There was a moment’s silence. A great clock in the corner ticked noisily. A faint unusual colour stole into Lord Arranmore’s cheeks.
“Accept it! I accord you no favour, I offer you no gift. The allowance is, I repeat, one which every Lord Kingston has drawn upon his marriage. Perhaps I have spoken before it was necessary. You may have had no thoughts of anything of the sort?”
Brooks did not answer.
“I have noticed,” Lord Arranmore continued in measured tones, “an intimacy between you and Lady Sybil Caroom, which suggested the idea to me. I look upon Lady Sybil as one of the most charming young gentlewomen of our time, and admirably suited in all respects to the position of the future Marchioness of Arranmore. I presume that as head of the family I am within my rights in so far expressing my opinion?”
“Marriage,” Brooks said, huskily, “is not possible for me at present.”
“I cannot accept this money from you. The terms on which we are do not allow of it.”
There was an ominous glitter in Lord Arranmore’s eyes. He, too, rose to his feet, and remained facing Brooks, his hand upon the back of his chair.
“Are you serious? Do you mean that?”
“I do!” Brooks answered. Lord Arranmore pointed to the door.
“Then be off,” he said, a note of passion at last quivering in his tone. “Leave this room at once, and let me see as little of you in the future as possible. If Sybil cares for you, God help her! You are a damned obstinate young prig, sir. Be off!”
Brooks walked out of the club and into the street, his ears tingling and his cheeks aflame. The world seemed topsy-turvy. It was long indeed before he forgot those words, which seemed to come to him winged with a wonderful and curious force.
THE ADVICE OF MR. BULLSOM
At no time in his life was Brooks conscious of so profound a feeling of dissatisfaction with regard to himself, his work, and his judgment, as during the next few weeks. His friendship with Mary Scott, which had been a more pleasant thing than he had ever realized, seemed to him to be practically at an end, he had received a stinging rebuke from the one man in the world whose right to administer it he would have vigorously denied, and he was forced to admit to himself that his last few weeks had been spent in a fool’s paradise, into which he ought never to have ventured. He had the feeling of having been pulled up sharply in the midst of a very delightful interlude—and the whole thing seemed to him to come as a warning against any deviation whatsoever from the life which he had marked out for himself. So, after a day of indecision and nerveless hesitation, he turned back once more to his work. Here, at any rate, he could find absorption.