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- Spring Days - 6/56 -
girl who is, I hope, to be my wife should be, and she was naturally a little overcome. I did not exactly catch what she said, and I didn't like to press her for an immediate answer. But suppose we assume for the moment that Miss Brookes's reply will be a favourable one--I have, I confess, much faith in her good sense--we might consider the business side."
Notwithstanding his admiration of a man who had made three thousand a year more than he had succeeded in doing, Mr. Brookes could not but feel irritated at Berkins, who, with increasing gravity, continued to assume all things to his own advantage. It had not occurred to him to consider that Grace might refuse him. Why should she refuse him? She could not hope to do better. She appeared to him as a very nice girl indeed, one entirely fitted for the position for which he intended her. He understood that all girls, at least those in society, were innocent and virtuous; he understood that when they married they made faithful and dutiful wives; and he had chosen her not because he had fallen in love, nor yet because he had noticed she was likely to make a better wife than her sisters, but because she was the eldest. Even so he would be twenty years his wife's senior, and he had chosen to marry one of the Brookes girls because he knew them and saw them constantly; because he knew that at their father's death his fortune would be divided between them. Grace was, therefore, an heiress in perspective. The prospect was agreeable, but he foresaw that it would be put forward as an excuse for fixing the sum of marriage settlements as low as possible. It would, however, be difficult for Brookes to settle less on his daughter than he, Berkins, was willing to settle on his wife; so partly in the hopes of forcing Mr. Brookes, and partly because of the pleasure it gave him to speak of himself, he continued talking of his position and possessions.
"In dealing with me," he said, "you are dealing, as you know, Mr. Brookes, with a man of means, a man who can afford to do the thing properly; you will not misunderstand me--you remember you told me that you had great difficulty in keeping the little folk who live here out of your house."
"The neighbourhood has never been the same since they put up that row of villas. A lot of indigent fortune-hunters, they know my girls will have large fortunes at my death, so they come sneaking round the place like so many wolves."
"I can readily sympathise with you; one doesn't make money to keep idle young fellows in the luxuries of life."
"That is what I say."
"But you aren't sufficiently firm, Mr. Brookes; had you been brought up in the hard school that I was you would be more firm; firmness is everything. You married early, I couldn't afford to do that. At sixteen I had to shift for myself. I was three years a clerk at two pounds a week, and not many chances to rise come in the way of a clerk at two pounds a week; he must be pretty sharp, and if he doesn't seize the little chance when it comes, he will remain a little clerk all his life. It is the first steps that are difficult, the rest are nothing. You don't know what the first steps are; I do. Once you've made a thousand pounds you can swim along a bit, but the first hundred, I shall never forget it! Afterwards it is just the same; the proportions are changed, that is all. The first twenty thousand is very uphill work, the second is on the flat, the third is going downhill--it brings itself along."
"A very good simile indeed. There's no doubt that it is money that makes money. When you have none you cannot make it. It is like corn; give a man a handful, and he must be a fool if he can't fill his barn. The beginnings are hard; none knows that better than I. But for the last ten years I've been doing fairly well."
"I had never intended to get married, but when money really begins to accumulate it pushes you along. It is curious how money takes you along. It is like a tide. You first begin thinking of a little place in the country where you can stay from Saturday till Monday. The little place grows; it is extraordinary how it grows. You find you want flowers, and you put up a glass house; then you begin to get interested in orchids or roses, and you put up two, maybe half a dozen glass houses. Suddenly you find the rabbits are breeding in the hedgerows, and you go out yonder ferretting, but the coachman does not know how to manage the ferrets, and you start a keeper. The keeper says one morning, 'It wouldn't require much to get up a stock of pheasants in that little wood.' You say, 'Very well;' and there you are before you know it, with glass houses, rabbit-shooting, and a pheasant preserve. You have friends to stay with you for the shooting, you get talked about in the clubs, people ask why you aren't married-- the place where the wife ought to be stares you in the face: a man of money, of real money, must get married. The friends who come and stay with you suggest a little dance, you think it would be very pleasant; but you know no one in the neighbourhood, the county people won't visit you, so the thing comes about, and you are head over heels in settlements before you know where you are."
"Do you find the county people very standoffish over Preston Park way?"
