George drank about a wine-glassful neat, and seemed to recover himself.
“I accept your offer for the land, Philip,” he said, presently.
His cousin looked at him curiously, and a brilliant idea struck him.
“You agree, then, to take fifty thousand pounds for the Isleworth estates in the event of your marrying my daughter, the sale to be completed before the marriage takes place?”
“Fifty thousand! No, a hundred thousand—you said a hundred thousand just now.”
“You must have misunderstood me, or I must have made a mistake; what I meant is fifty thousand, and you to put a thousand down as earnest money—to be forfeited whether the affair comes off or not.”
George ground his teeth and clutched at his red hair, proceedings that his cousin watched with a great deal of quiet enjoyment. When at length he spoke, it was in a low, hoarse voice; quite unlike his usual hard tones:
“Damn you!” he said, “you have me at your mercy. Take the land for the money, if you like, though it will nearly ruin me. That woman has turned my head; I must marry her, or I shall go mad.”
“Very good; that is your affair. Remember that I have no responsibility in the matter, and that I am not going to put any pressure on Angela. If you want to marry her, you must win her within the next eight months. Then that is settled. I suppose that you will pay in the thousand to-morrow. The storm is coming up fast, so I won’t keep you. Good night,” and they separated, George to drive home—with fever in his heart, and the thunderstorm, of which he heard nothing, rattling round him—and Philip to make his way to bed, with the dream of his life advanced a step nearer realization.
“That was a lucky swim of Angela’s to-night,” he thought. “Fifty thousand pounds for the estate. He is right; he must be going mad. But will he get her to marry him, I wonder. If he does, I shall cry quits with him, indeed.”
George had spoken no falsehood when he said that he felt as though he must marry Angela or go mad. Indeed, it is a striking proof of how necessary he thought that step to be to his happiness, that he had been willing to consent to his cousin’s Shylock-like terms about the sale of the property, although they would in their result degrade him from his position as a large landed proprietor, and make a comparatively poor man of him. The danger or suffering that could induce a Caresfoot to half ruin himself with his eyes open had need to be of an extraordinarily pressing nature.
Love’s empire is this globe and all mankind; the most refined and the most degraded, the cleverest and the most stupid, are all liable to become his faithful subjects. He can alike command the devotion of an archbishop and a South-Sea Islander, of the most immaculate maiden lady (whatever her age) and of the savage Zulu girl. From the pole to the equator, and from the equator to the further pole, there is no monarch like Love. Where he sets his foot, the rocks bloom with flowers, or the garden becomes a wilderness, according to his good-will and pleasure, and at his whisper all other allegiances melt away like ropes of mud. He is the real arbiter of the destinies of the world.