“God made a foolish woman, making me!”
“Have you any idea whom we shall meet?”
It is Barbara who asks this one morning at breakfast. The question refers to a three days’ visit that it has become our fate to pay to a house in the neighborhood—a house not eight miles distant from Tempest, and over which we are grumbling in the minute and exhaustive manner which people mostly employ when there is a question of making merry with their friends.
I shake my head.
“I have not an idea, that is to say, except Mrs. Huntley, and she goes without saying!”
“We are known to be such inseparables, that she is always asked to meet us,” reply I, with that wintry smile, which is my last accomplishment. “We pursue her round the country, do not we, Roger?”
Barbara opens her great eyes, but, with her usual tact, she says nothing. She sees that she has fallen on stony ground.
“She is the oldest friend that we have in the world!” continue I, laughing pleasantly.
Roger does not answer, he does not even look up, but by a restless movement that he makes in his chair, by a tiny contraction of the brows, I see that my shot has told. I am becoming an adept in the infliction of these pin-pricks. It is one of the few pleasures I have left.
The day of our visit has come. We have relieved our feelings by grumbling up to the hall-door. Our murmuring must per force be stilled now, though indeed, were we to shout our discontents at the top of our voices, there would be small fear of our being overheard by the master of the house, he being the boundlessly deaf old gentleman who paid his respects at Tempest on the day of Mrs. Huntley’s first call, and insisted on mistaking Barbara for me. Whether he is yet set right on that head is a point still enveloped in Cimmerian gloom.
It is a bachelor establishment, as any one may perceive by a cursory glance at the disposition of the drawing-room furniture, and at the unfortunate flowers, tightly jammed, packed as thickly as they will go in one huge central bean-pot.
As we arrived rather late and were at once conducted to our rooms, we still remain in the dark as to our co-guests. Personally, I am not much interested in the question. There cannot be anybody that it will cause me much satisfaction to meet. It would give me a faint relief, indeed, to find that there were some matron of exalteder rank than mine to save me from my probable fate of bowling dark sayings at our old host, General Parker, from the season of clear soup to that of peaches and nuts. I dress quickly. The toilet is never to me a work of art. It is not that from my lofty moral stand-point I look down upon meretricious aids to faulty Nature. If I thought that it would set me on a fairer standing with Mrs. Zephine, I would paint my cheeks an inch thick; would prune my eyebrows; daub my eyes, and make my hair yellower than any buttercups in the meadow; but I know that it would be of no avail. I should still be, compared to her, as a sign-painting to a Titian. For a long time now I have cared naught for clothes. I used greatly to respect their power, but they have done me no good; and so my reverence for them is turned into indifference and contempt.