“This is Mr. Clegg, an uncle of Mr. Mesurier,” said poor Mrs. Mesurier, by way of introduction.
“Howd’ye do, marm?” said Mr. Clegg, without rising.
Mrs. Turtle bowed primly. “Are you sure, my dear, I don’t interrupt?” she said to Mrs. Mesurier; “shall I not call in some other day?”
“Oh, dear, no!” said Mrs. Mesurier. “Esther, get Mrs. Turtle a little whisky and water.”
“Oh, my dear!” exclaimed Mrs. Turtle, “only the least little drop in the world, Esther dear. My heart, you know, my dear. Even so short a walk as this tires me out.”
Mrs. Mesurier responded sympathetically; and then, by way of making himself pleasant, Mr. Clegg suddenly broke in with such an extraordinary amenity of old-world gallantry that everybody’s hair stood on end.
“How old do you be?” he said, bowing to the new-comer.
“I beg your pardon,” said Mrs. Turtle, putting her hand to her ear; “but I’m slightly deaf.”
“How old do you be?” shouted the old man.
Though not unnaturally taken aback at such an unwonted conception of conversational intercourse, Mrs. Turtle recovered herself with considerable humour, and, bridling, with an old-world shake of her head, said,—
“What would you take me for?”
“I should say you were seventy, if you’re a day,” promptly answered the old man.
“Oh, dear, no!” replied Mrs. Turtle, with some pique; “I was only sixty last January.”
“Well, you carry your age badly,” retorted the old man, not to be beaten.
“What does he say, my dear?” said the poor old lady turning to Mrs. Mesurier.
“You carry your age badly,” shouted the determined old man; “she should see our Esther, shouldn’t she, Mary?”
The silence here of the young people was positively electric with suppressed laughter. Two of them escaped to explode in another room, and Esther and her mother were left to save the situation. But on such occasions as these Mrs. Mesurier grew positively great; and the manner in which she contrived to “turn the conversation,” and smooth over the terrible hiatus, was a feat that admits of no worthy description.
Presently the old man rose to go, as the clock neared five. He had promised to be home before dark, and Esther would think him “benighted” if he should be late. He evidently had been to America and back in that short afternoon.
“Well, Mary, good-bye,” he said; “one never knows whether we shall meet again. I’m getting an old man.”
“Eh, Uncle Clegg, you’re worth twenty dead ones yet,” said Mrs. Mesurier, reassuringly.
“What a strange old gentleman!” said Mrs. Turtle, somewhat bewildered, as this family apparition left the room.
“Good-bye, Uncle Clegg,” Esther was heard singing in the hall. “Good-bye, be careful of the steps. Good-bye. Give our love to Aunt Esther.”
Then the door would bang, and the whole house breathe a gigantic sigh of humorous relief.