Hour after hour the unhappy man lay still as death on his bed and reasoned i_ain with his accusing conscience. To be sure, he said to himself, no man wa_ound by the law of England to name his heir. It is for the eldest son himsel_o come forward and make his claim. If Guy and Cyril could prove their titl_o the Tilgate estates when he himself was dead, that was their privat_usiness. He wasn't bound to do anything special to make the way easy for the_eforehand.
But still, when he saw them, his heart arose and smote him. His very clas_rejudices fought hard on their behalf. These men were gentlemen, the eldes_ons of a Kelmscott of Tilgate—true Kelmscotts to the core—handsome, courtly, erect of bearing. Guy was the very image of the Kelmscott of Tilgate Park wh_led for King Charles at Marston Moor; Cyril had the exact mien of Sir Ruper_elmscott, Knight of Chetwood, the ablest of their race, whose portrait, b_neller, hung in the great hall between his father; the Admiral, and hi_ncle, Sir Frederick. They had all the qualities the Colonel himsel_ssociated with the Kelmscott name. They were strong, brave, vigorous, able t_old their own against all comers. To leave them out in the cold was not onl_rong—it was also, he felt in his heart of hearts, a treason to his order.
At last, after long watching, he fell asleep. But he slept uneasily. When h_oke, it was with a start. He found himself murmuring to himself in hi_roubled sleep, "Break the entail, and settle a sum on the two that will quie_hem."
It was the only way left to prevent public scandal, and to save Lady Emily an_is son Granville from a painful disclosure: while, at the same time, it woul_o some extent satisfy the claims of his conscience.
Compromise, compromise; there's nothing like compromise. Colonel Kelmscott ha_lways had by temperament a truly British love of compromise.
To carry out his plan, indeed, it would be necessary to break the entai_wice; once formally, and once again really. He must begin by gettin_ranville's consent to the proposed arrangement, so as to raise ready mone_ith which to bribe the young men; and as soon as Granville's consent wa_btained, he must put it plainly to Guy and Cyril, as an anonymous benefactor, that if they would consent to accept a fixed sum in lieu of all contingencies, then the secret of their birth would be revealed to them at last, and the_ould be asked to break the entail on the estates as eldest sons of _entleman of property.
It was a hard bargain; a very hard bargain; but then these boys would jump a_t, no doubt; expecting nothing as they did, they'd certainly jump at it. It'_ great point, you see, to come in suddenly, when you expect nothing, to _ice lump sum of five or six thousand!
So much so, indeed, that the real difficulty, he thought, would rather lie i_pproaching Granville.
After breakfast that morning, however, he tapped his son on the shoulder as h_as leaving the table, and said to him, in his distinctly business tone,
"Granville, will you step with me into the library for ten minutes' talk?
There's a small matter of the estate I desire to discuss with you."
Granville looked back at him with a curiously amused air.
"Why, yes," he said shortly. "It's a very odd coincidence. But do you know, _as going this morning myself to ask for a chance of ten minutes' talk wit_ou."
He rose, and followed his father into the oak-panelled library. The Colone_at down on one of the uncomfortable library chairs, especially designed, wit_heir knobs and excrescences, to prevent the bare possibility of seriou_tudy. Granville took a seat opposite him, across the formal oak table.
Colonel Kelmscott paused; and cleared his throat nervously. Then, wit_ilitary promptitude, he darted straight into the very thick of the fray.
"Granville," he said abruptly, "I want to speak with you about a rather bi_ffair. The fact of it is, I'm going to break the entail. I want to raise som_oney."
The son gave a little start of surprise and amusement. "Why, this is ver_dd," he exclaimed once more, in an astonished tone. "That's just the precis_hing I wanted to talk about with you."
Colonel Kelmscott eyed him with an answering start.
"Not debts!" he said slowly. "My boy, my boy, this is bad. Not debts surely, Granville; I never suspected it."
"Oh, dear no," Granville answered frankly. "No debts, you may be sure. But _anted to feel myself on a satisfactory basis—as to income and so forth: and _as prepared to pay for my freedom well. To tell you the truth outright, _ant to marry."
Colonel Kelmscott eyed him close with a very puzzled look. "Not Elma Clifford, my boy," he said again quickly. "For of course, if it is her, Granville, _eed hardly say—"
The young man cut him short with a hasty little laugh. "Elma Clifford," h_epeated, with some scorn in his musical voice, "Oh, dear no, not HER. If i_ad been her you may be sure there'd be no reason of any sort for breaking th_ntail. But the fact is this: I dislike allowances one way or the other. _ant to feel once for all I'm my own master. I want to marry—not this girl o_hat, but whom ever I will. I don't care to coine to you with my hat in m_and, asking how much you'll be kind enough to allow me if I venture to tak_iss So-and-so or Miss What-you-may-call-it. And as I know you want mone_ourself for this new wing you're thinking of, why, I'm prepared to break th_ntail at once, and sell whatever building land you think right and proper."
The father held his breath. What on earth could this mean? "And who is th_irl, Granville?" he asked, with unconcealed interest.
"You won't care to hear," his son answered carelessly.
Colonel Kelmscott looked across at him with a very red face. "Not some gir_ho'll bring disgrace upon your mother, I hope?" he said, with a half-pang o_emorse, remembering Lucy. "Not some young woman beneath your own station i_ife. For to that, you may be sure, I'll never consent under an_ircumstances."
Granville drew himself up proudly, with a haughty smile. He was a Kelmscott, too, as arrogant as the best of them.
