Wilfrid bent his cheek forward, affecting to laugh, though the subject was tragic to him.
“Oh! perhaps I’ll sleep, and not look in the mornin’ like that beastly tallow, Mr. Paricles says I spent such a lot of money on, speculator—whew, I hate ut!—and hemp too! Me!—Martha Chump! Do I want to hang myself, and burn forty thousand pounds worth o’ candles round my corpse danglin’ there? Now, there, now! Is that sense? And what’d Pole want to buy me all that grease for? And where’d I keep ut, I’ll ask ye? And sure they wouldn’t make me a bankrup’ on such a pretence as that. For, where’s the Judge that’s got the heart?”
Having apparently satisfied her reason with these interrogations, Mrs. Chump departed, shaking her head at Wilfrid: “Ye smile so nice, ye do!” by the way. Cornelia and Adela then rose, and Wilfrid was left alone with his father.
It was natural that he should expect the moment for entire confidence between them to have come. He crossed his legs, leaning over the fireplace, and waited. The old man perceived him, and made certain humming sounds, as of preparation. Wilfrid was half tempted to think he wanted assistance, and signified attention; upon which Mr. Pole became immediately absorbed in profound thought.
“Singular it is, you know,” he said at last, with a candid air, “people who know nothing about business have the oddest ideas—no common sense in ’em!”
After that he fell dead silent.
Wilfrid knew that it would be hard for him to speak. To encourage him, he said: “You mean Mrs. Chump, sir?”
“Oh! silly woman—absurd! No, I mean all of you; every man Jack, as Martha’d say. You seem to think—but, well! there! let’s go to bed.”
“To bed?” cried Wilfrid, frowning.
“Why, when it’s two or three o’clock in the morning, what’s an old fellow to do? My feet are cold, and I’m queer in the back—can’t talk! Light my candle, young gentleman—my candle there, don’t you see it? And you look none of the freshest. A nap on your pillow’ll do you no harm.”
“I wanted to talk to you a little, sir,” said Wilfrid, about as much perplexed as he was irritated.
“Now, no talk of bankers’ books to-night!” rejoined his father. “I can’t and won’t. No cheques written ’tween night and morning. That’s positive. There! there’s two fingers. Shall have three to-morrow morning—a pen in ’em, perhaps.”
With which wretched pleasantry the little merchant nodded to his son, and snatching up his candle, trotted to the door.
“By the way, give a look round my room upstairs, to see all right when you’re going to turn in yourself,” he said, before disappearing.
The two fingers given him by his father to shake at parting, had told Wilfrid more than the words. And yet how small were these troubles around him compared with what he himself was suffering! He looked forward to the bittersweet hour verging upon dawn, when he should be writing to Emilia things to melt the vilest obduracy. The excitement which had greeted him on his arrival at Brookfield was to be thanked for its having made him partially forget his humiliation. He had, of course, sufficient rational feeling to be chagrined by calamity, but his dominant passion sucked sustaining juices from every passing event.