It came out incidentally that his leave of absence was to expire the day after to-morrow. A Lilliputian pang of disappointment followed this announcement. Already I was sorry to lose him. So soon we begin to make a property of what pleases us.
I was shy, but not awkward. I was flattered by the attention of this amusing, perhaps rather fascinating, young man of the world; and he plainly addressed himself with diligence to amuse and please me. I dare say there was more effort than I fancied in bringing his talk down to my humble level, and interesting me and making me laugh about people whom I had never heard of before, than I then suspected.
Cousin Knollys meanwhile was talking to papa. It was just the conversation that suited a man so silent as habit had made him, for her frolic fluency left him little to supply. It was totally impossible, indeed, even in our taciturn household, that conversation should ever flag while she was among us.
Cousin Knollys and I went into the drawing-room together, leaving the gentlemen—rather ill-assorted, I fear—to entertain one another for a time.
‘Come here, my dear, and sit near me,’ said Lady Knollys, dropping into an easy chair with an energetic little plump, ’and tell me how you and your papa get on. I can remember him quite a cheerful man once, and rather amusing—yes, indeed—and now you see what a bore he is—all by shutting himself up and nursing his whims and fancies. Are those your drawings, dear?’
’Yes, very bad, I’m afraid; but there are a few, better, I think in the portfolio in the cabinet in the hall.’
‘They are by no means bad, my dear; and you play, of course?’
‘Yes—that is, a little—pretty well, I hope.’
’I dare say. I must hear you by-and-by. And how does your papa amuse you? You look bewildered, dear. Well, I dare say, amusement is not a frequent word in this house. But you must not turn into a nun, or worse, into a puritan. What is he? A Fifth-Monarchy-man, or something—I forget; tell me the name, my dear.’
‘Papa is a Swedenborgian, I believe.’
’Yes, yes—I forgot the horrid name—a Swedenborgian, that is it. I don’t know exactly what they think, but everyone knows they are a sort of pagans, my dear. He’s not making one of you, dear—is he?’
‘I go to church every Sunday.’
’Well, that’s a mercy; Swedenborgian is such an ugly name, and besides, they are all likely to be damned, my dear, and that’s a serious consideration. I really wish poor Austin had hit on something else; I’d much rather have no religion, and enjoy life while I’m in it, than choose one to worry me here and bedevil me hereafter. But some people, my dear, have a taste for being miserable, and provide, like poor Austin, for its gratification in the next world as well as here. Ha, ha, ha! how grave the little woman looks! Don’t you think me very wicked? You know you do; and very likely you are right. Who makes your dresses, my dear? You are such a figure of fun!’