Graeme had not the entree of the Pixley mansion.
Mr. Pixley he knew, by repute only, as the head of Pixley’s, the great law-firm, in Lincoln’s Inn. Mrs. Pixley he had never met.
Mr. Pixley was a bright and shining light—yea, a veritable light-house—of respectability and benevolence, and bushel coverings were relegated to their proper place outside his scheme of life. His charities were large, wide-spread, religiously advertised in the donation columns of the daily papers, and doubtless palliated the effects of multitudes of other people’s sins.
He was a church-warden, president and honorary treasurer of numerous philanthropical societies—in a word, at once a pillar and corner-stone of his profession, his church, and his country.
He was also a smug little man with a fresh, well-fed face, bordered by a touch of old-fashioned, gray side-whisker, rather outstanding blue eyes, and he carried, and sometimes used as it was intended to be used, a heavy gold pince-nez, which more frequently, however, acted as a kind of lightning-conductor for the expression of his feelings. A pince-nez of many parts:—now it was a scalping-knife, slaughtering the hopes of some harried victim of the law; and again, it was a baton beating time to a hymn or the National Anthem; possibly it was, in moments of relaxation, a jester’s wand poking fun at ancient cronies, though indeed a somewhat full-blooded imagination is required for that. I have heard that once when, in the fervour of a speech, Mr. Pixley dropped his pince-nez among the reporters below, he was utterly unable to continue until the fetish was recovered and handed back to him. It is an undoubted fact that though you might forget the exact lines of Mr. Pixley’s face and even his words, you never forgot the fascinating evolutions of his heavy gold pince-nez. Like a Frenchman’s hands, it told even more than his face or his words.
He had a good voice, and a deportment which had, without doubt, been specially created for the chairmanship of public meetings. And he was Margaret Brandt’s uncle by marriage, her guardian and trustee, and the father of Charles Svendt, on whose account Lady Elspeth had thought well to throw out warning hints of possible paternal intentions respecting Margaret and her fortune.
From every point of view Graeme detested Mr. Pixley, though he had never passed a word with him. He was too perfect, too immaculate. His “unco’ guidness,” as Lady Elspeth would have said, bordered on ostentation. The sight and sound of him aroused in some people a wild inclination towards unaccustomed profanity and wallowing in the mire. He was so undisguisedly and self-satisfiedly better than his fellows that one felt his long and flawless life almost in the nature of a rebuke if not an affront. He was too obtrusively good for this world. One could not but feel that if he had been cut off in his youth, and buried under a very white marble slab and an appropriate inscription, both he and the world would have been far more comfortably circumstanced. And John Graeme devoutly wished he had been so favoured, for, in that case, he could neither have been Margaret’s uncle, trustee, nor guardian, and it is possible that there would also have been no Charles Svendt Pixley to trouble the course of his own true love.