Another time I might have been amused by Aunt Philippa’s majestic deportment and Sara’s brisk importance, her girlish airs and graces; but I was too sad at heart to indulge in my usual satire. Everything seemed stupid and tiresome; the hum of voices wearied me; the showroom at Marshall and Snelgrove’s seemed a confused Babel,—everywhere strange voices, a hubbub of sound, tall figures in black passing and repassing, strange faces reflected in endless pier-glasses,—faces of puckered anxiety repeating themselves in ludicrous vrai-semblance.
I saw our own little group reproduced in one. There was Aunt Philippa, tall and portly, with her well-preserved beauty, a little full-blown perhaps, but still ‘marvellously’ good-looking for her age, if she could only have not been so conscious of the fact.
Then, Sara, standing there slim and straight, with the furred mantle just slipping over her smooth shoulders, radiant with good health, good looks, perfectly contented with herself and the whole world, as it behooves a handsome, high-spirited young woman to be with her surroundings, looking bright, unconcerned, good-humoured, in spite of her mother’s fussy criticisms: Aunt Philippa was always a little fussy about dress.
Between the two I could just catch a glimpse of myself,—a tall girl, dressed very plainly in black, with a dark complexion, large, anxious-looking eyes, that seemed appealing for relief from all this dulness,—a shadowy sort of image of discontent and protest in the background, hovering behind Aunt Philippa’s velvet mantle and Sara’s slim supple figure.
‘Well, Ursula,’ said Sara, still good-humouredly, ’will you not give us your opinion? Does this dolman suit me, or would you prefer a long jacket trimmed with skunk?’
I remember I decided in favour of the jacket, only Aunt Philippa interposed, a little contemptuously,—
’What does Ursula know about the present fashion? She has spent the last year in the wards of St. Thomas’s, my dear,’ dropping her voice, and taking up her gold-rimmed eye-glasses to inspect me more critically,—a mere habit, for I had reason to know Aunt Philippa was not the least near-sighted. ’I cannot see any occasion for you to dress so dowdily, with three hundred a year to spend absolutely on yourself; for of course poor Charlie’s little share has come to you. You could surely make yourself presentable, especially as you know we are going to Hyde Park Mansions to see Lesbia.’
This was too much for my equanimity. ’What does it matter? I am not coming with you, Aunt Philippa,’ I retorted, somewhat vexed at this personality; but Sara overheard us, and strove to pour oil on the troubled waters.