“No, no, madam, it cannot be; it is too much,” grumbled Charles; and though Alice had backed at first, perhaps for the pleasure of teasing him, or for that of being the centre of observation, actually, with all manner of pretty airs and graces, she let herself be led forward, lay a timid hand on the monkey’s head, and put a cake in its black fingers, while all the time Peregrine held it fast and talked Dutch to it; and Charles Archfield hardly contained his rage, though Anne endeavoured to argue the impossibility of Peregrine’s having incited the attack; and Sedley blustered that they ought to interfere and make the fellow know the reason why. However, Charles had sense enough to know that though he might exhale his vexation in grumbling, he had no valid cause for quarrelling with young Oakshott, so he contented himself with black looks and grudging thanks, as he was obliged to let Peregrine hand his wife into her carriage amid her nods and becks and wreathed smiles.
They would have taken Dr. Woodford and his niece home in the coach, but Anne had an errand in the town, and preferred to return by boat. She wanted some oranges and Turkey figs to allay her mother’s constant thirst, and Peregrine begged permission to accompany them, saying that he knew where to find the best and cheapest. Accordingly he took them to a tiny cellar, in an alley by the boat camber, where the Portugal oranges certainly looked riper and were cheaper than any that Anne had found before; but there seemed to be an odd sort of understanding between Peregrine and the withered old weather-beaten sailor who sold them, such as rather puzzled the Doctor.
“I hope these are not contraband,” he said to Peregrine, when the oranges had been packed in the basket of the servant who followed them.
Peregrine shrugged his shoulders.
“Living is hard, sir. Ask no questions.”
The Doctor looked tempted to turn back with the fruit, but such doubts were viewed as ultra scruples, and would hardly have been entertained even by a magistrate such as Sir Philip Archfield.
It was not a time for questions, and Peregrine remained with them till they embarked at the point, asking to be commended to Mrs. Woodford, and hoping soon to come and see both her and poor Hans, he left them.
“Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals,
That frequent pass douce Wisdom’s door
For glaikit Folly’s portals;
I for their thoughtless, careless sakes
Would here propose defences,
Their doucie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.”
For seven years Anne Woodford had kept Lucy Archfield’s birthday with her, and there was no refusing now, though there was more and more unwillingness to leave Mrs. Woodford, whose declining state became so increasingly apparent that even the loving daughter could no longer be blind to it.