’Finishing fiddle! Hoity-toity! and my lady’s too grand to cut out your dresses and help to sew them? And what does she do? I venture to say she’s fit to teach nothing but devilment—not that she has taught you much, my dear—yet at least. I’ll see her, my dear; where is she? Come, let us visit Madame. I should so like to talk to her a little.’
‘But she is ill,’ I answered, and all this time I was ready to cry for vexation, thinking of my dress, which must be very absurd to elicit so much unaffected laughter from my experienced relative, and I was only longing to get away and hide myself before that handsome Captain returned.
‘Ill! is she? what’s the matter?’
‘A cold—feverish and rheumatic, she says.’
‘Oh, a cold; is she up, or in bed?’
‘In her room, but not in bed.’
’I should so like to see her, my dear. It is not mere curiosity, I assure you. In fact, curiosity has nothing on earth to do with it. A governess may be a very useful or a very useless person; but she may also be about the most pernicious inmate imaginable. She may teach you a bad accent, and worse manners, and heaven knows what beside. Send the housekeeper, my dear, to tell her that I am going to see her.’
‘I had better go myself, perhaps,’ I said, fearing a collision between Mrs. Rusk and the bitter Frenchwoman.
‘Very well, dear.’
And away I ran, not sorry somehow to escape before Captain Oakley returned.
As I went along the passage, I was thinking whether my dress could be so very ridiculous as my old cousin thought it, and trying in vain to recollect any evidence of a similar contemptuous estimate on the part of that beautiful and garrulous dandy. I could not—quite the reverse, indeed. Still I was uncomfortable and feverish—girls of my then age will easily conceive how miserable, under similar circumstances, such a misgiving would make them.
It was a long way to Madame’s room. I met Mrs. Rusk bustling along the passage with a housemaid.
‘How is Madame?’ I asked.
‘Quite well, I believe,’ answered the housekeeper, drily. ’Nothing the matter that I know of. She eat enough for two to-day. I wish I could sit in my room doing nothing.’
Madame was sitting, or rather reclining, in a low arm-chair, when I entered the room, close to the fire, as was her wont, her feet extended near to the bars, and a little coffee equipage beside her. She stuffed a book hastily between her dress and the chair, and received me in a state of langour which, had it not been for Mrs. Rusk’s comfortable assurances, would have frightened me.
‘I hope you are better, Madame,’ I said, approaching.
’Better than I deserve, my dear cheaile, sufficiently well. The people are all so good, trying me with every little thing, like a bird; here is cafe—Mrs. Rusk-a, poor woman, I try to swallow a little to please her.’