“I heard what you said. Flattery!”
“Nothing of the kind. Truth.”
Lord Marshmoreton melted. He smiled. “Young idiot!”
“We agree there all right.”
Lord Marshmoreton hesitated. Then with a rush he unbosomed himself, and made his own position on the matter clear.
“I know what you’ll be saying to yourself the moment my back is turned. You’ll be calling me a stage heavy father and an old snob and a number of other things. Don’t interrupt me, dammit! You will, I tell you! And you’ll be wrong. I don’t think the Marshmoretons are fenced off from the rest of the world by some sort of divinity. My sister does. Percy does. But Percy’s an ass! If ever you find yourself thinking differently from my son Percy, on any subject, congratulate yourself. You’ll be right.”
“But . . .”
“I know what you’re going to say. Let me finish. If I were the only person concerned, I wouldn’t stand in Maud’s way, whoever she wanted to marry, provided he was a good fellow and likely to make her happy. But I’m not. There’s my sister Caroline. There’s a whole crowd of silly, cackling fools—my sisters—my sons-in-law—all the whole pack of them! If I didn’t oppose Maud in this damned infatuation she’s got for you—if I stood by and let her marry you—what do you think would happen to me?—I’d never have a moment’s peace! The whole gabbling pack of them would be at me, saying I was to blame. There would be arguments, discussions, family councils! I hate arguments! I loathe discussions! Family councils make me sick! I’m a peaceable man, and I like a quiet life! And, damme, I’m going to have it. So there’s the thing for you in letters of one syllable. I don’t object to you personally, but I’m not going to have you bothering me like this. I’ll admit freely that, since I have made your acquaintance, I have altered the unfavourable opinion I had formed of you from—from hearsay. . .”
“Exactly the same with me,” said George. “You ought never to believe what people tell you. Everyone told me your middle name was Nero, and that. . .”
“Don’t interrupt me!”
“I wasn’t. I was just pointing out . . .”
“Be quiet! I say I have changed my opinion of you to a great extent. I mention this unofficially, as a matter that has no bearing on the main issue; for, as regards any idea you may have of inducing me to agree to your marrying my daughter, let me tell you that I am unalterably opposed to any such thing!”
“Don’t say that.”
“What the devil do you mean—don’t say that! I do say that! It is out of the question. Do you understand? Very well, then. Good morning.”
The door closed. Lord Marshmoreton walked away feeling that he had been commendably stern. George filled his pipe and sat smoking thoughtfully. He wondered what Maud was doing at that moment.
Maud at that moment was greeting her brother with a bright smile, as he limped downstairs after a belated shave and change of costume.