“Of course I should like to understand what your views are,” he said at last, throwing away one cigarette, and lighting another.
Helena’s look kindled. She looked handsomer and more maenad-like than ever, as she stood leaning against Buntingford’s writing-table, her arms folded, one slim foot crossed over the other.
“The gist of them is,” she said eagerly, “that we—the women of the present day—are not going to accept our principles—moral—or political—or economic—on anybody’s authority. You seem, Cousin Philip, in my case at any rate, to divide the world into two sets of people, moral and immoral, good and bad—desirable and undesirable—that kind of thing! And you expect me to know the one set, and ignore the other set. Well, we don’t see it that way at all. We think that everybody is a pretty mixed lot. I know I am myself. At any rate I’m not going to begin my life by laying down a heap of rules about things I don’t understand—or by accepting them from you, or anybody. If Lord Donald’s a bad man, I want to know why he is a bad man—and then I’ll decide. If he revolts my moral sense, of course I’ll cut him. But I won’t take anybody else’s moral sense for judge. We’ve got to overhaul that sort of thing from top to bottom.”
Buntingford looked thoughtfully at the passionate speaker. Should he—could he argue with her? Could he show her, for instance, a letter, or parts of it, which he had received that very morning from poor Luke Preston, his old Eton and Oxford friend? No!—it would be useless. In her present mood she might treat it so as to rouse his own temper—let alone the unseemliness of the discussion it must raise between them. Or should he give her a fairly full biography of Jim Donald, as he happened to know it? He revolted against the notion, astonished to find how strong certain old-fashioned instincts still were in his composition. And, after all, he had said a good deal the night before, at dinner, when Helena’s invitation to a man he despised as a coward and a libertine had been first sprung upon him. There really was only one way out. He took it.
“Well, Helena, I’m very sorry,” he said slowly. “Your views are very interesting. I should like some day to discuss them with you. But the immediate business is to stop this Ritz plan. You really won’t stop it yourself?”
“Certainly not!” said Helena, her breath fluttering.
“Well, then, I must write to Donald myself. I happen to possess the means of making it impossible for him to meet you at the Ritz next Wednesday, Helena; and I shall use them. You must make some other arrangement.”
“What means?” she demanded. She had turned very pale.
“Ah, no!—that you must leave to me. Look here, Helena”—his tone softened—“can’t we shake hands on it, and make up? I do hate quarrelling with your mother’s daughter.”
Involuntarily, through all her rage, Helena was struck by the extreme sensitiveness of the face opposite her—a sensitiveness often disguised by the powerful general effect of the man’s head and eyes. In a calmer mood she might have said to herself that only some past suffering could have produced it. At the moment, however, she was incapable of anything but passionate resentment.