And I saw a devilish pretty woman, by Gad. If it were not for this baldness, and a kind of crapulous air I can't disguise from myself - if it weren't for this and that and t'other thing - I - I've forgot what I was saying. Not that that matters, I've heaps of things to say. I'm in a communicative vein to-night. I'll let out all my cats, even unto seventy times seven. I'm in what I call THE stage, and all I desire is a listener, although he were deaf, to be as happy as Nebuchadnezzar.'
Of the two hours which followed upon this it is unnecessary to give more than a sketch. The Admiral was extremely silly, now and then amusing, and never really offensive. It was plain that he kept in view the presence of his daughter, and chose subjects and a character of language that should not offend a lady. On almost any other occasion Dick would have enjoyed the scene. Van Tromp's egotism, flown with drink, struck a pitch above mere vanity. He became candid and explanatory; sought to take his auditors entirely into his confidence, and tell them his inmost conviction about himself. Between his self-knowledge, which was considerable, and his vanity, which was immense, he had created a strange hybrid animal, and called it by his own name. How he would plume his feathers over virtues which would have gladdened the heart of Caesar or St. Paul; and anon, complete his own portrait with one of those touches of pitiless realism which the satirist so often seeks in vain.
'Now, there's Dick,' he said, 'he's shrewd; he saw through me the first time we met, and told me so - told me so to my face, which I had the virtue to keep. I bear you no malice for it, Dick; you were right; I am a humbug.'
You may fancy how Esther quailed at this new feature of the meeting between her two idols.
And then, again, in a parenthesis:-
'That,' said Van Tromp, 'was when I had to paint those dirty daubs of mine.'
And a little further on, laughingly said perhaps, but yet with an air of truth:-
'I never had the slightest hesitation in sponging upon any human creature.'
Thereupon Dick got up.
'I think perhaps,' he said, 'we had better all be thinking of going to bed.' And he smiled with a feeble and deprecatory smile.
'Not at all,' cried the Admiral, 'I know a trick worth two of that. Puss here,' indicating his daughter, 'shall go to bed; and you and I will keep it up till all's blue.'
Thereupon Esther arose in sullen glory. She had sat and listened for two mortal hours while her idol defiled himself and sneered away his godhead. One by one, her illusions had departed. And now he wished to order her to bed in her own house! now he called her Puss! now, even as he uttered the words, toppling on his chair, he broke the stem of his tobacco-pipe in three! Never did the sheep turn upon her shearer with a more commanding front. Her voice was calm, her enunciation a little slow, but perfectly distinct, and she stood before him as she spoke, in the simplest and most maidenly attitude.
'No,' she said, 'Mr. Naseby will have the goodness to go home at once, and you will go to bed.'
The broken fragments of pipe fell from the Admiral's fingers; he seemed by his countenance to have lived too long in a world unworthy of him; but it is an odd circumstance, he attempted no reply, and sat thunderstruck, with open mouth.
Dick she motioned sharply towards the door, and he could only obey her. In the porch, finding she was close behind him, he ventured to pause and whisper, 'You have done right.'
'I have done as I pleased,' she said. 'Can he paint?'
'Many people like his paintings,' returned Dick, in stifled tones; 'I never did; I never said I did,' he added, fiercely defending himself before he was attacked.
'I ask you if he can paint. I will not be put off. CAN he paint?' she repeated.
'No,' said Dick.
'Does he even like it?'
'Not now, I believe.'
'And he is drunk?' - she leaned upon the word with hatred.
'He has been drinking.'
'Go,' she said, and was turning to re-enter the house when another thought arrested her.