My father took Cousin Monica’s sallies with the most wonderful good-humour. She had always, I fancy, been a privileged person, and my father, whom we all feared, received her jolly attacks, as I fancy the grim Front-de-Boeufs of old accepted the humours and personalities of their jesters.
‘Am I to accept this as an overture?’ said my father to his voluble cousin.
’Yes, you may, but not for myself, Austin—I’m not worthy. Do you remember little Kitty Weadon that I wanted you to marry eight-and-twenty years ago, or more, with a hundred and twenty thousand pounds? Well, you know, she has got ever so much now, and she is really a most amiable old thing, and though you would not have her then, she has had her second husband since, I can tell you.’
‘I’m glad I was not the first,’ said my father.
’Well, they really say her wealth is absolutely immense. Her last husband, the Russian merchant, left her everything. She has not a human relation, and she is in the best set.’
‘You were always a match-maker, Monica,’ said my father, stopping, and putting his hand kindly on hers. ’But it won’t do. No, no, Monica; we must take care of little Maud some other way.’
I was relieved. We women have all an instinctive dread of second marriages, and think that no widower is quite above or below that danger; and I remember, whenever my father, which indeed was but seldom, made a visit to town or anywhere else, it was a saying of Mrs. Rusk—
’I shan’t wonder, neither need you, my dear, if he brings home a young wife with him.’
So my father, with a kind look at her, and a very tender one on me, went silently to the library, as he often did about that hour.
I could not help resenting my Cousin Knollys’ officious recommendation of matrimony. Nothing I dreaded more than a step-mother. Good Mrs. Rusk and Mary Quince, in their several ways, used to enhance, by occasional anecdotes and frequent reflections, the terrors of such an intrusion. I suppose they did not wish a revolution and all its consequences at Knowl, and thought it no harm to excite my vigilance.
But it was impossible long to be vexed with Cousin Monica.
‘You know, my dear, your father is an oddity,’ she said. ’I don’t mind him—I never did. You must not. Cracky, my dear, cracky—decidedly cracky!’
And she tapped the corner of her forehead, with a look so sly and comical, that I think I should have laughed, if the sentiment had not been so awfully irreverent.
‘Well, dear, how is our friend the milliner?’
’Madame is suffering so much from pain in her ear, that she says it would be quite impossible to have the honour—’
’Honour—fiddle! I want to see what the woman’s like. Pain in her ear, you say? Poor thing! Well, dear, I think I can cure that in five minutes. I have it myself, now and then. Come to my room, and we’ll get the bottles.