The man on the left was perhaps forty, rather above middle height, vigorous, active, straight, with blue eyes and a sanguine face that glowed on small provocation. His hair was very bright, almost red, and his fiery moustaches which descended to the level of his chin, like Don Quixote’s seemed bristling and charging.
The man on the right was nearer thirty, evidently tall, wiry, and very thin. He sat rather crumpled, in his low armchair, with hands clasped round a knee; and a little crucified smile haunted the lips of his lean face, which, with its parchmenty, tanned, shaven cheeks, and deep-set, very living eyes, had a certain beauty.
These two men, so extravagantly unlike, looked at each other like neighbouring dogs, who, having long decided that they are better apart, suddenly find that they have met at some spot where they cannot possibly have a fight. And the woman watched; the owner, as it were, of one, but who, from sheer love of dogs, had always stroked and patted the other.
“So, Mr. Courtier,” said the younger man, whose dry, ironic voice, like his smile, seemed defending the fervid spirit in his eyes; “all you say only amounts, you see, to a defence of the so-called Liberal spirit; and, forgive my candour, that spirit, being an importation from the realms of philosophy and art, withers the moment it touches practical affairs.”
The man with the red moustaches laughed; the sound was queer—at once so genial and so sardonic.
“Well put!” he said: “And far be it from me to gainsay. But since compromise is the very essence of politics, high-priests of caste and authority, like you, Lord Miltoun, are every bit as much out of it as any Liberal professor.”
“I don’t agree!”
“Agree or not, your position towards public affairs is very like the Church’s attitude towards marriage and divorce; as remote from the realities of life as the attitude of the believer in Free Love, and not more likely to catch on. The death of your point of view lies in itself—it’s too dried-up and far from things ever to understand them. If you don’t understand you can never rule. You might just as well keep your hands in your pockets, as go into politics with your notions!”
“I fear we must continue to agree to differ.”
“Well; perhaps I do pay you too high a compliment. After all, you are a patrician.”
“You speak in riddles, Mr. Courtier.”
The dark-eyed woman stirred; her hands gave a sort of flutter, as though in deprecation of acerbity.
Rising at once, and speaking in a deferential voice, the elder man said:
“We’re tiring Mrs. Noel. Good-night, Audrey, It’s high time I was off.” Against the darkness of the open French window, he turned round to fire a parting shot.
“What I meant, Lord Miltoun, was that your class is the driest and most practical in the State—it’s odd if it doesn’t save you from a poet’s dreams. Good-night!” He passed out on to the lawn, and vanished.