Read CHAPTER X - HARRY VINE HAS A WANT. of Of High Descent , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

Breakfast-time, with George Vine quietly partaking of his toast and giving furtive glances at a Beloe in a small squat bottle.  He was feeding his mind at the same time that he supplied the wants of his body.  Now it was a bite of toast, leaving in the embrowned bread such a mark as was seen by the dervish when the man asked after the lost camel; for the student of molluscous sea-life had lost a front tooth.  Now it was a glance at the little gooseberry-shaped creature, clear as crystal, glistening in the clear water with iridescent hues, and trailing behind it a couple of filaments of an extreme delicacy and beauty that warranted the student’s admiration.

Louise was seated opposite, performing matutinal experiments, so it seemed, with pots, cups, an urn, and various infusions and crystals.

Pradelle was reading the paper, and Harry was dividing his time between eating some fried ham and glancing at the clock, which was pointing in the direction of the hour when he should be at Van Heldre’s.

“More tea, Louie; too sweet,” said the head of the house, passing his cup, via Pradelle.

The cup was filled up and passed back, Louise failing to notice that Pradelle manoeuvred to touch her hand as he played his part in the transfer.  Then the door opened, and Liza, the brown-faced, black-haired Cornish maid, entered, bearing a tray with an untouched cup of tea, a brown piece of ham on its plate, and a little covered dish of hot toast.

“Please, ’m, Miss Vine says she don’t want no breakfast this morning.”

The Beloe bottle dropped back into George Vine’s pocket.

“Eh!  My sister ill?” he said anxiously.

“No, sir; she seems quite well, but she was gashly cross with me, and said why didn’t Miss Louie bring it up.”

“Liza, I forbad you to use that foolish word, `gashly,’” said Louise, pouring out a fresh cup of tea, and changing it for the one cooling on the tray.

“Why don’t you take up auntie’s breakfast as you always do!  You know she doesn’t like it sent up.”

Louise made no reply to her brother, but turned to Pradelle.

“You will excuse me for a few minutes, Mr Pradelle,” she said, as she rose.

“Excuse ­you?” he replied, with a peculiar smile; and, rising in turn, he managed so badly as he hurried to the door to open it for Louise’s passage with the tray, that he and Liza, bent on the same errand, came into collision.

“Thank you, Mr Pradelle,” said Louise, quietly, as she passed out with the tray, and Liza gave him an indignant glance as she closed the door.

“Ha, ha!  What a bungle!” cried Harry mockingly, as he helped himself to more ham.

George Vine was absorbed once more in the study of the Beloe.

“Never you mind, my lord the count,” said Pradelle in an undertone; “I don’t see that you get on so very well.”

Harry winced.

“What are you going to do this morning?”

“Fish.”

“Humph! well to be you,” said Harry, with a vicious bite at his bread, while his father was too much absorbed in his study even to hear.  “You’re going loafing about, and I’ve got to go and turn that grindstone.”

“Which you can leave whenever you like,” said Pradelle meaningly.

“Hold your tongue!” cried Harry roughly, as the door re-opened, and Louise, looking slightly flushed, again took her place at the table.

“Aunt poorly?” said Vine.

“Oh, no, papa; she is having her breakfast now.”

“If you’re too idle to take up auntie’s breakfast, I’ll take it,” said Harry severely.  “Don’t send it up by that girl again.”

“I shall always take it myself, Harry,” said Louise quietly.

The breakfast was ended; George Vine went to his study to feed his sea-anémones on chopped whelk; Pradelle made an excuse about fishing lines, after reading plainly enough that his presence was unwelcome; and Harry stood with his hands in his pockets, looking on as his sister put away the tea-caddy.

“Will you not be late, Harry?”

“Perhaps,” he said, ill-humouredly.  “I shall be there as soon as old bottle-nose I dare say.”

“How long is Mr Pradelle going to stay?”

“Long as I like.”

There was a pause.  Then Harry continued.  “He’s a friend of mine, a gentleman, and Aunt Marguerite likes him to stay.”

“Yes,” said Louise gravely.  “Aunt Marguerite seems to like him.”

“And so do you, only you’re such a precious coquette.”

Louise raised her eyebrows.  This was news to her, but she said nothing.

“The more any one sees of Pradelle the more one likes him.  Deal nicer fellow than that Scotch prig Leslie.”

There was a slight flush on Louise Vine’s face, but she did not speak, merely glanced at the clock.

“All right:  I’m not going yet.”

Then, changing his manner ­

“Oh, Lou, you can’t think what a life it is,” he cried impetuously.

“Why, Harry, it ought to be a very pleasant one.”

“What, with your nose over an account book, and every time you happen to look up, old Crampton staring at you as much as to say, `Why don’t you go on?’”

“Never mind, dear.  Try and think that it is for your good.”

“For my good!” he said with a mocking laugh.

“Yes, and to please father.  Why, Harry dear, is it not something to have a chance to redeem your character?”

“Redeem my grandmother!  I’ve never lost it.  Why, Lou, it’s too bad.  Here’s father rich as a Jew, and Uncle Luke with no end of money.”

