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- He Knew He Was Right - 160/179 -
two sheets fully crossed; but this did not discompose her in the least. He was worked hard at his office, and had hundreds of other things to do. He, too, could say, so thought Dorothy, more in eight lines than she could put into as many pages.
She was quite happy when she was told that the marriage could not take place till August, but that Brooke must come again in July. Brooke did come in the first week of July, and somewhat horrified Dorothy by declaring to her that Miss Stanbury was unreasonable.
'If I insist upon leaving London so often for a day or two,' said he, 'how am I to get anything like leave of absence when the time comes?' In answer to this Dorothy tried to make him understand that business should not be neglected, and that, as far as she was concerned, she could do very well without that trip abroad which he had proposed for her. 'I'm not going to be done in that way,' said Brooke. 'And now that I am here she has nothing to say to me. I've told her a dozen times that I don't want to know anything about her will, and that I'll take it all for granted. There is something to be settled on you, that she calls her own.'
'She is so generous, Brooke.'
'She is generous enough, but she is very whimsical. She is going to make her whole will over again, and now she wants to send some message to Uncle Barty. I don't know what it is yet, but I am to take it. As far as I can understand, she has sent all the way to London for me, in order that I may take a message across the Close.'
'You talk as though it were very disagreeable, coming to Exeter,' said Dorothy, with a little pout.
'So it is very disagreeable.'
'Very disagreeable if our marriage is to be put off by it. I think it will be so much nicer making love somewhere on the Rhine than having snatches of it here, and talking all the time about wills and tenements and settlements.' As he said this, with his arm round her waist and his face quite close to hers, shewing thereby that he was not altogether averse even to his present privileges, she forgave him.
On that same afternoon, just before the banking hours were over, Brooke went across to the house of Cropper and Burgess, having first been closeted for nearly an hour with his aunt and, as he went, his step was sedate and his air was serious. He found his uncle Barty, and was not very long in delivering his message. It was to this effect, that Miss Stanbury particularly wished to see Mr Bartholomew Burgess on business, at some hour on that afternoon or that evening. Brooke himself had been made acquainted with the subject in regard to which this singular interview was desired; but it was not a part of his duty to communicate any information respecting it. It had been necessary that his consent to certain arrangements should be asked before the invitation to Barty Burgess could be given; but his present mission was confined to an authority to give the invitation.
Old Mr Burgess was much surprised, and was at first disposed to decline the proposition made by the 'old harridan,' as he called her. He had never put any restraint on his language in talking of Miss Stanbury with his nephew, and was not disposed to do so now, because she had taken a new vagary into her head. But there was something in his nephew's manner which at last induced him to discuss the matter rationally.
'And you don't know what it's all about?' said Uncle Barty.
'I can't quite say that. I suppose I do know pretty well. At any rate, I know enough to think that you ought to come. But I must not say what it is.'
'Will it do me or anybody else any good?'
'It can't do you any harm. She won't eat you.'
'But she can abuse me like a pickpocket, and I should return it, and then there would be a scolding match. I always have kept out of her way, and I think I had better do so still.'
Nevertheless Brooke prevailed, or rather the feeling of curiosity which was naturally engendered prevailed. For very, very many years Barty Burgess had never entered or left his own house of business without seeing the door of that in which Miss Stanbury lived, and he had never seen that door without a feeling of detestation for the owner of it. It would, perhaps, have been a more rational feeling on his part had he confined his hatred to the memory of his brother, by whose will Miss Stanbury had been enriched, and he had been, as he thought, impoverished. But there had been a contest, and litigation, and disputes, and contradictions, and a long course of those incidents in life which lead to rancour and ill blood, after the death of the former Brooke Burgess; and, as the result of all this, Miss Stanbury held the property and Barty Burgess held his hatred. He had never been ashamed of it, and had spoken his mind out to all who would hear him. And, to give Miss Stanbury her due, it must be admitted that she had hardly been behind him in the warmth of her expression, of which old Barty was well aware. He hated, and knew that he was hated in return. And he knew, or thought that he knew, that his enemy was not a woman to relent because old age and weakness and the fear of death were coming on her. His enemy, with all her faults, was no coward. It could not be that now at the eleventh hour she should desire to reconcile him by any act of tardy justice, nor did he wish to be reconciled at this, the eleventh hour. His hatred was a pleasant excitement to him. His abuse of Miss Stanbury was a chosen recreation. His unuttered daily curse, as he looked over to her door, was a relief to him. Nevertheless he would go. As Brooke had said, no harm could come of his going. He would go, and at least listen to her proposition.
