“Your cousins could not be disagreeable, Iris,” said Arnold.
She shook her head.
“One thing I should like,” she replied. “It would be to find that my cousins, if I have any, are clever people—astronomers, mathematicians, great philosophers, and writers. But what nonsense it is even to talk of such things; I am quite alone, except for my grandfather and Lala Roy.”
“And they are old,” murmured Arnold.
“Do not look at me with such pity,” said the girl. “I am very happy. I have my own occupation; I am independent; I have my work to fill my mind; and I have these two old gentlemen to care for and think of. They have taken so much care of me that I ought to think of nothing else but their comfort; and then there are the books down-stairs—thousands of beautiful old books always within my reach.”
“But you must have some companions, if only to talk and walk with.”
“Why, the books are my companions; and then Lala Roy goes for walks with me; and as for talking, I think it is much more pleasant to think.”
“Where do you walk?”
“There is Battersea Park; there are the squares; and if you take an omnibus, there are the Gardens and Hyde Park.”
“But never alone, Iris?”
“Oh, yes, I am often alone. Why not?”
“I suppose,” said Arnold, shirking the question, because this is a civilized country, and in fact, why not? “I suppose that it is your work which keeps you from feeling life dull and monotonous.”
“No life,” she said, looking as wise as Newton, if Newton was ever young and handsome—“no life can be dull when one is thinking about mathematics all day. Do you study mathematics?”
“No; I was at Oxford, you know.”
“Then perhaps you prefer metaphysics? Though Lala Roy says that the true metaphysics, which he has tried to teach me, can only be reached by the Hindoo intellect.”
“No, indeed; I have never read any metaphysics whatever. I have only got the English intellect.” This he said with intent satirical, but Iris failed to understand it so, and thought it was meant for a commendable humility.
“Physical science, perhaps?”
“No, Iris. Philosophy, mathematics, physics, metaphysics, or science of any kind have I never learned, except only the science of Heraldry, which you have taught me, with a few other things.”
“Oh!” She wondered how a man could exist at all without learning these things. “Not any science at all? How can any one live without some science?”
“I knew very well,” he said, “that as soon as I was found out I should be despised.”
“Oh, no, not despised. But it seems such a pity—”
“There is another kind of life, Iris, which you do not know. You must let me teach you. It is the life of Art. If you would only condescend to show the least curiosity about me, Iris, I would try to show you something of the Art life.”