Lord Valleys, twirling his moustache, regarded the guinea-pig without favour; he had rather a dislike for all senseless kinds of beasts.
Pressing the guinea-pig between her hands, as it might be a concertina, little Ann jigged it gently above the pointers, who, wrinkling horribly their long noses, gazed upwards, fascinated.
“Poor darlings, they want it—don’t they? Grandpapa”
“Do you think the next puppies will be spotted quite all over?”
Continuing to twirl his moustache, Lord Valleys answered:
“I think it is not improbable, Ann.”
“Why do you like them spotted like that? Oh! they’re kissing Sambo—I must go!”
Lord Valleys followed her, his eyebrows a little raised.
As he approached the terrace his wife came, towards him. Her colour was, deeper than usual, and she had the look, higher and more resolute, peculiar to her when she had been opposed. In truth she had just been through a passage of arms with Courtier, who, as the first revealer of Mrs. Noel’s situation, had become entitled to a certain confidence on this subject. It had arisen from what she had intended as a perfectly natural and not unkind remark, to the effect that all the trouble had come from Mrs. Noel not having made her position clear to Miltoun from the first.
He had at once grown very red.
“It’s easy, Lady Valleys, for those who have never been in the position of a lonely woman, to blame her.”
Unaccustomed to be withstood, she had looked at him intently:
“I am the last person to be hard on a woman for conventional reasons. But I think it showed lack of character.”
Courtier’s reply had been almost rude.
“Plants are not equally robust, Lady Valleys. Some, as we know, are actually sensitive.”
She had retorted with decision
“If you like to so dignify the simpler word ‘weak’”
He had become very rigid at that, biting deeply into his moustache.
“What crimes are not committed under the sanctity of that creed ’survival of the fittest,’ which suits the book of all you fortunate people so well!”
Priding herself on her restraint, Lady Valleys answered:
“Ah! we must talk that out. On the face of them your words sound a little unphilosophic, don’t they?”
He had looked straight at her with a queer, unpleasant smile; and she had felt at once disturbed and angry. It was all very well to pet and even to admire these original sort of men, but there were limits. Remembering, however, that he was her guest, she had only said:
“Perhaps after all we had better not talk it out;” and moving away, she heard him answer: “In any case, I’m certain Audrey Noel never wilfully kept your son in the dark; she’s much too proud.”
Though rude, she could not help liking the way he stuck up for this woman; and she threw back at him the words: