“Sir John’s health!” said Smilash, touching the mug as before. The man drank a mouthful humbly, and Smilash continued, “Here’s to the glorious landed gentry of old England: bless ’em!”
“Master Smilash is only jokin’,” said the man apologetically. “It’s his way.”
“You should not bring a family into the world if you are so poor,” said Miss Wilson severely. “Can you not see that you impoverish yourself by doing so—to put the matter on no higher grounds.”
“Reverend Mr. Malthus’s health!” remarked Smilash, repeating his pantomime.
“Some say it’s the children, and some say it’s the drink, Miss,” said the man submissively. “But from what I see, family or no family, drunk or sober, the poor gets poorer and the rich richer every day.”
“Ain’t it disgustin’ to hear a man so ignorant of the improvement in the condition of his class?” said Smilash, appealing to Miss Wilson.
“If you intend to take this man home with you,” she said, turning sharply on him, “you had better do it at once.”
“I take it kind on your part that you ask me to do anythink, after your up and telling Mr. Wickens that I am the last person in Lyvern you would trust with a job.”
“So you are—the very last. Why don’t you drink your beer?”
“Not in scorn of your brewing, lady; but because, bein’ a common man, water is good enough for me.”
“I wish you good-night, Miss,” said the man; “and thank you kindly for Bess and the children.”
“Good-night,” she replied, stepping aside to avoid any salutation from Smilash. But he went up to her and said in a low voice, and with the Trefusis manner and accent:
“Good-night, Miss Wilson. If you should ever be in want of the services of a dog, a man, or a domestic engineer, remind Smilash of Bess and the children, and he will act for you in any of those capacities.”
They opened the door cautiously, and found that the wind, conquered by the rain, had abated. Miss Wilson’s candle, though it flickered in the draught, was not extinguished this time; and she was presently left with the housekeeper, bolting and chaining the door, and listening to the crunching of feet on the gravel outside dying away through the steady pattering of the rain.
Agatha was at this time in her seventeenth year. She had a lively perception of the foibles of others, and no reverence for her seniors, whom she thought dull, cautious, and ridiculously amenable by commonplaces. But she was subject to the illusion which disables youth in spite of its superiority to age. She thought herself an exception. Crediting Mr. Jansenius and the general mob of mankind with nothing but a grovelling consciousness of some few material facts, she felt in herself an exquisite sense and all-embracing conception of nature, shared only by her favorite poets and heroes of romance and history. Hence