“Oh, papa; I was only afraid you were angry.”
“Well, if I was a bit perplexed, seeing you look so ill and pining was not the way to bring me round. Old Corbet, I must say, is trying to make a good bargain for his son. It is well for me that I have never been an extravagant man.”
“But, papa, we don’t want all this much.”
“Yes, yes! it is all right. You shall go into their family as a well-portioned girl, if you can’t go as a Lady Maria. Come, don’t trouble your little head any more about it. Give me one more kiss, and then we’ll go and order the horses, and have a ride together, by way of keeping holiday. I deserve a holiday, don’t I, Nelly?”
Some country people at work at the roadside, as the father and daughter passed along, stopped to admire their bright happy looks, and one spoke of the hereditary handsomeness of the Wilkins family (for the old man, the present Mr. Wilkins’s father, had been fine-looking in his drab breeches and gaiters, and usual assumption of a yeoman’s dress). Another said it was easy for the rich to be handsome; they had always plenty to eat, and could ride when they were tired of walking, and had no care for the morrow to keep them from sleeping at nights. And, in sad acquiescence with their contrasted lot, the men went on with their hedging and ditching in silence.
And yet, if they had known—if the poor did know—the troubles and temptations of the rich; if those men had foreseen the lot darkening over the father, and including the daughter in its cloud; if Mr. Wilkins himself had even imagined such a future possible . . . Well, there was truth in the old heathen saying, “Let no man be envied till his death.”
Ellinor had no more rides with her father; no, not ever again; though they had stopped that afternoon at the summit of a breezy common, and looked at a ruined hall, not so very far off; and discussed whether they could reach it that day, and decided that it was too far away for anything but a hurried inspection, and that some day soon they would make the old place into the principal object of an excursion. But a rainy time came on, when no rides were possible; and whether it was the influence of the weather, or some other care or trouble that oppressed him, Mr. Wilkins seemed to lose all wish for much active exercise, and rather sought a stimulus to his spirits and circulation in wine. But of this Ellinor was innocently unaware. He seemed dull and weary, and sat long, drowsing and drinking after dinner. If the servants had not been so fond of him for much previous generosity and kindness, they would have complained now, and with reason, of his irritability, for all sorts of things seemed to annoy him.
“You should get the master to take a ride with you, miss,” said Dixon, one day as he was putting Ellinor on her horse. “He’s not looking well, he’s studying too much at the office.”