Captain Vyell laughed outright.
“Women have wonderful ways of conveying a prejudice. Warts? Well, there, at any rate, we have the advantage of old Noll.” The Collector, whose sense of hearing was acute and fastidious, broke off with a sharp arching of the eyebrows and a glance up at the ceiling, or rather (since ceiling there was none) at the oaken beams which supported the floor overhead. “Manasseh,” he said quickly, “be good enough to step upstairs and inform our landlady that the pitch of her voice annoys me. She would seem to be rating a servant girl above.”
“Pray desire her to take the girl away and scold her elsewhere.”
Manasseh disappeared, and returned two minutes later to report that “the woman would give no furdah trouble.” He removed the white cloth, set out the decanters with an apology for the mahogany’s indifferent polish, and withdrew again to prepare his master’s coffee.
At once a silence fell between father and son. Dicky had expected to hear more of Oliver Cromwell. He stared across the dull shine of the table at his parent’s coat of peach-coloured velvet and shirt front of frilled linen; at the lace ruffle on the wrist, the signet ring on the little finger, the hand—firm, but fine—as it reached for a decanter or fell to playing with a gold toothpick. He loved this father of his with the helpless, concentred love of a motherless child; admired him, as all must admire, only more loyally. To feel constraint in so magnificent a presence was but natural.
It would have astonished him to learn that his father, lolling there so easily and toying with a toothpick, shared that constraint. Yet it was so. Captain Vyell did not understand children. Least of all did he understand this son of his begetting. He could be kind to him, even extravagantly, by fits and starts; desired to be kind constantly; could rally and chat with him in hearing of a third person, though that third person were but a servant waiting at table. But to sit alone facing the boy and converse with him was a harder business, and gave him an absurd feeling of gene; and this (though possibly he did not know it) was the real reason why, having brought Dicky in the coach for a treat, he himself had ridden all day in saddle.
Dicky was the first to resume conversation.
“Papa,” he asked, still pondering the problem of rich and poor, “don’t some of the old families die out?”
“Then others must come up to take their place, or the people who do the ruling would come to an end.”
“That’s the way of it, my boy.” The Collector nodded and cracked a walnut. “New families spring up; and a devilish ugly show they usually make of it at first. It takes three generations, they say, to breed a gentleman; and, in my opinion, that’s under the mark.”
“And a lady?”