Lord Valleys smiled impersonally.
“Very clever thing. By the way; I shall win the Eclipse, I think.”
And thus, spasmodically, the conversation ran till the last servant had left the room.
Then Miltoun, without preparation, looked straight at his father and said:
“I want to marry Mrs. Noel, sir.”
Lord Valleys received the shot with exactly the same expression as that with which he was accustomed to watch his horses beaten. Then he raised his wineglass to his lips; and set it down again untouched. This was the only sign he gave of interest or discomfiture.
“Isn’t this rather sudden?”
Miltoun answered: “I’ve wanted to from the moment I first saw her.”
Lord Valleys, almost as good a judge of a man and a situation as of a horse or a pointer dog, leaned back in his chair, and said with faint sarcasm:
“My dear fellow, it’s good of you to have told me this; though, to be quite frank, it’s a piece of news I would rather not have heard.”
A dusky flush burned slowly up in Miltoun’s cheeks. He had underrated his father; the man had coolness and courage in a crisis.
“What is your objection, sir?” And suddenly he noticed that a wafer in Lord Valleys’ hand was quivering. This brought into his eyes no look of compunction, but such a smouldering gaze as the old Tudor Churchman might have bent on an adversary who showed a sign of weakness. Lord Valleys, too, noticed the quivering of that wafer, and ate it.
“We are men of the world,” he said.
Miltoun answered: “I am not.”
Showing his first real symptom of impatience Lord Valleys rapped out:
“So be it! I am.”
“Yes?”, said Miltoun.
Nursing one knee, Miltoun faced that appeal without the faintest movement. His eyes continued to burn into his father’s face. A tremor passed over Lord Valleys’ heart. What intensity of feeling there was in the fellow, that he could look like this at the first breath of opposition!
He reached out and took up the cigar-box; held it absently towards his son, and drew it quickly back.
“I forgot,” he said; “you don’t.”
And lighting a cigar, he smoked gravely, looking straight before him, a furrow between his brows. He spoke at last:
“She looks like a lady. I know nothing else about her.”
The smile deepened round Miltoun’s mouth.
“Why should you want to know anything else?”
Lord Valleys shrugged. His philosophy had hardened.
“I understand for one thing,” he said coldly; “that there is a matter of a divorce. I thought you took the Church’s view on that subject.”
“She has not done wrong.”
“You know her story, then?”
Lord Valleys raised his brows, in irony and a sort of admiration.
“Chivalry the better part of discretion?”