When Mark came to live with Uncle Henry Lidderdale at Slowbridge, he was large for his age, or at any rate he was so loosely jointed as to appear large; a swart complexion, prominent cheek-bones, and straight lank hair gave him a melancholic aspect, the impression of which remained with the observer until he heard the boy laugh in a paroxysm of merriment that left his dark blue eyes dancing long after the outrageous noise had died down. If Mark had occasion to relate some episode that appealed to him, his laughter would accompany the narrative like a pack of hounds in full cry, would as it were pursue the tale to its death, and communicate its zest to the listener, who would think what a sense of humour Mark had, whereas it was more truly the gusto of life.
Uncle Henry found this laughter boisterous and irritating; if his nephew had been a canary in a cage, he would have covered him with a table-cloth. Aunt Helen, if she was caught up in one of Mark’s narratives, would twitch until it was finished, when she would rub her forehead with an acorn of menthol and wrap herself more closely in a shawl of soft Shetland wool. The antipathy that formerly existed between Mark and his father was much sharper between Mark and his uncle. It was born in the instant of their first meeting, when Uncle Henry bent over, his trunk at right angles to his legs, so that one could fancy the pelvic bones to be clicking like the wooden joints of a monkey on a stick, and offered his nephew an acrid whisker to be saluted.
“And what is Mark going to be?” Uncle Henry inquired.
“Ah, we all have suchlike ambitions when we are young. I remember that for nearly a year I intended to be a muffin-man,” said Uncle Henry severely.
Mark hated his uncle from that moment, and he fixed upon the throbbing pulse of his scraped-out temples as the feature upon which that dislike should henceforth be concentrated. Uncle Henry’s pulse seemed to express all the vitality that was left to him; Mark thought that Our Lord must have felt about the barren fig-tree much as he felt about Uncle Henry.
Aunt Helen annoyed Mark in the way that one is annoyed by a cushion in an easy chair. It is soft and apparently comfortable, but after a minute or two one realizes that it is superfluous, and it is pushed over the arm to the floor. Unfortunately Aunt Helen could not be treated like a cushion; and there she was soft and comfortable in appearance, but forever in Mark’s way. Aunt Helen was the incarnation of her own drawing-room. Her face was round and stupid like a clock’s; she wore brocaded gowns and carpet slippers; her shawls resembled antimacassars; her hair was like the stuff that is put in grates during the summer; her caps were like lace curtains tied back with velvet ribbons; cameos leant against her