“Quite!” said Lord Belpher.
If Lady Caroline was upset, there are no words in the language that will adequately describe the emotions of Percy.
From the very start of this lamentable episode in high life, Percy had been in the forefront of the battle. It was Percy who had had his best hat smitten from his head in the full view of all Piccadilly. It was Percy who had suffered arrest and imprisonment in the cause. It was Percy who had been crippled for days owing to his zeal in tracking Maud across country. And now all his sufferings were in vain. He had been betrayed by his own father.
There was, so the historians of the Middle West tell us, a man of Chicago named Young, who once, when his nerves were unstrung, put his mother (unseen) in the chopping-machine, and canned her and labelled her “Tongue”. It is enough to say that the glance of disapproval which Percy cast upon his father at this juncture would have been unduly severe if cast by the Young offspring upon their parent at the moment of confession.
Lord Marshmoreton had rallied from his initial panic. The spirit of revolt began to burn again in his bosom. Once the die is cast for revolution, there can be no looking back. One must defy, not apologize. Perhaps the inherited tendencies of a line of ancestors who, whatever their shortcomings, had at least known how to treat their women folk, came to his aid. Possibly there stood by his side in this crisis ghosts of dead and buried Marshmoretons, whispering spectral encouragement in his ear—the ghosts, let us suppose, of that earl who, in the days of the seventh Henry, had stabbed his wife with a dagger to cure her tendency to lecture him at night; or of that other earl who, at a previous date in the annals of the family, had caused two aunts and a sister to be poisoned apparently from a mere whim. At any rate, Lord Marshmoreton produced from some source sufficient courage to talk back.
“Silly nonsense!” he grunted. “Don’t see what you’re making all this fuss about. Maud loves the fellow. I like the fellow. Perfectly decent fellow. Nothing to make a fuss about. Why shouldn’t I announce the engagement?”
“You must be mad!” cried Lady Caroline. “Your only daughter and a man nobody knows anything about!”
“Quite!” said Percy.
Lord Marshmoreton seized his advantage with the skill of an adroit debater.
“That’s where you’re wrong. I know all about him. He’s a very rich man. You heard the way all those people at dinner behaved when they heard his name. Very celebrated man! Makes thousands of pounds a year. Perfectly suitable match in every way.”
“It is not a suitable match,” said Lady Caroline vehemently. “I don’t care whether this Mr. Bevan makes thousands of pounds a year or twopence-ha’penny. The match is not suitable. Money is not everything.”
She broke off. A knock had come on the door. The door opened, and Billie Dore came in. A kind-hearted girl, she had foreseen that Lord Marshmoreton might be glad of a change of subject at about this time.