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- Spring Days - 40/56 -
hundred--two hundred--the shadow of three hundred had fallen for a moment on his mind, but he had successfully chastened these unpleasantnesses by thoughts of the liberality, the generosity of the aristocracy, and he had encouraged a hope that Mount Rorke would let him off with a statement of how much Maggie would have at his death. And now to hear these terrible prognostications, and from his own son- in-law, too. It was too bad--it was too cruel. "You don't know what you are talking about, Berkins. If it were business I would listen to you, but really when it comes to discussing the aristocracy it is more than I can stand. What do you know about the aristocracy--not that," cried Mr. Brookes, snapping his fingers. "You were brought up in an office--what should you know? You were a clerk once at thirty shillings a week--what should you know? Lord Mount Rorke would never think of making such ridiculous proposals to me. You judge him by yourself, Berkins, that's it, that's it! I dare say he has heard of me in the City--many of your great lords do business in the City. I dare say he has heard of me, and if he has he'll not try any nonsense with me. Twist him round my finger, twist him round my finger."
Berkins liked a lord, but Berkins liked lords without thinking himself one jot their inferior, and he was sure that his horse and his dog and his house and everything belonging to him were better than theirs; and secure in the fact that his grandfather had been a field officer, he did not think it amiss to brag that he had begun life with thirty shillings a week, so he only smiled at his father-in-law's wrath, feeling now easy in his mind that Grace's future fortune would not be prejudiced for Maggie's glorification.
The discussion had fallen, and Mr. Brookes went to meet the young man whom he caught sight of coming across the sward.
"Most imprudent of you to come out to-day," he said, scanning the white face.
"Oh, I am very well now, thanks. The sun is a little overpowering, that is all. I want to speak to you, Mr. Brookes."
"Speak to me? Yes. Will you go into the billiard-room, my boy? I can see the heat has upset you. Take my arm."
Frank took the offered arm. He was feeling very faint, but the cool and dim colour of the billiard-room revived him, and when he had had some claret and water, he said that he felt quite strong, and listened patiently to Mr. Brookes.
"Well, I never! No, I never heard of such a thing. A stiletto, too. You brought it from Italy? It makes me feel quite young again. Ah! 'tis hard to say what we won't do for a girl when Miss Right comes along. I was just the same--pretty keen on it, I can tell you, when I was your age; and I don't know, even now,--but a man with grown-up daughters must be careful. Still when I see a little waist, high heels, plump--you know, that's the way I used to like them when I used to go to the oyster shops; there was one at the top of the Haymarket. Ah! I was young then, young as you are; I was keen on it--Aunt Mary will tell you that--there was nothing I wouldn't do; I never went as far as stabbing--walking about at night, tears, torments as much as you like, but I never went so far as stabbing. Wonderful what love will make a man do! Supposing you had killed yourself; in my garden, too--awful! What would people say? I hear they are talking of it in the clubs--hope it won't go any further. Should Mount Rorke hear of it! Eh? Might set him against us; might not give his consent--eh? We should be up a tree, then."
"I don't think there is much danger of that. I came to-day, Mr. Brookes, to ask for your consent; am I to understand that you give it?"
"Well, my dear Frank, I don't see why I should refuse it; I have known you since you were quite a small boy. I don't want to flatter you. I don't know that I care much about young men as a rule, but you, I have always found you--well, just what you should be. Of course the connection is very flattering. You will one day be Lord Mount Rorke, and to see my darling Maggie sharing your honours will be--that is to say if I live to see it--a great, a very gre--great hon--our."
Feeling much embarrassed Frank begged of him not to mention it. "I shall be writing to-morrow or next day to my uncle; shall I say that you have given your consent to my marriage with your daughter? I may say that I have already written to him on the subject."
"By all means, my dear boy. I think I can say you have my consent-- that is to say, you have my consent if the money's all right. All is, of course, subject to that. Now you are for love in a cottage, bread and cheese romance; a man who will use a stiletto can't be expected to know much about money, but I am a father, my stiletto days are over, and I couldn't give my daughter without a settlement. You will, no doubt, be--of course you will be--Lord Mount Rorke one of these days; but in the meantime there must be a proper settlement. My daughter must be properly provided for; it is my duty to look after her interests, so you may as well tell your uncle that I shall be pleased to meet him and talk the matter over with him. I will meet him in London, when it suits his convenience; I need hardly say that if he should choose to come down here that I shall be pleased to see him. And now tell me--of course he will be prepared to act handsomely; I have no doubt he will, the aristocracy always do act handsomely, no one is so liberal as your aristocrat. I hope he will settle a good round sum on my daughter--money invested in first-class securities, not what Berkins would call first-class, but what I should call first- class securities; and should your uncle prove the liberal man that I have no doubt he is, I don't say that I won't behave handsomely. Of course you know that my dear children will have all my money at my death. I shall never marry again, that is a settled thing; but in the meantime I will do something. When Grace was married I behaved very generously--too generously--a lot of money--mustn't do it again, times are not what they were. But at my death I shall make no difference, all three will share and share alike."
