“Chance,” he said, “has brought together here at the moment when the telling of these things has become a necessity, the two people who have in a sense some right to hear them, for from each I have much to ask. Sybil is your daughter, and from her there need be no secrets. So, Catherine, I ask you again, now that you know everything, are you brave enough to be my wife?”
She raised her eyes, and he saw the horror there. But he made no sign. She rose and held out her hand for Sybil.
“Arranmore,” she said, “I am afraid.”
He looked down upon his plate.
“So let it be, then,” he said. “It would need a brave woman indeed to join her lot with mine after the things which I have told you. At heart, Catherine, I am almost a dead man. Believe me, you are wise.”
He rose, and the two women passed from the room. Then he resumed his former seat, and attitude, and Brooks, though he tried to speak, felt his tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth, a dry and nerveless thing.
For in these doings there was tragedy.
“There remains to me you, Philip Kingston, my son,” Lord Arranmore said, in the same measured tone. “You also have before you the story of my life, you are able from it to form some sort of idea as to what my future is likely to be. I do not wish to deceive you. My early enthusiasms are extinct. I look upon the ten or twenty years or so which may be left to me of life as merely a space of time to be filled with as many amusements and new sensations as may be procurable without undue effort. I have no wish to convert, or perhaps pervert you, to my way of thinking. You live still in Utopia, and to me Utopia does not exist. So make your choice deliberately. Do you care to come to me?”
Then Brooks found words of a sort.
“Lord Arranmore,” he said, “forgive me if what I must say sounds undutiful. I know that you have suffered. I can realize something of what you have been through. But your desertion of my mother and me was a brutality. What you call your creed of life sounds to me hideous. You and I are far apart, and so far as I am concerned, God grant that we may remain so.”
For the first time Lord Arranmore smiled. He poured out with steady hand yet another glass of wine, and he nodded towards the door.
“I am obliged to you,” he said, “for your candour. I have met with enough hypocrisy in life to be able to appreciate it. Be so good as to humour my whim—and to leave me alone.”
Brooks rose from his seat, hesitated for a single moment, and left the room. Lord Arranmore leaned back in his high-backed chair and looked round at the empty places. The cigarette burned out between his fingers, his wine remained untasted. The evening’s entertainment was over.