“How exceedingly clumsy of me! how could it have happened? I beg your pardon ten thousand times.”
In his words there is polite remorse and solicitude; in his face only a friendly mirth. He is old, that is clear. Had he been young, he would have said, with that variety and suitability of epithets so characteristic of this generation:
“I am awfully sorry! how awfully stupid of me! what an awful duffer I am!”
The gas is shining in its garish yellow brightness full down upon us, as we stand together, illuminating my plain, scorched face, the slatternly looseness of my hair, and the burnt hole in my gown.
“You will have to give me another,” I say, looking up at him and smiling. I should not have thought of saying it if he had been a young man, but with a vieux papa one may be at one’s ease.
“There is nothing in the world I should like better,” he says, with a sort of hurry and eagerness, not very suggestive of a vieux papa; “but really—” (seeing me look rather ashamed of my proposition)—“is it quite hopeless? the damage quite irremediable?”
“On the contrary,” reply I, tucking my gathers in, with a graceful movement, at the band of my gown, “five minutes will make it as good as new—at least” (casting a disparaging eye over its frayed and taffy-marked surface), “as good as it ever will be in this world.”
A little pause.
“I suppose I have lost my way,” he says, thinking, I fancy, that I look rather eager to be gone. “I am never very good at the geography of a strange house.”
“Yes,” say I, promptly; “you came through our door, instead of your own; shall I show you the way back?”
“Since I have come so far, may not I come a little farther?” he asks, glancing rather longingly at the half-open school-room door, whence sounds of pious mirth are again beginning to reissue.
“Do you mean really?” ask I, with a highly-dissuasive inflection of voice. “Please not to-night; we are all higgledy-piggledy—at sixes and sevens! To tell you the truth, we have been cooking. I wonder you did not smell it in the drawing-room.”
Again he looks amused.
“May not I cook too? I can, though you look disbelieving; there are few people that can beat me at an Irish stew when I set my mind to it.”
A head (Bobby’s) appears round the school-room door.
“I say, Nancy, who are you colloquing with out there? I believe you have got hold of our future benefact—”
An “oh!” of utter discomfiture, and the head is withdrawn.
“I am keeping you,” Sir Roger says. “Well, I will say good-night. You will shake hands, won’t you, to show that you bear no malice?”
“That I will,” reply I, heartily stretching out my right hand, and giving his a cordial shake. For was not he at school with father?