“Awfully sorry, sir,” he said, “if you don’t think I’m wild enough. Anything I can do for you in that line—”
The old man grunted; and realising that he had been quite witty, Bob Pillin went on:
“I know I’m not in debt, no entanglements, got a decent income, pretty good expectations and all that; but I can soon put that all right if I’m not fit without.”
It was perhaps his first attempt at irony, and he could not help thinking how good it was.
But old Heythorp preserved a deadly silence. He looked like a stuffed man, a regular Aunt Sally sitting there, with the fixed red in his cheeks, his stivered hair, square block of a body, and no neck that you could see-only wanting the pipe in his mouth! Could there really be danger from such an old idol? The idol spoke:
“I’ll give you a word of advice. Don’t hang round there, or you’ll burn your fingers. Remember me to your father. Good-night!”
The taxi had stopped before the house in Sefton Park. An insensate impulse to remain seated and argue the point fought in Bob Pillin with an impulse to leap out, shake his fist in at the window, and walk off. He merely said, however:
“Thanks for the lift. Good-night!” And, getting out deliberately, he walked off.
Old Heythorp, waiting for the driver to help him up, thought ’Fatter, but no more guts than his father!’
In his sanctum he sank at once into his chair. It was wonderfully still there every day at this hour; just the click of the coals, just the faintest ruffle from the wind in the trees of the park. And it was cosily warm, only the fire lightening the darkness. A drowsy beatitude pervaded the old man. A good day’s work! A triumph—that young pup had said. Yes! Something of a triumph! He had held on, and won. And dinner to look forward to, yet. A nap—a nap! And soon, rhythmic, soft, sonorous, his breathing rose, with now and then that pathetic twitching of the old who dream.
When Bob Pillin emerged from the little front garden of 23, Millicent Villas ten days later, his sentiments were ravelled, and he could not get hold of an end to pull straight the stuff of his mind.
He had found Mrs. Larne and Phyllis in the sitting-room, and Phyllis had been crying; he was sure she had been crying; and that memory still infected the sentiments evoked by later happenings. Old Heythorp had said: “You’ll burn your fingers.” The process had begun. Having sent her daughter away on a pretext really a bit too thin, Mrs. Larne had installed him beside her scented bulk on the sofa, and poured into his ear such a tale of monetary woe and entanglement, such a mass of present difficulties and rosy prospects, that his brain still whirled, and only one thing emerged clearly-that she wanted fifty pounds, which she would repay him on quarter-day;