Chapter XI. A Family Jar.
 

Hour after hour the unhappy man lay still as death on his bed and reasoned in vain with his accusing conscience. To be sure, he said to himself, no man was bound by the law of England to name his heir. It is for the eldest son himself to come forward and make his claim. If Guy and Cyril could prove their title to the Tilgate estates when he himself was dead, that was their private business. He wasn't bound to do anything special to make the way easy for them beforehand.

But still, when he saw them, his heart arose and smote him. His very class prejudices fought hard on their behalf. These men were gentlemen, the eldest sons 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 who bled for King Charles at Marston Moor; Cyril had the exact mien of Sir Rupert Kelmscott, Knight of Chetwood, the ablest of their race, whose portrait, by Kneller, hung in the great hall between his father; the Admiral, and his uncle, Sir Frederick. They had all the qualities the Colonel himself associated with the Kelmscott name. They were strong, brave, vigorous, able to hold their own against all comers. To leave them out in the cold was not only wrong--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 he woke, it was with a start. He found himself murmuring to himself in his troubled sleep, "Break the entail, and settle a sum on the two that will quiet them."

It was the only way left to prevent public scandal, and to save Lady Emily and his son Granville from a painful disclosure: while, at the same time, it would to some extent satisfy the claims of his conscience.

Compromise, compromise; there's nothing like compromise. Colonel Kelmscott had always had by temperament a truly British love of compromise.

To carry out his plan, indeed, it would be necessary to break the entail twice; once formally, and once again really. He must begin by getting Granville's consent to the proposed arrangement, so as to raise ready money with which to bribe the young men; and as soon as Granville's consent was obtained, 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 they would be asked to break the entail on the estates as eldest sons of a gentleman of property.

It was a hard bargain; a very hard bargain; but then these boys would jump at it, no doubt; expecting nothing as they did, they'd certainly jump at it. It's a great point, you see, to come in suddenly, when you expect nothing, to a nice lump sum of five or six thousand!

So much so, indeed, that the real difficulty, he thought, would rather lie in approaching Granville.

After breakfast that morning, however, he tapped his son on the shoulder as he was 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, I was going this morning myself to ask for a chance of ten minutes' talk with you."

He rose, and followed his father into the oak-panelled library. The Colonel sat down on one of the uncomfortable library chairs, especially designed, with their knobs and excrescences, to prevent the bare possibility of serious study. Granville took a seat opposite him, across the formal oak table. Colonel Kelmscott paused; and cleared his throat nervously. Then, with military promptitude, he darted straight into the very thick of the fray.

"Granville," he said abruptly, "I want to speak with you about a rather big affair. The fact of it is, I'm going to break the entail. I want to raise some money."

The son gave a little start of surprise and amusement. "Why, this is very odd," he exclaimed once more, in an astonished tone. "That's just the precise thing 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 I wanted to feel myself on a satisfactory basis--as to income and so forth: and I was prepared to pay for my freedom well. To tell you the truth outright, I want 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, I need hardly say--"

The young man cut him short with a hasty little laugh. "Elma Clifford," he repeated, with some scorn in his musical voice, "Oh, dear no, not her. If it had been her you may be sure there'd be no reason of any sort for breaking the entail. But the fact is this: I dislike allowances one way or the other. I want to feel once for all I'm my own master. I want to marry--not this girl or that, but whom ever I will. I don't care to coine to you with my hat in my hand, asking how much you'll be kind enough to allow me if I venture to take Miss So-and-so or Miss What-you-may-call-it. And as I know you want money yourself for this new wing you're thinking of, why, I'm prepared to break the entail 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 the girl, 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 girl who'll bring disgrace upon your mother, I hope?" he said, with a half-pang of remorse, remembering Lucy. "Not some young woman beneath your own station in life. For to that, you may be sure, I'll never consent under any circumstances."

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 than annoyed or frightened. "My tastes are not low. I hope I know better than to disgrace my family. The lady I want to marry, and for whose sake I wish you to make some arrangement beforehand is--don't be surprised--well, Gwendoline Gildersleeve."

"Gwendoline Gildersleeve," his father echoed, astonished; for there was feud between the families, "That rascally, land-grabbing barrister's daughter! Why, how on earth do you come to know anything of her, Granville? Nobody in Surrey ever had the impertinence yet to ask me or mine to meet the Gildersleeves anywhere, 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 somewhat curtly. "But you can't expect every one in London society to keep watch over the quarrels of every country parish in provincial England! It wouldn't be reasonable. I met Gwendoline, if you want to know, at the Bertrams', in Berkeley Square, and she and I got on so well together that we've--well, we've met from time to time in the Park, since our return from town, and we think by this 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 moment such a proposal would have driven him forthwith into open hostilities. If Granville chose to marry a girl like that, why, Granville might have lived on what his father would allow him.

Just now, however, with this keen fit of remorse quite fresh upon his soul about poor Lucy's sons, Colonel Kelmscott was almost disposed to accept the opening thus laid before him by Granville's proposal.

So he temporized for awhile, nursing his chin with his hand, and then, after much discussion, yielded at last a conditional consent--conditional upon their mutual 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 personal maintenance, and this Gildersleeve girl's household?" the Colonel asked at length, with a very red face, descending to details.

His son, without appearing to notice the implied slight to Gwendoline, named the terms that he thought would satisfy him.

"That's a very stiff sum," the master of Tilgate retorted; "but perhaps I could manage it; per--haps I could manage it. We must sell the Dowlands farm at once, that's certain, and I must take the twelve thousand or so the land will fetch 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 my words, 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 earth could his father mean by this whim? he wondered. "Twelve thousand pounds is a very big sum to fling away from the estate without a question asked," he retorted, growing hot "It seems to me, you too closely resemble our ancestors who came over from Holland. In matters of business, you know, the fault of the Dutch is giving too little and asking too much."

His father glared at him. That's the worst of this huckstering and higgling with your own flesh and blood. You have to put up with such intolerable insults. But he controlled himself, and continued. The longer he talked, however, the hotter and angrier he became by degrees. And what made him the hottest and angriest of all was the knowledge meanwhile that he was doing it every bit for Granville's own sake; nay, more, that consideration for Granville alone had brought him originally into this peck of trouble.

At last he could contain himself with indignation no longer. His temper broke down. He flared up and out with it. "Take care what you do!" he cried. "Take care what you say, Granville! I'm not going to be bearded with impunity in my den. If you press me too hard, remember, I'll ruin all. I can cut you off with a shilling, sir, if I choose--cut you off with a shilling. Yes, and do justice to others I've wronged for your sake. Don't provoke me too far, I say, If you do, you'll repent it."

"Cut me off with a shilling, sir!" his son answered angrily, rising and staring 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, what have I done?" the unhappy man cried, seeing his son's eyes read some glimpse of 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 a fool--a fool! I gave way too much. For Heaven's sake, my boy, forget it, forget it!"

The young man looked across at him with a dazed and puzzled look, yet very full of meaning. "I shall never forget it," he said slowly. "I shall learn what it means. I don't know how things stand; but I see you meant it. Do as you 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 you bribe, and I have nothing to say to it. I never dragged the honour of the Kelmscotts in the dust. I won't drag it now. I wash my hands clean from it. I ask no questions. I demand no explanations. I only say this. Until I know what you mean--know whether I'm lawful heir to Tilgate Park or not, I won't marry the girl I meant to marry. I have too much regard for her, and for the honour of our house, to take her on what may prove to be false expectations. Break the entail, I say! Raise your twelve thousand. Pay off your bloodhounds. But never expect me to touch a penny of your money, henceforth and for ever, till I 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, my boy, I only wanted to save you!"