But he was happy, and instead of the wide-open eyes of a child fed to the full with the wonders about him and within him, his eyes were shaded constantly by their light lashes; he enjoyed his play, but he blinked when day was at the full; and all his observations concerned realities. Some story had reached him about a ghost which had been seen in that immediate neighbourhood.
“Who cooks his dinner for him?” inquired the child.
“He has no dinner,” answered the old housemaid.
“I don’t want to see him, then,” said the little winking, blinking philosopher; “he might ask me for some of mine.”
But that was a height of prudence that he could not reach often, and he several times annoyed his mother and alarmed his aunt by asking questions about this ghost.
Laura Melcombe, Peter’s aunt, acted as his governess, and took a certain pride and pleasure in his young intelligence. It was well that she had something real to interest her, for her character was in strong contrast to her nephew’s. She lived mainly in an ideal world, and her life was fed by what she fetched up from the clod or down from the clouds. Chiefly by the former. She was “of imagination all compact;” but that is a very unlucky case where there is weak judgment, little or no keenness of observation, a treacherous memory, and a boundless longing for the good things of life. Of all gifts, imagination, being the greatest, is least worth having, unless it is well backed either by moral culture or by other intellectual qualities. It is the crown of all thoughts and powers; but you cannot wear a crown becomingly if you have no head (worth mentioning) to put it on.
Miss Laura Melcombe thought most of the young farmers in the neighbourhood were in love with her. Accordingly, at church or at the market-town, where she occasionally went on shopping expeditions, she gave herself such airs as she considered suitable for a lady who must gently, though graciously, repel all hopeless aspirations. She was one of those people to whom a compliment is absolute poison. The first man who casually chanced to say something to her in her early youth, which announced to her that he thought her lovely, changed her thoughts about herself for ever after. First, she accepted his compliment as his sincere and fervent conviction. Secondly, she never doubted that he expressed his continuous belief, not his feeling of the moment. Thirdly, she regarded beauty in her case as thenceforward an established fact, and not this one man’s opinion. Fourthly, she spent some restless months in persuading herself that to admire must needs be to love, and she longed in vain to see him “come forward.” Then some other casual acquaintance paid her a compliment, and she went through the same experience on his account, persuading herself that her first admirer could not afford to marry; and this state of things had now gone on for several years.