“You are asking for the hand of a considerable heiress, Alan my boy,” he said, “but you have neglected to inform me of your own position.”
“Where is the use of telling you what you know already, Mr. Haswell? I have left the firm, therefore I have practically nothing.”
“You have practically nothing, and yet——Well, in my young days men were more delicate, they did not like being called fortune-hunters, but of course times have changed.”
Alan bit his lip and Barbara sat up quite straight in her chair, observing which indications, Mr. Haswell went on hurriedly:
“Now if you had stopped in the firm and earned the very handsome competence in a small way which would have become due to you this week, instead of throwing us over at the last moment for some quixotic reasons of your own, it might have been a different matter. I do not say it would have been, I say it might have been, and you may remember a proverb about winks and nods and blind horses. So I ask you whether you are inclined to withdraw that resignation of yours and bring up this question again let us say, next Sunday?”
Alan thought a while before he answered. As he understood Mr. Haswell practically was promising to assent to the engagement upon these terms. The temptation was enormously great, the fiercest that he had ever been called upon to face. He looked at Barbara. She had closed her eyes and made absolutely no sign. For some reason of her own she had elected that he should determine this vital point without the slightest assistance from her. And it must be determined at once; procrastination was impossible. For a moment he hesitated. On the one side was Barbara, on the other his conscience. After long doubts he had come to a certain conclusion which he quite understood to be inconvenient to his partners. Should he throw it over now? Should he even try to make a sure and certain bargain as the price of his surrender? Probably he would not suffer if he did. The flotation was underwritten and bound to go through; the scandal would come afterwards, months or years hence, long before which he might get out, as most of the others meant to do. No, he could not. His conscience was too much for him.
“I do not see any use in reconsidering that question, Mr. Haswell,” he said quietly; “we settled it on Friday night.”
Barbara reopened her brown eyes and stared amiably at the painted ceiling, and Mr. Haswell whistled.
“Then I am afraid,” he said, “that I do not see any use in discussing your kind proposal for my niece’s hand. Listen—I will be quite open with you. I have other views for Barbara, and as it happens I have the power to enforce them, or at any rate to prevent their frustration by you. If Barbara marries against my will before she is five and twenty, that is within the next two years, her entire fortune, with the exception of a pittance, goes elsewhere. This I am sure is a fact that will influence you, who have nothing and even if it did not, I presume that you are scarcely so selfish as to wish to beggar her.”