At present the old gentleman is discussing the members of his daughter’s house-party. We will omit, by your leave, a number of picturesque descriptive passages—for the Colonel is, on occasion, a man of unfettered speech—and come hastily to the conclusion, to the summing-up of the whole matter.
“Altogether,” says Colonel Hugonin, “they strike me as being the most ungodly menagerie ever gotten together under one roof since Noah landed on Ararat.”
Now, I am sorry that veracity compels me to present the Colonel in this particular state of mind, for ordinarily he was as pleasant-spoken a gentleman as you will be apt to meet on the longest summer day.
[Illustration: “‘Altogether,’ says Colonel Hugonin, ’they strike me as being the most ungodly menagerie ever gotten together under one roof since Noah landed on Ararat.’”]
You must make allowances for the fact that, on this especial morning, he was still suffering from a recent twinge of the gout, and that his toast was somewhat dryer than he liked it; and, most potent of all, that the foreign mail, just in, had caused him to rebel anew against the proprieties and his daughter’s inclinations, which chained him to Selwoode, in the height of the full London season, to preside over a house-party every member of which he cordially disliked. Therefore, the Colonel having glanced through the well-known names of those at Lady Pevensey’s last cotillion, groaned and glared at his daughter, who sat opposite him, and reviled his daughter’s friends with point and fluency, and characterised them as above, for the reason that he was hungered at heart for the shady side of Pall Mall, and that their presence at Selwoode prevented his attaining this Elysium. For, I am sorry to say that the Colonel loathed all things American, saving his daughter, whom he worshipped.
And, I think, no one who could have seen her preparing his second cup of tea would have disputed that in making this exception he acted with a show of reason. For Margaret Hugonin—but, as you know, she is our heroine, and, as I fear you have already learned, words are very paltry makeshifts when it comes to describing her. Let us simply say, then, that Margaret, his daughter, began to make him a cup of tea, and add that she laughed.
Not unkindly; no, for at bottom she adored her father—a comely Englishman of some sixty-odd, who had run through his wife’s fortune and his own, in the most gallant fashion—and she accorded his opinions a conscientious, but at times, a sorely taxed, tolerance. That very month she had reached twenty-three, the age of omniscience, when the fallacies and general obtuseness of older people become dishearteningly apparent.
“It’s nonsense,” pursued the old gentleman, “utter, bedlamite nonsense, filling Selwoode up with writing people! Never heard of such a thing. Gad, I do remember, as a young man, meeting Thackeray at a garden-party at Orleans House—gentlemanly fellow with a broken nose— and Browning went about a bit, too, now I think of it. People had ’em one at a time to lend flavour to a dinner—like an olive; we didn’t dine on olives, though. You have ’em for breakfast, luncheon, dinner, and everything! I’m sick of olives, I tell you, Margaret!” Margaret pouted.