"No, that's not the difficulty," he answered, looking rather amused tha_nnoyed or frightened. "My tastes are NOT low. I hope I know better than t_isgrace my family. The lady I want to marry, and for whose sake I wish you t_ake some arrangement beforehand is—don't be surprised—well, Gwendolin_ildersleeve."
"Gwendoline Gildersleeve," his father echoed, astonished; for there was feu_etween the families, "That rascally, land-grabbing barrister's daughter! Why, how on earth do you come to know anything of her, Granville? Nobody in Surre_ver had the impertinence yet to ask me or mine to meet the Gildersleeve_nywhere, since that disgraceful behaviour of his about the boundary fences.
And I didn't suppose you'd ever even seen her."
"Nobody in Surrey ever did ask me to meet her," Granville answered somewha_urtly. "But you can't expect every one in London society to keep watch ove_he quarrels of every country parish in provincial England! It wouldn't b_easonable. I met Gwendoline, if you want to know, at the Bertrams', i_erkeley Square, and she and I got on so well together that we've—well, we'v_et from time to time in the Park, since our return from town, and we think b_his time we may consider ourselves informally engaged to one another."
Colonel Kelmscott gazed at his son in a perfect access of indignant amazement.
Gilbert Gildersleeve's daughter! That rascally Q.C.'s! At any other momen_uch a proposal would have driven him forthwith into open hostilities. I_ranville chose to marry a girl like that, why, Granville might have lived o_hat his father would allow him.
Just now, however, with this keen fit of remorse quite fresh upon his sou_bout poor Lucy's sons, Colonel Kelmscott was almost disposed to accept th_pening thus laid before him by Granville's proposal.
So he temporized for awhile, nursing his chin with his hand, and then, afte_uch discussion, yielded at last a conditional consent—conditional upon thei_utual agreement as to the terms on which the entail was to be finally broken.
"And what sort of arrangement do you propose I should make for your persona_aintenance, and this Gildersleeve girl's household?" the Colonel asked a_ength, with a very red face, descending to details.
His son, without appearing to notice the implied slight to Gwendoline, name_he terms that he thought would satisfy him.
"That's a very stiff sum," the master of Tilgate retorted; "but perhaps _ould manage it; per—haps I could manage it. We must sell the Dowlands farm a_nce, that's certain, and I must take the twelve thousand or so the land wil_etch for my own use, absolutely and without restriction."
"To build the new wing with?" the son put in, with a gesture of assent.
"To build the new wing with? Why, certainly not," his father answered angrily.
"Am I to bargain with my son what use I'm to make of my own property? Mark m_ords, I won't submit to interference. To do precisely as I choose with, sir.
To roll in if I like! To fling into the sea, if the fancy takes me!"
Granville Kelmscott stared hard at him. Twelve thousand pounds! What on eart_ould his father mean by this whim? he wondered. "Twelve thousand pounds is _ery big sum to fling away from the estate without a question asked," h_etorted, growing hot "It seems to me, you too closely resemble our ancestor_ho came over from Holland. In matters of business, you know, the fault of th_utch is giving too little and asking too much."
His father glared at him. That's the worst of this huckstering and higglin_ith your own flesh and blood. You have to put up with such intolerabl_nsults. But he controlled himself, and continued. The longer he talked, however, the hotter and angrier he became by degrees. And what made him th_ottest and angriest of all was the knowledge meanwhile that he was doing i_very bit for Granville's own sake; nay, more, that consideration fo_ranville alone had brought him originally into this peck of trouble.
At last he could contain himself with indignation no longer. His temper brok_own. He flared up and out with it. "Take care what you do!" he cried. "Tak_are what you say, Granville! I'm not going to be bearded with impunity in m_en. If you press me too hard, remember, I'll ruin all. I can cut you off wit_ shilling, sir, if I choose—cut you off with a shilling. Yes, and do justic_o others I've wronged for your sake. Don't provoke me too far, I say, If yo_o, you'll repent it."
"Cut me off with a shilling, sir!" his son answered angrily, rising an_taring hard at him. "Why, what do you mean by that? You know you can't do it, My interest in the estate's as good as your own. I'm the eldest son—"
He broke off suddenly; for at those fatal words, Colonel Kelmscott's face, fiery red till then, grew instantly blanched and white with terror. "Oh, wha_ave I done?" the unhappy man cried, seeing his son's eyes read some glimps_f the truth too clearly in his look. "Oh, what have I said? Forget it, Granny, forget it! I didn't mean to go so far as I did in my anger. I was _ool—a fool! I gave way too much. For Heaven's sake, my boy, forget it, forge_t!"
The young man looked across at him with a dazed and puzzled look, yet ver_ull of meaning. "I shall never forget it," he said slowly. "I shall lear_hat it means. I don't know how things stand; but I see you meant it. Do a_ou like about the entail. It's no business of mine. Take your pound of flesh, your twelve thousand down, and pay your hush-money! I don't know whom yo_ribe, and I have nothing to say to it. I never dragged the honour of th_elmscotts in the dust. I won't drag it now. I wash my hands clean from it. _sk no questions. I demand no explanations. I only say this. Until I know wha_ou mean—know whether I'm lawful heir to Tilgate Park or not, I won't marr_he girl I meant to marry. I have too much regard for her, and for the honou_f our house, to take her on what may prove to be false expectations. Brea_he entail, I say! Raise your twelve thousand. Pay off your bloodhounds. Bu_ever expect me to touch a penny of your money, henceforth and for ever, til_ know whether it was yours and mine at all to deal with."
Colonel Kelmscott bent down his proud head meekly. "As you will, Granville,"
he answered, quite broken with remorse, and silenced by shame. "My boy, m_oy, I only wanted to save you!"