A man about town does not psychologise himself; he accepts his condition with touching simplicity. He is hungry; he must be fed. He is thirsty; he must drink. Why he is hungry, when he became hungry, these inquiries are beside the mark. No ethical aspect of the matter troubled him; the attainment of a married woman, not living with her husband, did not impinge upon his creed. What would come after, though full of unpleasant possibilities, he left to the future. His real disquiet, far nearer, far more primitive and simple, was the feeling of drifting helplessly in a current so strong that he could not keep his feet.
“Ah yes; a bad case. Dreadful thing for the Sweetenhams! That young fellow’s been obliged to give up the Army. Can’t think what old Sweetenham was about. He must have known his son was hit. I should say Bethany himself was the only one in the dark. There’s no doubt Lady Rose was to blame!” Mr. Pendyce was speaking.
Mrs. Bellew smiled.
“My sympathies are all with Lady Rose. What do you say, George?”
“I always thought,” he said, “that Bethany was an ass.”
“George,” said Mr. Pendyce, “is immoral. All young men are immoral. I notice it more and more. You’ve given up your hunting, I hear.”
Mrs. Bellew sighed.
“One can’t hunt on next to nothing!”
“Ah, you live in London. London spoils everybody. People don’t take the interest in hunting and farming they used to. I can’t get George here at all. Not that I’m a believer in apron-strings. Young men will be young men!”
Thus summing up the laws of Nature, the Squire resumed his knife and fork.
But neither Mrs. Bellew nor George followed his example; the one sat with her eyes fixed on her plate and a faint smile playing on her lips, the other sat without a smile, and his eyes, in which there was such a deep resentful longing, looked from his father to Mrs. Bellew, and from Mrs. Bellew to his mother. And as though down that vista of faces and fruits and flowers a secret current had been set flowing, Mrs. Pendyce nodded gently to her son.
THE COVERT SHOOT
At the head of the breakfast-table sat Mr. Pendyce, eating methodically. He was somewhat silent, as became a man who has just read family prayers; but about that silence, and the pile of half-opened letters on his right, was a hint of autocracy.
“Be informal—do what you like, dress as you like, sit where you like, eat what you like, drink tea or coffee, but——” Each glance of his eyes, each sentence of his sparing, semi-genial talk, seemed to repeat that “but.”
At the foot of the breakfast-table sat Mrs. Pendyce behind a silver urn which emitted a gentle steam. Her hands worked without ceasing amongst cups, and while they worked her lips worked too in spasmodic utterances that never had any reference to herself. Pushed a little to her left and entirely neglected, lay a piece of dry toast on a small white plate. Twice she took it up, buttered a bit of it, and put it down again. Once she rested, and her eyes, which fell on Mrs. Bellow, seemed to say: “How very charming you look, my dear!” Then, taking up the sugar-tongs, she began again.