“And my brother is beautiful, Colonel Sahib,” she declared, “not only to look at but in his ideas. You would like him and be friends with him, though he doesn’t belong to the same world as you—indeed you would. And he is not afraid—you know what I mean?—not afraid of being alive and having adventures. He means to do big things—not that he has talked boastfully to me, or been showy. Please don’t imagine that. He knows where he comes in, and doesn’t pretend to be anybody or anything beyond what he is. Only it seems to me there is a streak of something original in him—almost of genius. He makes me feel sure he will never bungle any chance which comes in his way. And he has time to do so much, if chances do come”—this with a note of exultation. “His life is all before him, you see. He is so beautifully young yet.”
In which final pronouncement of Damaris’ fond tirade, Carteret heard the death knell of his own fairest hopes. He could not mistake the set of the girl’s mind. Not only did brother call to sister, but youth called to youth. Whereat the goad of his forty-nine years pricked him shrewdly.
He must accept the disabilities of the three decades, plus one year, which divided him in age from Damaris, as final; and range himself with the elder generation—her father’s generation, in short. How, after all, could he in decency go to his old friend and say: “Give me your daughter.” The thing, viewed thus, became outrageous, offensive not only to his sense of fitness, but of the finer and more delicate moralities. For cradle-snatching is not, it must be conceded, a graceful occupation; nor is a middle-aged man with a wife still in her teens a graceful spectacle. Sentimentalists may maunder over it in pinkly blushing perversity; but the naughty world thinks otherwise, putting, if not openly its finger to its nose, at least secretly its tongue in its cheek. And rightly, as he acknowledged. The implication may be coarse, libidinous; but the instinct producing it is a sound one, both healthy and just.
Therefore he had best sit no longer upon stone benches by the sounding shore, in this thrice delicious proximity and thrice provocative magic of the serene southern night. All the more had best not do so, because Damaris proved even more rare in spirit, exquisite in moral and imaginative quality—so he perhaps over-fondly put it—than ever before. Carteret got on his feet and walked away a few paces, continuing to heckle himself with merciless honesty and rather unprintable humour—invoking even the historic name of Abishag, virgin and martyr, and generally letting himself “have it hot.”