When the others had gone to bed, Stocks and Mr. Wishart sat up over a last pipe by the smoking-room fire.
The younger man moved uneasily in his chair. He had something to say which had long lain on his mind, and he was uncertain of its reception.
“You have been for a long time my friend, Mr. Wishart,” he began. “You have done me a thousand kindnesses, and I only hope I have not proved myself unworthy of them.”
Mr. Wishart raised his eyebrows at the peculiar words. “Certainly you have not,” he said. “I regard you as the most promising by far of the younger men of my acquaintance, and any little services I may have rendered have been amply repaid me.”
The younger man bowed and looked into the fire.
“It is very kind of you to speak so,” he said. “I have been wondering whether I might not ask for a further kindness, the greatest favour which you could confer upon me. Have you made any plans for your daughter’s future?”
Mr. Wishart sat up stiffly on the instant. “You mean?” he said.
“I mean that I love Alice . . . your daughter . . . and I wish to make her my wife. If you will give me your consent, I will ask her.”
“But—but,” said the old man, stammering. “Does the girl know anything of this?”
“She knows that I love her, and I think she will not be unkind.”
“I don’t know that I object,” said Mr. Wishart after a long pause. “In fact I am very willing, and I am very glad that you had the good manners to speak to me first. Yes, upon my word, sir, I am pleased. You have had a creditable career, and your future promises well. My girl will help you, for though I say it, she will not be ill-provided for. I respect your character and I admire your principles, and I give you my heartiest good wishes.”
Mr. Stocks rose and held out his hand. He felt that the interview could not be prolonged in the present fervour of gratitude.
“Had it been that young Haystoun now,” said Mr. Wishart, “I should never have given my consent. I resolved long ago that my daughter should never marry an idle man. I am a plain man, and I care nothing for social distinctions.”
But as Mr. Stocks left the room the plain man glanced after him, and sitting back suffered a moment’s reflection. The form of this worker contrasted in his mind with the figure of the idler who had that evening graced his table. A fool, doubtless, but a fool with an air and a manner! And for one second he allowed himself to regret that he was to acquire so unromantic a son-in-law.
The NEMESIS OF A COWARD