‘And I have come to spoil it,’ he answered regretfully, as I opened the door.
I shall never forget Jill’s face when she saw us on the threshold. She quite forgot to shake hands with Mr. Tudor in her dismay, but stood hunching her shoulders, with Sooty still clasped in her arms and her great eyes staring at him, till he said a pleasant word to her, and then she flushed up, and subsided into her chair. I stole an anxious glance at the cake; to my great relief, Jill had been quietly proceeding with her meal in my absence, for I knew that in her chagrin she would refuse to touch another morsel. I wondered a little what Mr. Tudor would think of her ungracious reception of him; but he showed his good-breeding by taking no notice of it and confining his remarks to me.
Jill’s ill-humour thawed by and by when she saw how he entered into the spirit of the fun. He vaunted his own skill with the toasting-fork, and, in spite of fatigue, insisted on superintending another batch of the buttered toast; he was very particular about the clearness of the fire, and delivered quite an harangue on the subject. Jill’s sulky countenance relaxed by and by; she opened her lips to contradict him, and was met so skilfully that she appealed to me for assistance.
By the time tea was over, we were as friendly with Mr. Tudor as though we had known him all our lives, and Jill was laughing heartily over his racy descriptions of schoolroom feasts and other escapades of his youth. He looked absurdly young, in spite of his clerical dress; he had a bright face and a peculiarly frank manner that made me trust him at once; he did not look particularly clever, and Jill had the best of him in argument, but one felt instinctively that he was a man who would never do a mean or an unkind action, that he would tell the truth to his own detriment with a simple honesty that made up for lack of talent.
I could see that Jill’s bigness and cleverness surprised him. He evidently found her amusing, for he tried to draw her out; perhaps he liked to see how her great eyes opened and then grew bright, as she tossed back her black locks or shook them impatiently. When Jill was happy and at ease her face would grow illuminated; her varying expression, her animation, her quaint picturesque talk, made her thoroughly interesting. I was never dull in Jill’s company; she had always something fresh to say; she had a fund of originality, and drew her words newly coined from her own mint.
I do not believe that Mr. Tudor quite understood her, for he was a simple young fellow. But she piqued his curiosity. I must have appeared quite a tame, commonplace person beside her. When Jill went out of the room to fetch something, he asked me, rather curiously, how old she was, and when I told him that she was a mere child, not quite sixteen, he said, half musing, that she seemed older than that. She knew so much about things, but he supposed she was very clever.