’Then there are the members of the Hebrew community. They hate mixed marriages, and quite right too. I deeply sympathise. But if Leah has let her affections loose on young Timmins, an Anglo-Saxon and a Christian, what can we do? How stop the mesalliance? We have not, in our little regiment, one fair Hebrew boy to smile away her maiden blame among the Hebrew mothers of Maida Vale, and to cut out Timmins. And of course it is as bad with the men. If young Isaacs wants to marry Miss Julia Timmins, I have no Rebecca to slip at him. The Semitic demand, though large and perhaps lucrative, cannot be met out of a purely Aryan supply.’
Business was pretty slack, and so Merton rather rejoiced over the application of a Mrs. Nicholson, from The Laburnums, Walton-on-Dove, Derbyshire. Mrs. Nicholson’s name was not in Burke’s ‘Landed Gentry,’ and The Laburnums could hardly be estimated as one of the stately homes of England. Still, the lady was granted an interview. She was what the Scots call ‘a buddy;’ that is, she was large, round, attired in black, between two ages, and not easily to be distinguished, by an unobservant eye, from buddies as a class. After greetings, and when enthroned in the client’s chair, Mrs. Nicholson stated her case with simplicity and directness.
‘It is my ward,’ she said, ’Barbara Monypenny. I must tell you that she was left in my charge till she is twenty-six. I and her lawyers make her an allowance out of her property, which she is to get when she marries with my consent, at whatever age.’
‘May I ask how old the lady is at present?’ said Merton.
‘She is twenty-two.’
‘Your kindness in taking charge of her is not not wholly uncompensated?’
‘No, an allowance is made to me out of the estate.’
’An allowance which ends on her marriage, if she marries with your consent?’
’Yes, it ends then. Her uncle trusted me a deal more than he trusted Barbara. She was strange from a child. Fond of the men,’ as if that were an unusual and unbecoming form of philanthropy.
’I see, and she being an heiress, the testator was anxious to protect her youth and innocence?’
Mrs. Nicholson merely sniffed, but the sniff was affirmative, though sarcastic.
’Her property, I suppose, is considerable? I do not ask from impertinent curiosity, nor for exact figures. But, as a question of business, may we call the fortune considerable?’
‘Most people do. It runs into six figures.’
Merton, who had no mathematical head, scribbled on a piece of paper. The result of his calculations (which I, not without some fever of the brow, have personally verified) proved that ‘six figures’ might be anything between 100,000_l_. and 999,000_l_. 19_s_. 11.75_d_.
‘Certainly it is very considerable,’ Merton said, after a few minutes passed in arithmetical calculation. ’Am I too curious if I ask what is the source of this opulence?’