first; but he assures me that he will not leave me till my arrangements for supplying his place are complete, and he will assist me as usual.’

‘It is very proper of him,’ said Sir Edward.

‘It will be awkward in some ways,’ said Mr. Burford.  ’Yet I do not know what I could otherwise have done, he had become so necessary to me.’

‘Stick or no stick,’ was the family comment of the Kentons, ’there must be something in the man, if only his head is not turned.’

‘Which,’ observed Sir Edward, ’is not possible to a stick with a real head, but only too easy to a sham one.’