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- Spring Days - 4/56 -


"My sisters are fitted for nothing but pleasure," Willy replied severely.

II

Mr. Brookes went to London every day by the five minutes to ten; Willy walked into Brighton. There he had been for some time striving to found an agency for artificial manures, and in the twilight of a small office he brooded over the different means of making money that were open to him. The young ladies worked or played as it struck their fancy. Sally admitted that she infinitely preferred walking round the garden with a young man to doing wool-work in the drawing-room. Maggie shared this taste, although she did not make bold profession of it. Grace was the gentlest of the sisters, and had passed unnoticed until she had fallen in love with a penniless officer, and tortured her father with tears and haggard cheeks because he refused to supply her with money to keep a husband. The doctor had ordered her iron; she had been sent to London for a change, but neither remedy was of much avail, and when she returned home pale and melancholy she had not taken the keys from Maggie, but had allowed her to usurp her place inthe house. Sally was supposed to look after the conservatories, but beyond her own special flowers she left everything to the gardeners.

On Sundays Mr. Brookes walked through the long drawing-rooms aimlessly. Sometimes he would stop before one of his pictures. "There, that's a good picture, I paid a lot of money for it, I paid too much, mustn't do so again." Passing his daughters, sometimes without speaking, he then stopped before one of the big chimney-pieces, and, pulling out his large silk pocket handkerchief, dusted the massive clocks and candlesticks.

In the billiard-room, at a table drawn up close to the coke fire, Willy slowly and with much care made pencil notes, which he slowly and with great solemnity copied into his diary.

"Your sisters are a great source of trouble to me, a source of deep anxiety," said Mr. Brookes, and he flicked the rearing legs of a bronze horse with his handkerchief.

"My sisters are only fit for pleasure," said Willy and he finished the tail of the y, passed the blotting paper over, and prepared to begin a fresh paragraph.

"I am afraid Grace is scarcely any better; she will not leave her room. I hear she is crying. It is too ridiculous, too ridiculous. What she can see in that man I can't think; he is only a man of pleasure. I've told her so, but somehow she can't get to see why I will not settle money upon her--money that I made myself, by hard work, judicious investments."

"That's a smack at the shop," thought Willy, as he placed his full stop.

"I'll not settle my money upon her," said Mr. Brookes, as he resumed his dusting; "and for what? to keep an idle fellow in idleness. No, I'll not do it. She'll get over it--ah, it will be all the same a hundred years hence. But tell me, have you noticed--no, you notice nothing--"

"Yes, I do; what do you want me to say, that she is looking very ill? I can't help it if she is. I've quite enough troubles of my own without thinking of other people's. I'm sure I am very sorry. I wish she'd never met the fellow."

"That's what I say, I wish she'd never met the fellow, and she never would had it not been for that horrible Southdown Road. Southwick has never been the same since those villas were put up."

"I know nothing about them; I won't know them. I don't go to the Horlocks because I may meet people there I don't want to know. If you hadn't allowed the girls to go there, she never would have met him."

"But we had to call on the Horlocks. Every Viceroy that ever came to India called upon her, and they're excellent people--titled people come down from London to see them: but I daresay their banking accounts wouldn't bear looking into. She walks about the green with the chemist's wife, and has the people of the baths to dinner. Mostextraordinary woman. I like her, I enjoy her society; but I can't follow her in her opinions. She says that only men are bad; that all animals are good; that it is only men who make them bad. Her views on hydrophobia are most astonishing. She says it is a mild and easy death, and sees no reason why the authorities should attempt to stamp it out. She quite frightened me with the story she told me of a mad dog that died in her arms. But that by the way. The point is not now whether she is right to feed mice in her bedroom instead of getting rid of them, but whether we should call on people we don't want to know because she asks us to do so. I say we should not. When she spoke to me the other day about the lady whose mother was a housemaid, I said, 'My dear Mrs. Horlock, it is very well for you to call on those people. I approve of, I admire magnanimity; but what you can do I cannot do. You have no daughters to bring out; every Viceroy that ever came to India called on you, your position in the world is assured, your friends will not think the less of you no matter how intimately you know the chemist's wife, but you could not do these things if you had daughters to bring out.'"

"What did she say to that?"

