“I have asked you not to speak of that,” she mentioned, quietly.
“I know. But of course there was no doubt at all that he was sa—was entirely recovered before his death. Don’t you think so, sir?”
His uncle laid down the paper and fixed the young man with the gray, unsheathed keenness that had sent so many witnesses grovelling to the naked truth. “No doubt whatever. I always held, and so did both the physicians, that his lack of balance was a temporary and sporadic thing, brought on by overwork—and certain unhappy conditions of his life. There has never been any such taint in our branch of the family.”
“No-o, so they say,” Hugh agreed. “One of our forebears did see ghosts, but that was rather the fashion. And his father, that old Johnnie over the fireplace—you take after him, Aunt Maria—he was the prize witch-smeller of his generation, and he condemned all the young and pretty ones. That hardly seems well-balanced.”
“Collaterals on the distaff side,” Mr. Fowler put in hastily. “If you would read Mendel—”
“Mendel? I have read about him.” He raised the forefinger of his right hand. “Very suggestive. If your father was a black rabbit”—he raised the forefinger of his left—“and your mother was a white rabbit, then your male children would be”—he raised all the other fingers and paused as though taken aback by the size of the family—“would be blue guinea-pigs, with a tendency to club-foot and astigmatism, but your female children might only be rather clumsy tangoists with a weakness for cutting their poor relations. That’s all I remember, but I do know that because I studied the charts.”
“Very amusing,” said Mr. Fowler, indulgently.
“I am sure it can’t be that way.” Miss Maria flapped her knitting over. “But everything has changed since my day, and not for the better. The curtain-cord.”
“Beg pardon,” muttered Hugh. His mind went on churning nonsense. “There are two days it is useless to flee from—the day of your death and the day when your family doesn’t care for your jokes.
“For a joke is an intellectual thing,
And a mot is the sword of an angel king.
“Good old Blake. Why do the best people always see jokes? Why does a really good one make a whole frozen crowd feel jolly and united all of a sudden?” He pondered on the beneficence of the comic spirit. Hugh was a born Deist. It gave him no trouble at all to believe that since the paintings of Velasquez and the great outdoors which he had seen, were beautiful, so much the more beautiful must be that God whom he had not seen. It seemed reasonable. As for the horrors like Uncle Hugh’s affair—well, they must be put in for chiaroscuro. A thing couldn’t be all white without being blank. The thought of the shadows, however, always made him profoundly uncomfortable, and his instinct right-about-faced to the lighter surface of life. “Anyhow,” he broke silence, “the daughter of Heth must be game. Three to one, and on our native heath.”