’I did not pull his ears, Aunt Hazleby; I did not make him bite Winifred,’ vociferated Edward; ’I told you so before, Aunt Hazleby, and you will say so.’
‘Fine little fellow,’ whispered Mrs. Dale, quite loud enough for Edward to hear her; ‘I quite admire his spirit.’
‘Do not be rude, Edward my dear,’ said his mother.
‘But Aunt Hazleby will say that I made Fido bite Winifred, Mamma,’ said Edward; ‘and I did not, he did it of himself.’
‘Never mind now, my love, pray be quiet, my dear boy,’ said Mrs. Woodbourne imploringly; and Edward, who was really a very tractable boy, walked off to his sister Katherine.
Mrs. Dale then seized upon Mrs. Woodbourne, to tell her some horrible stories of hydrophobia; and Elizabeth, in hopes of lessening the impression such stories were likely to make on Mrs. Woodbourne’s mind, listened also, sometimes not very courteously correcting evident exaggerations, and at others contradicting certain statements. At last, just as the subject, fertile as it was, was exhausted, Anne’s going to the piano, and carrying off a train of listeners, brought Mrs. Bouverie next to Elizabeth, and she took the opportunity of entering into conversation with her.
‘Do you play, Miss Woodbourne?’
‘No, I do not,’ replied Elizabeth, who particularly disliked this mode of beginning a conversation.
‘Do not you like music?’ continued Mrs. Bouverie.
‘I seldom have heard any I liked,’ said Elizabeth shortly.
‘Indeed you have been unfortunate,’ said Mrs. Bouverie; ’but perhaps you are not fond of the piano?’
‘No,’ said Elizabeth, with rather less of the manner of a suspected criminal examined in sight of the rack; ’I am sick of all the Abbeychurch pianos; I know them all perfectly, and hear nothing else.’
Mrs. Bouverie laughed, and was glad to obtain something like an answer. ‘Your cousin plays very well,’ said she.
‘Yes,’ said Elizabeth, ’I like her music better than most people’s, and she does not make a great fuss about it, she plays when she thinks people like it, and not when they ask only out of politeness, without caring about it.’
‘Do you think many people ask in that manner?’ said Mrs. Bouverie.
‘Oh yes, everyone,’ said Elizabeth; ’what can they do when they see a disconsolate damsel sitting in a corner with nothing to say, and only longing to be at the piano by way of doing something? It would be too cruel not to ask her.’
‘Did you ever do so?’ said Mrs. Bouverie, smiling.
‘No,’ said Elizabeth, ’luckily it is no affair of mine yet; but if ever it was, there would be a hard struggle between my politeness and sincerity.’
‘Sincerity would be most likely to gain the day,’ thought Mrs. Bouverie. ‘Perhaps,’ said she, ’you are not a fair judge of other people’s sincerity, since you do not like music yourself.’
‘I think,’ said Elizabeth, ’that even if I did play, I could see in people’s faces whether they meant what they said; that is, if vanity and love of applause did not blind me.’