"She was just going out to walk with her pugs. Angel began to--you know, and for the moment she could think of nothing else; when the little beast had finished I had forgotten the thread of my argument. However, I spoke to her about Grace; and she promised that she shouldn't meet the fellow again. I can't think of his name, I get lost in the different names, and they are all so alike I scarcely know one from the other. I have had nothing but trouble since your poor mother died. Your sisters give me a great deal of trouble, and you have given me a great deal of trouble. We couldn't get on in business together on account of your infernal slowness. No man is more for keeping his accounts and letters straight than I, but your exactitude drives me mad; it drives me mad; there you are at it again. I should like to know what you are copying into that diary. One would think you were writing an article for the _Times_, from the care with which you're drawing out every letter; 'pon my word it isn't writing at all, it's painting. You can't write for a pair of boots without taking a copy of the letter, entering it into this book, and entering it into that book; 'pon my word it is maddening."

Willy laughed. "Each person has his own way of doing business; I don't see how it interferes with you, or what difference it makes to you, if I spend three minutes or three days writing a letter."

"Perhaps not, perhaps not; but I am terribly upset about Grace," said Mr. Brookes, and he walked slowly across the room and stood looking at his Bouguereau; "she'll get over it, but in any case she'll miss her chance of marrying Berkins; that is what distresses me. The man stinks of money. I hear that he has been appointed manager of a colliery, that alone will bring him another thousand a year. His business is going up, he must be worth now between seven and eight thousand a year. And he began as an office boy, he hadn't a penny piece, made it all himself."

"So I should think; a purse-proud ass!"

"Never mind, his eight thousand is as good an eight thousand as any in the land, better than a great many. I wouldn't give a snap of my fingers for your broken-down landowners; Berkins has always made excellent investments, and I hear he is now getting as much as fifteen per cent. for money invested."

Willy had been to Oxford, and the arrogance and pomposity of this purse-proud man shocked his sense of decorum. Berkins's vulgarity was more offensive than that of Mr. Brookes. Mr. Brookes was a simple, middle-class man, who had made money straightforwardly and honestly, and he had cultivated his natural taste for pictures to the limit of his capacities and opportunities. Berkins, however, had been born a gentleman, but had had to shift for himself, even when a lad, and he had caught at all chances; he was more sophisticated, he was a gentleman in a state of retrograde, and was in all points inferior to him whom he crossed in his descent. Berkins had bought a small place, a villa with some hundred acres attached to it, on the other side of Preston Park. There he had erected glass houses, and bred a few pheasants in the corner of a field, and it surprised him to find that the county families took no notice of him. Mr. Brookes had sympathised, but the young people laughed at him and Willy had told a story how he had been to shoot at ----, and when a partridge got up right in front of his gun, Berkins turned round and shot it, exclaiming: "That's the way to bring them down!"

And now whenever his name was mentioned, Willy thought of this incident, so very typical did it seem to him of the man, and he liked to twit his father with it. But Mr. Brookes could not be brought to see the joke, and he fell back on the plausible and insidious argument that, notwithstanding his manners, Berkins was worth eight thousand a year.

"And very few girls get the chance of catching eight thousand a year; and she'll miss it, she'll miss it if she doesn't take care."

"You talk of it as if it were an absolute certainty; you don't know that Berkins wants to marry Grace; he hasn't been here for the last month."

"Mr. Berkins is not like the young good-for-nothings your sisters waste their time with, he is a man of means, of eight thousand a year; you don't expect him to come round here every evening to tea, and to play tennis, and to walk in the moonlight and talk nonsense. Berkins is a man of means, he is a man who can make a settlement."

"Has he spoken to you on the subject, then?"

"No, Mr. Berkins is a man of tact, however you may laugh at him for having shot your partridge. He spoke to your Aunt Mary, or rather she spoke to him. Ah, clever woman, your Aunt Mary, wonderful manner, wonderful will, when she wants a thing done it must be done. Your poor mother--I mean no disparagement--but I must say she couldn't compare with her for determination; Sally reminds me of her, but Sally's determination is misdirected, deplorably misdirected; it is directed against me, entirely against me. She must be made submissive; when I spoke to Aunt Mary about her, she said her spirit must be broken; and if she were here she'd break it. If she were here things would be very different, your sisters wouldn't be flirting with all the little clerks in the Southdown Road; but I am alone. I have no one to turn to."

"You were telling me that Berkins had spoken to Aunt Mary about


Spring Days - 4/56

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