Frank hoped when Brookes and Mount Rorke met, that the former would modify his demands, and what was still more important, his mode of expressing them. But why should Mr. Brookes appear to him in such a sudden glow of vulgarity? He had never thought of him as a refined and cultivated gentleman, but was unprepared for this latest manifestation.
"Lord Mount Rorke allows me a certain annual income, he will no doubt double this income upon my marriage; I daresay he would--since he has recognised me as his heir--make this income legally mine by deed, I could then settle a certain sum on Maggie, in case of my death; but then further settlements would be required when I succeed to the title and the property. I had thought--and indeed I think still--that if my uncle makes me a sufficient allowance, that we might avoid touching on this matter at all. Lord Mount Rorke is an irritable man, and I am sure that if you were to speak to him as you--"
"Pooh! pooh! Nonsense! nonsense! You don't suppose I am going to give my daughter to a man unless he can settle a sufficient sum of money upon her? Berkins wouldn't hear of it. He was only telling me just now--"
"But I don't think you understand me, Mr. Brookes. I do not propose that you should give me any money with your daughter. Let what you give her be settled upon her, and let it be tied up as strictly as the law can tie it."
"Pooh! pooh! the man that marries my daughter must settle a sum of money at least equal to what I settle upon her; and it must be money invested in first-class security, otherwise I couldn't think of giving her one penny."
"I am sorry, Mr. Brookes, that you are so determined on this point. These matters generally arrange themselves if people incline to meet each other half way, and I am sure that my uncle will resent it if you insist on pounds, shillings, and pence as you propose doing. He is not accustomed to strict business--marriages in our family were never made on such principles; my happiness is bound up in Maggie. I hope you will consider what you are risking."
"I would do more for you than any one else, Frank, but business is business, and the man who has my daughter must settle a sum of money equivalent to what I settle."
"I am afraid I have talked too much, I am not very strong, yet with your permission we will adjourn this discussion to another day--in the meantime I will write to my uncle."
Mr. Brookes did not offer the assistance of his arm, and had he, Frank would certainly not have accepted it. Holding the door, the old man waited for his visitor to pass out. "Southdown Road or the heir to a peerage: it is all the same, my money is what is wanted--the money I had made myself," thought Mr. Brookes. "Dreadful old man, he would sell his daughter for a settlement of a few hundred pounds a year. I never knew he was so bad, my eyes are opened," thought Frank. Both were equally angry, and without secrecy or subterfuge they sought consolation in different parts of the garden. Mr. Brookes resumed his walk on the tennis ground with Berkins, and stopping frequently to point to his glass-houses, he described his misfortunes with profuse waves of his stick. Frank had found Maggie, and they now walked together in the shade and silence of the sycamores--he, vehement and despairing of the future; she, subtle and strangely confident that things would happen as she wished them.
Having once yielded and felt the pang of possession she was wholly his, in all ramifications of spirit and flesh, both in her brain and blood, and the utmost ends of her sense mingled with him. But to him, she was the symbol of the desire of which he was enamoured, the desire which held together his nature and gave it individuality--love of _the_ young girl.
"Oh! my darling, if he should speak so to Mount Rorke, we should be parted for ever--no, that could never be--nothing in heaven or earth would induce me to give you up, be true to me and I will be true to you; but our happiness--no, not our happiness, that is in ourselves-- but all our prospects in life will be wrecked if he will not give way. Should he and Mount Rorke meet--"
"But they won't meet; have patience--I know how to manage father. He doesn't like to part with his money, and I can understand it, he made it all himself; but he will get used to the idea in time, leave him to me; put your trust in me."
She extended her hand, he took it, pressed it to his lips; he took her in his arms and kissed her, and the leaves of the sycamores were filled with the sunset.
"DEAR SIR,--I received a letter this morning from my nephew, apprising me of his engagement to your daughter. He has apparently obtained your consent, and he asks for mine, and he also asks from me not only an increase of income to meet the requirements of altered circumstances, but he tells me that you will expect me to settle some seven, eight, or ten thousand pounds upon your daughter.
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