In the end he proposed to her, how, when or where I cannot say, for I never inquired. One morning, I remember it was that of Christmas day, they came into my library, the pair of them, and informed me how matters stood. Merchison went straight to the point and put the case before me very briefly, but in a manly and outspoken fashion. He said that he quite understood the difficulties of his position, inasmuch as he believed that Jane was, or would be, very rich, whereas he had nothing beyond his profession, in which, however, he was doing well. He ended by asking my consent to the engagement subject to any reasonable conditions that I might choose to lay down.
To me the shock was great, for, occupied as I was with my own affairs and ambitions, I had been blind to what was passing before my face. I had hoped to see my daughter a peeress, and now I found her the affianced bride of a parish sawbones. The very foundation of my house of hopes was sapped; at a blow all my schemes for the swift aggrandisement of my family were laid low. It was too much for me. Instead of accepting the inevitable, and being glad to accept it because my child’s happiness was involved, I rebelled and kicked against the pricks.
By nature I am not a violent man, but on that occasion I lost my temper and became violent. I refused my consent; I threatened to cut my daughter off with nothing, but at this argument she and her lover smiled. Then I took another ground, for, remembering her promise that she would consent to be separated for three years from any suitor of whom I did not approve, I claimed its fulfilment.
Somewhat to my surprise, after a hurried private consultation, Jane and her lover accepted these conditions, telling me frankly that they would wait for three years, but that after these had gone by they would consider themselves at liberty to marry, with my consent if possible, but, if necessary, without it. Then in my presence they kissed and parted, nor until the last did either of them attempt to break the letter of their bond. Once indeed they met before that dreadful hour, but then it was the workings of fate that brought them together and not their own design.
THE COMING OF THE RED-HEADED MAN
Half of the three years of probation had gone by and once more we found ourselves at Dunchester in August. Under circumstances still too recent to need explanation, the Government of which I was a member had decided to appeal to the country, the General Election being fixed for the end of September, after the termination of harvest. Dunchester was considered to be a safe Radical seat, and, as a matter of parliamentary tactics, the poll for this city, together with that of eight or ten other boroughs, was fixed for the earliest possible day, in the hope that the results might encourage more doubtful places to give their support. Constituencies are very like sheep, and if the leaders jump through a certain gap in the political hedge the flock, or a large proportion of it, will generally follow. All of us like to be on the winning side.