"I am not in a position to judge; they could not very well call on me situated as I am, a young--well, I will say, a marriageable--man, known to be wealthy; but I have no doubt when I am married they will call on us."
"Twirl them round my little finger, stuck-up lot; I should like to know what they have to be proud of, half of them are broken--their land is worthless. Give me good sound investments, five or six per cent. For some money I am getting seven; the waterworks pays fourteen."
The conversation suddenly dropped, they looked at each other blankly; they felt they had talked a good deal, but without approaching any nearer the subject they had met to speak on.
"Our intention was," said Berkins, in his most solemn and professional manner, "assuming that Miss Brookes is not averse from my suit, to discuss the business side, for there is a business side to all questions, as you, Mr. Brookes, will be the first to see."
Mr. Brookes had begun to anger; he would have liked to have answered that such a discussion was altogether premature, but he yielded before Berkins's authoritative manner, and he replied instead that he would be glad indeed to hear whatever proposal Mr. Berkins had to make.
"I should like to say, then--I will assume that we stand as man to man, equal; you have probably more money invested than I; I am making possibly a larger income--you will forgive me if I am mistaken, but you told me the other day as we went up in the train that you had had a very bad year."
"Three thousand dead loss. It does not matter so much to me, my money is invested, but it would have gone hard with many a man who was relying on his business. Three thousand pounds dead loss!"
"How was that? I suppose the temperance societies affect you; they must have had a great effect on the sale of liquor."
"No one who was not in the trade would believe in the falling off in the quantity of whisky drunk. But it was not that."
"Trade generally, trade depression affects every one; the failure of one makes bad debts for the other. It was bad debts that did it. It was very stupid of me, but I was worried at home: those fortune- hunters from the villas--my daughters are very young, and since their poor mother died they have had no one to look after them. Willy, too, is a great trial to me. Poor boy, he is most anxious to do something, but things don't go right with him; he thought he was going to do a good thing in a Bond Street shop that was converted into a company, but he lost two thousand pounds."
"I thought he was in the distillery with you."
"He was for a while, but he irritated me; he is so confoundedly methodical, everything must go into his diary, he spends half the day filling it up. Besides after you have conducted a business so many years you don't want a partner; you have your own way of doing things, and don't want to be interfered with. He draws a certain income, but he has nothing now to do with the business. We were talking of settlements."
"You do not act as I should regarding the villa residences. I would put them down. I would not have it; but, as you say, we were talking of settlements. I think I said we stood as man to man. In round numbers your fortune equals mine, mine equals yours--very well, let us act equally. I will settle five hundred a year on Miss Brookes, do you likewise; what do you say to that?"
"Pooh, pooh! I couldn't think of such a thing. Five hundred a year!" said Mr. Brookes, and throwing his cigar into the fireplace, he walked up the room indignantly. "I was wrong to consent to discuss the matter; to say the least, it is premature; I never heard of such a thing. Five hundred a year! This is worse than the Southdown Road, many degrees worse."
"Sir, such insinuations are most uncalled for; I must beg of you to withdraw them. I must ask you to remember you are talking to one at least in the same position as yourself, to a man of seven thousand a year!"
"Pooh, pooh! seven thousand a year--you are making that to-day, to- morrow you mayn't be making three. Yours isn't invested money."
Berkins had risen from the great leather armchair, and he stood expressionless as a piece of office furniture, his grave face divided by the green shade of the billiard lamp; Mr. Brookes remained with his back--his straight fat back bound in a new frock coat that defined the senile fatness of the haunches--turned to his guest. He stooped as if to examine his favourite Linnell, but, in his passion, he did not see it. The table, covered with a grey cloth, lay like an account spread out between the moneyed men.
"Taking your words into due consideration, I think I had better wish you good-morning, Mr. Brookes."
"Mr. Berkins, I would not wish you to misunderstand me," said Mr. Brookes, whom the prospect of losing seven thousand a year had suddenly cooled. "My daughter will have--my children, I should say-- will have my fortune divided amongst them at my death, and when we come to go into figures you will find--"
"But in the meantime, what do you propose to settle on her?"
Mr. Brookes hesitated. He was angry at being pressed. Berkins's domineering tone irritated him; he would have liked to bundle him from
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