"You don't realize what you're saying," he exclaimed; "I can't leave the helm."
"Isn't it," she said, "rather the power that is so hard to relinquish?"
The feelings of Augustus Flint when he heard this question were of a complex nature. It was the second time that day he had been shocked,-- the first being when Hilary Vane had unexpectedly defended his son. The word Victoria had used, power, had touched him on the quick. What had she meant by it? Had she been his wife and not his daughter, he would have flown into a rage. Augustus Flint was not a man given to the psychological amusement of self-examination; he had never analyzed his motives. He had had little to do with women, except Victoria. The Rose of Sharon knew him as the fountainhead from which authority and money flowed, but Victoria, since her childhood, had been his refuge from care, and in the haven of her companionship he had lost himself for brief moments of his life. She was the one being he really loved, with whom he consulted on such affairs of importance as he felt to be within her scope and province,--the cattle, the men on the place outside of the household, the wisdom of buying the Baker farm; bequests to charities, paintings, the library; and recently he had left to her judgment the European baths and the kind of treatment which her mother had required. Victoria had consulted with the physicians in Paris, and had made these decisions herself. From a child she had never shown a disposition to evade responsibility.
To his intimate business friends, Mr. Flint was in the habit of speaking of her as his right-hand man, but she was circumscribed by her sex,--or rather by Mr. Flint's idea of her sex,--and it never occurred to him that she could enter into the larger problems of his life. For this reason he had never asked himself whether such a state of affairs would be desirable. In reality it was her sympathy he craved, and such an interpretation of himself as he chose to present to her.
So her question was a shock. He suddenly beheld his daughter transformed, a new personality who had been thinking, and thinking along paths which he had never cared to travel.
"The power!" he repeated. "What do you mean by that, Victoria?"
She sat for a moment on the end of the bench, gazing at him with a questioning, searching look which he found disconcerting. What had happened to his daughter? He little guessed the tumult in her breast. She herself could not fully understand the strange turn the conversation had taken towards the gateway of the vital things.
"It is natural for men to love power, isn't it?"