“Of course, we’re only in the opening stage of the business,” said Mr. Pole. “There’s nothing decided, you know. Lots of things got to be considered. You mean what you say, do you? Very well. And you want me to think of it? So I will. And look, my dears, you know that—” (here his voice grew husky, as was the case with it when touching a shy topic even beneath the veil; but they were above suspicion) “you know that—a— that we must all give way a little to the other, now and then. Nothing like being kind.”
“Pray, have no fear, papa dear!” rang the clear voice of Arabella.
“Well, then, you’re all for Besworth, even though it isn’t exactly for your own interest? All right.”
The ladies kissed him.
“We’ll each stretch a point,” he continued. “We shall get on better if we do. Much! You’re a little hard on people who’re not up to the mark. There’s an end to that. Even your old father will like you better.”
These last remarks were unintelligible to the withdrawing ladies.
On the morning that followed, Mr. Pole expressed a hope that his daughters intended to give him a good dinner that day; and he winked humorously and kindly by which they understood him to be addressing a sort of propitiation to them for the respect he paid to his appetite.
“Papa,” said Adela, “I myself will speak to Cook.”
She added, with a smile thrown to her sisters, without looking at them, “I dare say, she will know who I am.”
Mr. Pole went down to his wine-cellar, and was there busy with bottles till the carriage came for him. A bason was fetched that he might wash off the dust and cobwebs in the passage. Having rubbed his hands briskly with soap, he dipped his head likewise, in an oblivious fit, and then turning round to the ladies, said, “What have I forgotten?” looking woebegone with his dripping vacant face. “Oh, ah! I remember now;” and he chuckled gladly.
He had just for one moment forgotten that he was acting, and a pang of apprehension had caught him when the water covered his face, to the effect that he must forfeit the natural artistic sequence of speech and conduct which disguised him so perfectly. Away he drove, nodding and waving his hand.
“Dear, simple, innocent old man!” was the pitiful thought in the bosoms of the ladies; and if it was accompanied by the mute exclamation, “How singular that we should descend from him!” it would not have been for the first time.