‘Come, Maud, what compliments did he pay you?’ asked my father.
I was vexed, and therefore spoke courageously. ’His compliments were not to me; they were all to the house,’ I said, drily.
’Quite as it should be—the house, of course; it is that he’s in love with,’ said Cousin Knollys.
’’Twas on a widow’s
The archer, Cupid, took his stand.’
‘Hey! I don’t quite understand,’ said my father, slily.
‘Tut! Austin; you forget Charlie is my nephew.’
‘So I did,’ said my father.
’Therefore the literal widow in this case can have no interest in view but one, and that is yours and Maud’s. I wish him well, but he shan’t put my little cousin and her expectations into his empty pocket—not a bit of it. And there’s another reason, Austin, why you should marry—you have no eye for these things, whereas a clever woman would see at a glance and prevent mischief.’
‘So she would,’ acquiesced my father, in his gloomy, amused way. ’Maud, you must try to be a clever woman.’
’So she will in her time, but that is not come yet; and I tell you, Austin Ruthyn, if you won’t look about and marry somebody, somebody may possibly marry you.’
’You were always an oracle, Monica; but here I am lost in total perplexity,’ said my father.
’Yes; sharks sailing round you, with keen eyes and large throats; and you have come to the age precisely when men are swallowed up alive like Jonah.’
’Thank you for the parallel, but you know that was not a happy union, even for the fish, and there was a separation in a few days; not that I mean to trust to that; but there’s no one to throw me into the jaws of the monster, and I’ve no notion of jumping there; and the fact is, Monica, there’s no monster at all.’
‘I’m not so sure.’
‘But I’m quite sure,’ said my father, a little drily. ’You forget how old I am, and how long I’ve lived alone—I and little Maud;’ and he smiled and smoothed my hair, and, I thought, sighed.
‘No one is ever too old to do a foolish thing,’ began Lady Knollys.
’Nor to say a foolish thing, Monica. This has gone on too long. Don’t you see that little Maud here is silly enough to be frightened at your fun.’
So I was, but I could not divine how he guessed it.
’And well or ill, wisely or madly, I’ll never marry; so put that out of your head.’
This was addressed rather to me, I think, than to Lady Knollys, who smiled a little waggishly on me, and said—
’To be sure, Maud; maybe you are right; a stepdame is a risk, and I ought to have asked you first what you thought of it; and upon my honour,’ she continued merrily but kindly, observing that my eyes, I know not exactly from what feeling, filled with tears, ’I’ll never again advise your papa to marry, unless you first tell me you wish it.’