“Save trouble, if I send it. Eh?”
“Do you wish to see whether you can afford it, sir?”
“I wish to see you show more sense—with your confounded ‘afford.’ Have you any idea of bankers’ books?—bankers’ accounts?” Mr. Pole fished his cheque-book from a drawer and wrote Wilfrid’s name and the sum, tore out the leaf and tossed it to him. “There, I’ve written to-day. Don’t present it for a week.” He rubbed his forehead hastily, touching here and there a paper to put it scrupulously in a line with the others. Wilfrid left him, and thought: “Kind old boy! Of course, he always means kindly, but I think I see a glimpse of avarice as a sort of a sign of age coming on. I hope he’ll live long!”
Wilfrid was walking in the garden, imagining perhaps that he was thinking, as the swarming sensations of little people help them to imagine, when Cornelia ran hurriedly up to him and said: “Come with me to papa. He’s ill: I fear he is going to have a fit.”
“I left him sound and well, just now,” said Wilfrid. “This is your mania.”
“I found him gasping in his chair not two minutes after you quitted him. Dearest, he is in a dangerous state!”
Wilfrid stept back to his father, and was saluted with a ready “Well?” as he entered; but the mask had slipped from half of the old man’s face, and for the first time in his life Wilfrid perceived that he had become an old man.
“Well, sir, you sent for me?” he said.
“Girls always try to persuade you you’re ill—that’s all,” returned Mr. Pole. His voice was subdued; but turning to Cornelia, he fired up: “It’s preposterous to tell a man who carries on a business like mine, you’ve observed for a long while that he’s queer!—There, my dear child, I know that you mean well. I shall look all right the day you’re married.”
This allusion, and the sudden kindness, drew a storm of tears to Cornelia’s eyelids.
“Papa! if you will but tell me what it is!” she moaned.
A nervous frenzy seemed to take possession of him. He ordered her out of the room.
She was gone, but his arm was still stretched out, and his expression of irritated command did not subside.
Wilfrid took his arm and put it gently down on the chair, saying: “You’re not quite the thing to-day, sir.”
“Are you a fool as well?” Mr. Pole retorted. “What do you know of, to make me ill? I live a regular life. I eat and drink just as you all do; and if I have a headache, I’m stunned with a whole family screaming as hard as they can that I’m going to die. Damned hard! I say, sir, it’s—” He fell into a feebleness.
“A little glass of brandy, I think,” Wilfrid suggested; and when Mr. Pole had gathered his mind he assented, begging his son particularly to take precautions to prevent any one from entering the room until he had tasted the reviving liquor.