Once on his feet, old Heythorp said:
“Give me a kiss. You’ll have your satin tomorrow.”
Then looking at Bob Pillin, he remarked:
“Going my way? I’ll give you a lift.”
The young man, giving Phyllis one appealing look, answered dully: “Tha-anks!” and they went out together to the taxi. In that draughtless vehicle they sat, full of who knows what contempt of age for youth; and youth for age; the old man resenting this young pup’s aspiration to his granddaughter; the young man annoyed that this old image had dragged him away before he wished to go. Old Heythorp said at last:
Thus expected to say something, Bob Pillin muttered
“Glad your meetin’ went off well, sir. You scored a triumph I should think.”
“Oh! I don’t know. I thought you had a good bit of opposition to contend with.”
Old Heythorp looked at him.
“Your grandmother!” he said; then, with his habitual instinct of attack, added: “You make the most of your opportunities, I see.”
At this rude assault Bob Pillin’s red-cheeked face assumed a certain dignity. “I don’t know what you mean, sir. Mrs. Larne is very kind to me.”
“No doubt. But don’t try to pick the flowers.”
Thoroughly upset, Bob Pillin preserved a dogged silence. This fortnight, since he had first met Phyllis in old Heythorp’s hall, had been the most singular of his existence up to now. He would never have believed that a fellow could be so quickly and completely bowled, could succumb without a kick, without even wanting to kick. To one with his philosophy of having a good time and never committing himself too far, it was in the nature of “a fair knock-out,” and yet so pleasurable, except for the wear and tear about one’s chances. If only he knew how far the old boy really counted in the matter! To say: “My intentions are strictly honourable” would be old-fashioned; besides—the old fellow might have no right to hear it. They called him Guardy, but without knowing more he did not want to admit the old curmudgeon’s right to interfere.
“Are you a relation of theirs, sir?”
Old Heythorp nodded.
Bob Pillin went on with desperation:
“I should like to know what your objection to me is.”
The old man turned his head so far as he was able; a grim smile bristled the hairs about his lips, and twinkled in his eyes. What did he object to? Why—everything! Object to! That sleek head, those puppy-dog eyes, fattish red cheeks, high collars, pearl pin, spats, and drawl-pah! the imbecility, the smugness of his mug; no go, no devil in any of his sort, in any of these fish-veined, coddled-up young bloods, nothing but playing for safety! And he wheezed out:
“Milk and water masquerading as port wine.”
Bob Pillin frowned.
It was almost too much for the composure even of a man of the world. That this paralytic old fellow should express contempt for his virility was really the last thing in jests. Luckily he could not take it seriously. But suddenly he thought: ’What if he really has the power to stop my going there, and means to turn them against me!’ And his heart quailed.