In spite of himself, Austen smiled again. Long habit had accustomed Hilary Vane to put business considerations before family ties; and this habit had been the secret of his particular success. And now, rather than admit by the least sign the importance of his son's discovery of the statute (which he had had in mind for many years, and to which he had more than once, by the way, called Mr. Flint's attention), the Honourable Hilary deliberately belittled the matter as part and parcel of the political tactics against the Northeastern.
Sears caused by differences of opinion are soon healed; words count for nothing, and it is the soul that attracts or repels. Mr. Vane was not analytical, he had been through a harassing day, and he was unaware that it was not Austen's opposition, but Austen's smile, which set the torch to his anger. Once, shortly after his marriage, when he had come home in wrath after a protracted quarrel with Mr. Tredway over the orthodoxy of the new minister, in the middle of his indignant recital of Mr. Tredway's unwarranted attitude, Sarah Austen had smiled. The smile had had in it, to be sure, nothing of conscious superiority, but it had been utterly inexplicable to Hilary Vane. He had known for the first time what it was to feel murder in the heart, and if he had not rushed out of the room, he was sure he would have strangled her. After all, the Hilary Vanes of this world cannot reasonably be expected to perceive the humour in their endeavours.
Now the son's smile seemed the reincarnation of the mother's. That smile was in itself a refutation of motive on Austen's part which no words could have made more emphatic; it had in it (unconsciously, too) compassion for and understanding of the Honourable Hilary's mood and limitations. Out of the corner of his mental vision--without grasping it--the Honourable Hilary perceived this vaguely. It was the smile in which a parent privately indulges when a child kicks his toy locomotive because its mechanism is broken. It was the smile of one who, unforgetful of the scheme of the firmament and the spinning planets, will not be moved to anger by him who sees but the four sides of a pit.
Hilary Vane grew red around the eyes--a danger signal of the old days.
"Take the suit," he said. "If you don't, I'll make it known all over the State that you started it. I'll tell Mr. Flint to-morrow. Take it, do you hear me? You ask me if I have any pride in you. I answer, yes. I'd like to see what you can do. I've done what I could for you, and now I wash my hands of you. Go,--ruin yourself if you want to. You've always been headed that way, and there's no use trying to stop you. You don't seem to have any notion of decency or order, or any idea of the principle on which this government was based. Attack property destroy it. So much the better for you and your kind. Join the Humphrey Crewes--you belong with 'em. Give those of us who stand for order and decency as much trouble as you can. Brand us as rascals trying to enrich ourselves with politics, and proclaim yourselves saints nobly striving to get back the rights of the people. If you don't bring that suit, I tell you I'll give you the credit for it--and I mean what I say."
Austen got to his feet. His own expression, curiously enough, had not changed to one of anger. His face had set, but his eyes held the look that seemed still to express compassion, and what he felt was a sorrow that went to the depths of his nature. What he had so long feared--what he knew they had both feared--had come at last.
Hilary Vane stared at him dumbly. His anger had not cooled, his eyes still flamed, but he suddenly found himself bereft of speech. Austen put his hand on his father's shoulder, and looked down silently into his face. But Hilary was stiff as in a rigour, expressionless save for the defiant red in his eye.
"I don't think you meant all that, Judge, and I don't intend to hold it against you.