Esther and Mike had thus been fortunate enough to get that important question of a mate settled quite early in life, and to be saved from those arduous and desolating experiments in being fitted with a heart which so many less happy people have to go through. But this happy fact was as yet a secret beyond this strict circle of three; for, strange as it may sound, the beautiful attraction of a girl for a boy, the beautiful worship of a boy for a girl, were matters not even mentionable as yet in the Mesurier household. For a child, particularly a girl, under twenty to speak of having a “sweetheart” was an offence which had a strong savour of disgust in it, even for Mrs. Mesurier, broad-minded as in most matters she was.
So far as the only decent theory of the relations of the sexes was involuntarily explicit, by virtue of certain explosions on the subject, it was something like this: That, at a certain age, say twenty-one, or, for leniency, twenty, as it were on the striking of a clock, the young girl, who previously had been profoundly and inexpressibly unconscious that the male being existed, would suddenly sit up wide awake in an attitude of attention to offers of marriage; and that, similarly, the young man, who had meanwhile lived with his eyes shut and his senses asleep, would jump up also at the striking of a clock, and, as it were, with hilarity, say, “It is high time I chose a wife,” and thereupon begin to look about, among the streets and tennis-parties known to him, for that impossible paragon,—a wife to satisfy both his parents.
One or two of Henry’s earliest troubles and most drastic punishments had come of a propensity to “sweethearts,” developed at an indecorously early age, and in fact at the time of which I write he could barely recall the name of Miss This or Miss The Other by the association of ancient physical pangs suffered for their sake. The greatest danger to such contraband passions was undoubtedly the post; for, in the Mesurier household, a more than Russian censorship was exercised over the incoming and—as far as it could be controlled—the outgoing mail. One old morning, at family breakfast, which the subsequent events of the evening were to fix on his mind, Henry Mesurier had grown white with fear, as the stupid maid had handed him a fat letter addressed in a sprawling school-girl’s hand.