About seven in the evening his knock was heard at the door. Miss Stanbury was sitting in the small upstairs parlour, dressed in her second best gown, and was prepared with considerable stiffness and state for the occasion. Dorothy was with her, but was desired in a quick voice to hurry away the moment the knock was heard, as though old Barty would have jumped from the hall door into the room at a bound. Dorothy collected herself with a little start, and went without a word. She had heard much of Barty Burgess, but had never spoken to him, and was subject to a feeling of great awe when she would remember that the grim old man of whom she had heard so much evil would soon be her uncle. According to arrangement, Mr Burgess was shewn upstairs by his nephew. Barty Burgess had been born in this very house, but had not been inside the walls of it for more than thirty years. He also was somewhat awed by the occasion, and followed his nephew without a word. Brooke was to remain at hand, so that he might be summoned should he be wanted; but it had been decided by Miss Stanbury that he should not be present at the interview. As soon as her visitor entered the room she rose in a stately way, and curtseyed, propping herself with one hand upon the table as she did so. She looked him full in the face meanwhile, and curtseying a second time, asked him to seat himself in a chair which had been prepared for him. She did it all very well, and it may be surmised that she had rehearsed the little scene, perhaps more than once, when nobody was looking at her. He bowed, and walked round to the chair and seated himself; but finding that he was so placed that he could not see his neighbour's face, he moved his chair. He was not going to fight such a duel as this with the disadvantage of the sun in his eyes.
Hitherto there had hardly been a word spoken. Miss Stanbury had muttered something as she was curtseying, and Barty Burgess had made some return. Then she began: 'Mr Burgess,' she said, 'I am indebted to you for your complaisance in coming here at my request.' To this he bowed again. 'I should not have ventured thus to trouble you were it not that years are dealing more hardly with me than they are with you, and that I could not have ventured to discuss a matter of deep interest otherwise than in my own room.' It was her room now, certainly, by law; but Barty Burgess remembered it when it was his mother's room, and when she used to give them all their meals there now so many, many years ago! He bowed again, and said not a word. He knew well that she could sooner be brought to her point by his silence than by his speech.
She was a long time coming to her point. Before she could do so she was forced to allude to times long past, and to subjects which she found it very difficult to touch without saying that which would either belie herself, or seem to be severe upon him. Though she had prepared herself, she could hardly get the words spoken, and she was greatly impeded by the obstinacy of his silence. But at last her proposition was made to him. She told him that his nephew, Brooke, was about to be married to her niece, Dorothy; and that it was her intention to make Brooke her heir in the bulk of the property which she had received under the will of the late Mr Brooke Burgess. 'Indeed,' she said, 'all that I received at your brother's hands shall go back to your brother's family unimpaired' He only bowed, and would not say a word. Then she went on to say that it had at first been a mater to her of deep regret that Brooke should have set his affections upon her niece, as there had been in her mind a strong desire that none of her own people should enjoy the reversion of the wealth, which she had always regarded as being hers only for the term of her life; but that she had found that the young people had been so much in earnest, and that her own feeling had been so near akin to a prejudice, that she had yielded. When this was said Barty smiled instead of bowing, and Miss Stanbury felt that there might be something worse even than his silence. His smile told her that he believed her to be lying. Nevertheless she went on. She was not fool enough to suppose that the whole nature of the man was to be changed by a few words from her. So she went on. The marriage was a thing fixed, and she was thinking of settlements, and had been talking to lawyers about a new will.
'I do not know that I can help you,' said Barty, finding that a longer pause than usual made some word from him absolutely necessary.
'I am going on to that, and I regret that my story should detain you so long, Mr Burgess' And she did go on. She had, she said, made some saving out of her income. She was not going to trouble Mr Burgess with this matter, only that she might explain to him that what she would at once give to the young couple, and what she would settle on Dorothy after her own death, would all come from such savings, and that such gifts and bequests would not diminish the family property. Barty again smiled as he heard this, and Miss Stanbury in her heart likened him to the devil in person. But still she went on. She was very desirous that Brooke Burgess should come and live at Exeter. His property would be in the town and the neighbourhood. It would be a seemly thing, such was her word, that he should occupy the house that had belonged to his grandfather and his great-grandfather; and then, moreover, she acknowledged that she spoke selfishly; she dreaded the idea of being left alone for the remainder of her own years. Her proposition at last was uttered. It was simply this, that Barty Burgess should give to his nephew, Brooke, his share in the bank.
'I am damned, if I do!' said Barty Burgess, rising up from his chair.
But before he had left the room he had agreed to consider the proposition. Miss Stanbury had of course known that any such suggestion
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