“Has he, Harry?” said Louise thoughtfully.  “Really I don’t know.”

“I’m sure he has ­lots.  A jolly old miser, and no one to leave it to; and I don’t see then why I should be ground down to work like an errand-boy.”

“Don’t make a sentimental grievance of it, dear, but go and do your duty like a man.”

“If I do my duty like a man I shall go and try to recover the French estates which my father neglects.”

“No, don’t do that, dear; go and get my old school spelling-book and read the fable of the dog and the shadow.”

“There you go, sneering again.  You women can’t understand a fellow.  Here am I worried to death for money, and have to drudge as old Van Heldre’s clerk.”

“Worried for money, Harry?  What nonsense!”

“I am.  You don’t know.  I say, Lou dear.”

“Now, Harry! you will be so late.”

“I won’t go at all if you don’t listen to me.  Look here; I want fifty pounds.”

“What for?”

“Never mind.  Will you lend it to me?”

“But what can you want with fifty pounds, Harry?  You’re not in debt?”

“You’ve got some saved up.  Now, lend it to me, there’s a good girl; I’ll pay you again, honour bright.”

“Harry, I’ve lent you money till I’m tired of lending, and you never do pay me back.”

“But I will this time.”

Louise shook her head.

“What, you don’t believe me?”

“I believe you would pay me again if you had the money; but if I lent it you would spend it, and be as poor as ever in a month.”

“Not this time, Lou.  Lend it to me.”

She shook her head.

“Then hang me if I don’t go and ask Duncan Leslie.”

“Harry!  No; you would not degrade yourself to that.”

“Will you lend it?”

“No.”

“Then I will ask him.  The poor fool will think it will please you, and lend it directly.  I’ll make it a hundred whilst I’m about it.”

“Harry!”

“Too late now,” he cried, and he hurried away.

“Oh!” ejaculated Louise, as she stood gazing after him with her cheeks burning.

“No,” she said, after a pause; “it was only a threat; he would not dare.”

“Harry gone to his office?” said Vine, entering the room.  “Yes, dear.”

“Mr Pradelle gone too?”

“Yes, dear; fishing, I think.”

“Hum.  Makes this house quite his home.”

“Yes, papa; and do you think we are doing right?”

“Eh?” said Vine sharply, as he dragged his mind back from where it had gone under a tide-covered rock.  “Oh, I see, about having that young man here.  Well, Louie, it’s like this:  I don’t want to draw the rein too tightly.  Harry is at work now, and keeping to it.  Van Heldre says his conduct is very fair.  Harry likes Mr Pradelle, and they are old companions, so I feel disposed to wink at the intimacy, so long as our boy keeps to his business.”

“Perhaps you are right, dear,” said Louise.

“You don’t like Mr Pradelle, my dear?”

“No, I do not.”

“No fear of his robbing me of you, eh?”

“Oh, father!”

“That’s right; that’s right; and look here, as we’re talking about that little thing which makes the world go round, please understand this, and help me, my dear.  There’s to be no nonsense between Harry and Madelaine.”

“Then you don’t like Madelaine?”

“Eh?  What?  Not like her?  Bless her!  You’ve almost cause to be jealous, only you need not be, for I’ve room in my heart for both of you.  I love her too well to let her be made uncomfortable by our family scapegrace.  Dear me!  I’m sure that it has.”

“Have you lost anything, dear?”

“Yes, a glass stopper.  Perhaps I left it in my room.  Mustn’t lose it; stoppers cost money.”

“And here’s some money of yours, father.”

“Eh?  Oh, that change.”

“Twenty-five shillings.”

“Put it on the chimney-piece, my clear; I’ll take it presently.  We will not be hard on Harry.  Let him have his companion.  We shall get him round by degrees.  Ah, here comes some one to tempt you away.”

In effect Madelaine was passing the window on her way to the front entrance; but Vine forgot all about his glass stopper for the moment, and threw open the glass door.

“Come in here, my clear,” he said.  “We were just talking about you.”

“About me, Mr Vine?  Whatever were you saying?”

“Slander of course, of course.”

“My father desired to be kindly remembered, and I was to say, `Very satisfactory so far?’”

“Very satisfactory so far?” said Vine dreamily.

“He said you would know what it meant.”

“To be sure ­to be sure.  Louie, my dear, I’m afraid your aunt is right.  My brain is getting to be like that of a jelly-fish.”

He nodded laughingly and left the room.

“Did you meet Harry as you came?” said Louise, as soon as they were alone.

“Yes; but he kept on one side of the street, and I was on the other.”

“Didn’t he cross over to speak?”

“No; he couldn’t see the Dutch fraulein ­the Dutch doll.”

“Oh, that’s cruel, Maddy.  I did not think my aunt’s words could sting you.”

“Well, sometimes I don’t think they do, but at others they seem to rankle.  But look, isn’t that Mr Pradelle coming?”

For answer Louise caught her friend’s hand to hurry her out of the room before Pradelle entered.