“Johanna, I think you would find a good word for the de’il himself, as we used to say,” cried Hilary, laughing. “Well, Selina; and what is your opinion of our stout friend?”
Miss Selina, bridling a little, declared that she did not see so much to complain of in Mr. Ascott. He was not educated, certainly, but he was a most respectable person. And his calling upon them so soon was most civil and attentive. She thought, considering his present position, they should forget—indeed, as Christians they were bound to forget—that he was once their grocer’s boy, and go to dine with him next Sunday.
“For my part, I shall go, though it is Sunday. I consider it quite a religious duty—my duty towards my neighbor.”
“Which is to love him as yourself. I am sure, Selina, I have no objection. It would be a grand romantic wind-up to the story which Stowbury used to tell—of how the ’prentice boy stared his eyes out at the beautiful young lady; and you would get the advantage of ’my house in Russell Square,’ ‘my carriage and servants,’ and be able to elevate your whole family. Do, now! set your cap at Peter Ascott.” Here Hilary, breaking out into one of her childish fits of irrepressible laughter, was startled to see Selina’s face in one blaze of indignation.
“Hold your tongue, you silly chit, and don’t chatter about things you don’t understand.”
And she swept majestically out of the room.
“What have I done? Why she is really vexed. If I had thought she would have taken it in earnest I would never have said a word. Who would have thought it!”
But Miss Selina’s fits of annoyance were so common that the sisters rarely troubled themselves long on the matter. And when at tea-time she came down in the best of spirits, they met her half-way, as they always did, thankful for these brief calms in the family atmosphere, which never lasted too long. It was a somewhat heavy evening. They waited supper till after ten; and yet Ascott did not appear. Miss Leaf read the chapter as usual; and Elizabeth was sent to bed, but still no sign of the absentee.
“I will sit up for him. He cannot be many minutes new,” said his Aunt Hilary, and settled herself in the solitary parlor, which one candle and no fire made as cheerless as could possibly be. There she waited till midnight before the young man came in. Perhaps he was struck with compunction by her weary white face—by her silent lighting of his candle, for he made her a thousand apologies.
“’Pon my honor, Aunt Hilary, I’ll never keep you up so late again. Poor dear auntie, how tired she looks!” and he kissed her affectionately. “But if you were a young fellow, and got among other young fellows, and they over-persuaded you.”
“You should learn to say, No.”
“Ah”—with a sigh—“so I ought, if I were as good as my Aunt Hilary.”