“But which is it to me?”
“Ah! that you’ve got to find out for yourself. There’s a sort of metronome inside us—wonderful, sell-adjusting little machine; most delicate bit of mechanism in the world—people call it conscience—that records the proper beat of our tempos. I guess that’s all we have to go by.”
Nedda said breathlessly:
“Yes; and it’s frightfully hard, isn’t it?”
“Exactly,” Mr. Cuthcott answered. “That’s why people devised religions and other ways of having the thing done second-hand. We all object to trouble and responsibility if we can possibly avoid it. Where do you live?”
“Your father must be a stand-by, isn’t he?”
“Oh, yes; Dad’s splendid; only, you see, I am a good deal younger than he. There was just one thing I was going to ask you. Are these very Bigwigs?”
Mr. Cuthcott turned to the room and let his screwed-up glance wander. He looked just then particularly as if he were going to bite.
“If you take ’em at their own valuation: Yes. If at the country’s: So-so. If at mine: Ha! I know what you’d like to ask: Should I be a Bigwig in their estimation? Not I! As you knock about, Miss Freeland, you’ll find out one thing—all bigwiggery is founded on: Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. Seriously, these are only tenpenny ones; but the mischief is, that in the matter of ‘the Land,’ the men who really are in earnest are precious scarce. Nothing short of a rising such as there was in 1832 would make the land question real, even for the moment. Not that I want to see one—God forbid! Those poor doomed devils were treated worse than dogs, and would be again.”
Before Nedda could pour out questions about the rising in 1832, Stanley’s voice said:
“Cuthcott, I want to introduce you!”
Her new friend screwed his eyes up tighter and, muttering something, put out his hand to her.
“Thank you for our talk. I hope we shall meet again. Any time you want to know anything—I’ll be only too glad. Good night!”
She felt the squeeze of his hand, warm and dry, but rather soft, as of a man who uses a pen too much; saw him following her uncle across the room, with his shoulders a little hunched, as if preparing to inflict, and ward off, blows. And with the thought: ’He must be jolly when he gives them one!’ she turned once more to the darkness, than which he had said there was nothing nicer. It smelled of new-mown grass, was full of little shiverings of leaves, and all colored like the bloom of a black grape. And her heart felt soothed.