“He is a very strange mixture.”
“I really do not think you ought to ask him to the house. An atheist, a man of disreputable life, a——.”
“Come, come, my dear, don’t give him such a character, before Virginia.”
This fragment of dialogue takes place over a cheery breakfast table in a house not very far from Park Lane.
The first speaker is a pleasant-looking man of between fifty and sixty, and his interlocutor is a rather prim lady, who appears older, but is, in reality, his junior by two years. They are Mr. Hamilton Hayward and his sister, Miss Susan.
The party has a third member—the Virginia alluded to by Mr. Hayward. She is tall, handsome, bright-looking; evidently she possesses character, but with it the grace and charm of manner which prevent a woman of character from falling into that disagreeable being, a strong-minded woman.
“What are Mr. Vansittart’s good points?” she says, smiling at her uncle.
“He has the kindest heart in the world,” Mr. Hayward replies, warmly, “and he would never do a shabby thing. One of the few men who really practice not letting their left hand know the good their right does. He certainly is a looseish fish; but he does not parade his irregularities before the world—the world need not know anything about them if it does not insist on prying into his affairs. The greatest grudge women have against him is that he is mortally opposed to marriage, and carries on a crusade against it as though he were St. George, and matrimony the Dragon. He says if you want to make two people hate each other who would otherwise be disposed to love—”
“Hush! my dear Hamilton,” cries Miss Susan, horrified. “Pray spare us a repetition of Mr. Vansittart’s iniquitous opinions.”
“I suppose,” laughs Virginia, “that women don’t insist on marrying him by force, do they?”
“A great many would be very glad to have him,” rejoins Mr. Hamilton, “he is a tremendously taking fellow.”
“And have you really asked him to dinner?” interposes Miss Susan.
“I have, indeed, my dear, and I had a good deal of difficulty in persuading him to come. He persisted that he went so little into society—into ladies’ society.”
Miss Susan gave a little snort.
“He has no right to go into it at all with the views he holds; and, pray, whom is he to take in to dinner?”
“Mrs. Ashton, I thought,” answers Mr. Hamilton. “I am afraid he would be bored with an unmarried lady.”
“When I was young,” says Miss Susan, bridling, “married women were as modest and particular in their conversation as unmarried ones.”
“Ah!” observes her brother dryly.
“Uncle,” cries Virginia, “let him take me. If he is original, I shall be sure to like him; and as I don’t intend to marry, he need not be afraid of my having designs on him. I shall give him a hint whilst he is eating his soup that I have made a vow to coiffer Ste. Catherine.”