“She should pack a thousand times more now than before,” he said.
The father’s face too deepened into strength now, and he drew himself up.
“Do you know what you are doing?” he said.
“I do, sir.”
There was an extraordinary insolence in his voice, and Mary took a step forward.
“Oh! Ralph,” she said, “at least do it like a gentleman!”
Ralph turned on her sharply, and the obstinacy vanished in anger.
“I will not be pushed like this,” he snarled. “What right is it of yours to come between me and my work?”
Sir James made a quick imperious gesture, and his air of entreaty fell from him like a cloak.
“Sit down, sir,” he said, and his voice rang strongly. “We have a right in Margaret’s affairs. We will say what we wish.”
Mary glanced at him: she had never seen her father like this before as he stood in three quarter profile, rigid with decision. When she looked at Ralph again, his face had tightened once more into obstinacy. He answered Sir James with a kind of silky deference.
“Of course, I will sit down, sir, and you shall say what you will.”
He went across the room and drew out a couple of chairs before the cold hearth where the white ashes and logs of last night’s fire still rested. Sir James sat down with his back to the window so that Mary could not see his face, and Ralph stood by the other chair a moment, facing her.
“Sit down, Mary,” he said. “Wait, I will have candles.”
He stepped back to the door and called to the portress, and then returned, and seated himself deliberately, setting his cane in the corner beside him.
None of the three spoke again until the nun had come in with a couple of candles that she set in the stands and lighted; then she went out without glancing at anyone. Mary was sitting in the window seat, so the curtains remained undrawn, and there was a mystical compound of twilight and candle-light in the room.
She had a flash of metaphor, and saw in it the meeting of the old and new religions; the type of these two men, of whom the light of one was fading, and the other waxing. The candlelight fell full on Ralph’s face that stood out against the whitewashed wall behind.
Then she listened and watched with an intent interest.
* * * * *
“It is this,” said Sir James, “we heard you were here—”
Ralph smiled with one side of his mouth, so that his father could see it.
“I do not wish to do anything I should not,” went on the old man, “or to meddle in his Grace’s matters—”
“And you wish me not to meddle either, sir,” put in Ralph.
“Yes,” said his father. “I am very willing to receive you and your wife at home; to make any suitable provision; to give you half the house if you wish for it; if you will only give up this accursed work.”