’Do you expect that I should be the person to settle money on your daughter, to save her from mischances? A rakish husband, for example; for Reginald is young, and no one can guess what will be made of him.’
’Undoubtedly your ladyship is correct. We might try absence for the poor girl. I have no female relation, but I could send her to the sea-side to a lady-friend.’
’General Ople, I forbid you, as you value my esteem, ever—and I repeat, I forbid you ever—to afflict my ears with that phrase, “lady-friend!"’
The General blinked in a state of insurgent humility.
These incessant whippings could not but sting the humblest of men; and ‘lady-friend,’ he was sure, was a very common term, used, he was sure, in the very best society. He had never heard Her Majesty speak at levees of a lady-friend, but he was quite sure that she had one; and if so, what could be the objection to her subjects mentioning it as a term to suit their own circumstances?
He was harassed and perplexed by old Lady Camper’s treatment of him, and he resolved not to call her Angela even upon supplication—not that day, at least.
She said, ’You will not need to bring property of any kind to the common estate; I neither look for it nor desire it. The generous thing for you to do would be to give your daughter all you have, and come to me.’
’But, Lady Camper, if I denude myself or curtail my income—a man at his wife’s discretion, I was saying a man at his wife’s mercy . . . !’
General Ople was really forced, by his manly dignity, to make this protest on its behalf. He did not see how he could have escaped doing so; he was more an agent than a principal. ‘My wife’s mercy,’ he said again, but simply as a herald proclaiming superior orders.
Lady Camper’s brows were wrathful. A deep blood-crimson overcame the rouge, and gave her a terrible stormy look.
‘The congress now ceases to sit, and the treaty is not concluded,’ was all she said.
She rose, bowed to him, ‘Good morning, General,’ and turned her back.
He sighed. He was a free man. But this could not be denied—whatever the lady’s age, she was a grand woman in her carriage, and when looking angry, she had a queenlike aspect that raised her out of the reckoning of time.
So now he knew there was a worse behind what he had previously known. He was precipitate in calling it the worst. ‘Now,’ said he to himself, ‘I know the worst !’
No man should ever say it. Least of all, one who has entered into relations with an eccentric lady.