MALONE. [Taking a letter from his pocket] Your note to Hector runs as follows [Violet is unable to repress a start. He pauses quietly to take out and put on his spectacles, which have gold rims]: "Dearest: they have all gone to the Alhambra for the afternoon. I have shammed headache and have the garden all to myself. Jump into Jack's motor: Straker will rattle you here in a jiffy. Quick, quick, quick. Your loving Violet." [He looks at her; but by this time she has recovered herself, and meets his spectacles with perfect composure. He continues slowly] Now I don't know on what terms young people associate in English society; but in America that note would be considered to imply a very considerable degree of affectionate intimacy between the parties.
VIOLET. Yes: I know your son very well, Mr Malone. Have you any objection?
MALONE. [somewhat taken aback] No, no objection exactly. Provided it is understood that my son is altogether dependent on me, and that I have to be consulted in any important step he may propose to take.
VIOLET. I am sure you would not be unreasonable with him, Mr Malone.
MALONE. I hope not, Miss Robinson; but at your age you might think many things unreasonable that don't seem so to me.
VIOLET. [with a little shrug] Oh well, I suppose there's no use our playing at cross purposes, Mr Malone. Hector wants to marry me.
MALONE. I inferred from your note that he might. Well, Miss Robinson, he is his own master; but if he marries you he shall not have a rap from me. [He takes off his spectacles and pockets them with the note].
VIOLET. [with some severity] That is not very complimentary to me, Mr Malone.
MALONE. I say nothing against you, Miss Robinson: I daresay you are an amiable and excellent young lady. But I have other views for Hector.
VIOLET. Hector may not have other views for himself, Mr Malone.
MALONE. Possibly not. Then he does without me: that's all. I daresay you are prepared for that. When a young lady writes to a young man to come to her quick, quick, quick, money seems nothing and love seems everything.
VIOLET. [sharply] I beg your pardon, Mr Malone: I do not think anything so foolish. Hector must have money.
MALONE. [staggered] Oh, very well, very well. No doubt he can work for it.
VIOLET. What is the use of having money if you have to work for it? [She rises impatiently]. It's all nonsense, Mr Malone: you must enable your son to keep up his position. It is his right.
MALONE. [grimly] I should not advise you to marry him on the strength of that right, Miss Robinson.
Violet, who has almost lost her temper, controls herself with an effort; unclenches her fingers; and resumes her seat with studied tranquillity and reasonableness.
VIOLET. What objection have you to me, pray? My social position is as good as Hector's, to say the least. He admits it.
MALONE. [shrewdly] You tell him so from time to time, eh? Hector's social position in England, Miss Robinson, is just what I choose to buy for him. I have made him a fair offer. Let him pick out the most historic house, castle or abbey that England contains. The day that he tells me he wants it for a wife worthy of its traditions, I buy it for him, and give him the means of keeping it up.
VIOLET. What do you mean by a wife worthy of its traditions? Cannot any well bred woman keep such a house for him?
MALONE. No: she must be born to it.
VIOLET. Hector was not born to it, was he?
MALONE. His granmother was a barefooted Irish girl that nursed me by a turf fire. Let him marry another such, and I will not stint her marriage portion. Let him raise himself socially with my money or raise somebody else so long as there is a social profit somewhere, I'll regard my expenditure as justified. But there must be a profit for someone. A marriage with you would leave things just where they are.
VIOLET. Many of my relations would object very much to my marrying the grandson of a common woman, Mr Malone. That may be prejudice; but so is your desire to have him marry a title prejudice.
MALONE. [rising, and approaching her with a scrutiny in which there is a good deal of reluctant respect] You seem a pretty straightforward downright sort of a young woman.
VIOLET. I do not see why I should be made miserably poor because I cannot make profits for you. Why do you want to make Hector unhappy?
MALONE. He will get over it all right enough. Men thrive better on disappointments in love than on disappointments in money. I daresay you think that sordid; but I know what I'm talking about. My father died of starvation in Ireland in the black 47, Maybe you've heard of it.
VIOLET. The Famine?
MALONE. [with smouldering passion] No, the starvation. When a country is full of food, and exporting it, there can be no famine. My father was starved dead; and I was starved out to America in my mother's arms. English rule drove me and mine out of Ireland. Well, you can keep Ireland. I and my like are coming back to buy England; and we'll buy the best of it. I want no middle class properties and no middle class women for Hector. That's straightforward isn't it, like yourself?
VIOLET. [icily pitying his sentimentality] Really, Mr Malone, I am astonished to hear a man of your age and good sense talking in that romantic way. Do you suppose English noblemen will sell their places to you for the asking?
MALONE. I have the refusal of two of the oldest family mansions in England. One historic owner can't afford to keep all the rooms dusted: the other can't afford the death duties. What do you say now?
VIOLET. Of course it is very scandalous; but surely you know that the Government will sooner or later put a stop to all these Socialistic attacks on property.
MALONE. [grinning] D'y' think they'll be able to get that done before I buy the house — or rather the abbey? They're both abbeys.
VIOLET. [putting that aside rather impatiently] Oh, well, let us talk sense, Mr Malone. You must feel that we haven't been talking sense so far.
MALONE. I can't say I do. I mean all I say.
VIOLET. Then you don't know Hector as I do. He is romantic and faddy — he gets it from you, I fancy — and he wants a certain sort of wife to take care of him. Not a faddy sort of person, you know.
MALONE. Somebody like you, perhaps?
VIOLET. [quietly] Well, yes. But you cannot very well ask me to undertake this with absolutely no means of keeping up his position.
MALONE. [alarmed] Stop a bit, stop a bit. Where are we getting to? I'm not aware that I'm asking you to undertake anything.
VIOLET. Of course, Mr Malone, you can make it very difficult for me to speak to you if you choose to misunderstand me.
MALONE. [half bewildered] I don't wish to take any unfair advantage; but we seem to have got off the straight track somehow.
Straker, with the air of a man who has been making haste, opens the little gate, and admits Hector, who, snorting with indignation, comes upon the lawn, and is making for his father when Violet, greatly dismayed, springs up and intercepts him. Straker doer not wait; at least he does not remain visibly within earshot.
VIOLET. Oh, how unlucky! Now please, Hector, say nothing. Go away until I have finished speaking to your father.
HECTOR. [inexorably] No, Violet: I mean to have this thing out, right away. [He puts her aside; passes her by; and faces his father, whose cheeks darken as his Irish blood begins to simmer]. Dad: you've not played this hand straight.
MALONE. Hwat d'y'mean?
HECTOR. You've opened a letter addressed to me. You've impersonated me and stolen a march on this lady. That's dishonorable.
MALONE. [threateningly] Now you take care what you're saying, Hector. Take care, I tell you.