“The marriage will decidedly not be soon, mother!” replied Madeline, haughtily. “I shall judge for myself in this, at all events.”
“You are a silly, empty-headed girl!” retorted her mother, with swelling bosom and reddening face. “You have quarrelled on some simpleton’s question, no doubt. He will accept his step-father’s offer; we know that well enough. He ought to have done so a year ago, and our difficulties would have been lightened. Your father means what he says?”
“Wolf!” cried Barbara, petulantly.
“Well, I can see that the wolf has come at last, in good earnest. My girl, you’ll have to become more serious Barbara, you at all events, cannot afford to trifle.”
“I am no trifler!” cried the enthusiast for Italian unity and regeneracy.
“Let us have proof of that, then.” Mrs. Denyer looked at her meaningly.
“Mother,” said Zillah, earnestly, “do let me write to Mrs. Stonehouse, and beg her to find me a place as nursery governess. I can manage that, I feel sure.”
“I’ll think about it, dear. But, Madeline, I insist on your putting an end to this ridiculous state of things. You will order him to take the position offered.”
“Mother, I can do nothing of the kind. if necessary, I’ll go for a governess as well.”
Thereupon Zillah wept, protesting that such desecration was impossible. The scene prolonged itself to midnight. On the morrow, with the exception of Mrs. Denyer’s resolve to subdue Marsh, all was forgotten, and the Denyer family pursued their old course, putting off decided action until there should come another cry of “Wolf!”
But for the aid of his wife’s more sympathetic insight, Edward Spence would have continued to interpret Miriam’s cheerless frame of mind as a mere result of impatience at being removed from the familiar scenes of her religious activity, and of disquietude amid uncongenial surroundings. “A Puritan at Naples”—that was the phrase which represented her to his imagination; his liking for the picturesque and suggestive led him to regard her solely in that light. No strain of modern humanitarianism complicated Miriam’s character. One had not to take into account a possible melancholy produced by the contrast between her life of ease in the South, and the squalor of laborious multitudes under a sky of mill-smoke and English fog. Of the new philanthropy she spoke, if at all, with angry scorn, holding it to be based on rationalism, radicalism, positivism, or whatsoever name embodied the conflict between the children of this world and the children of light. Far from Miriam any desire to abolish the misery which was among the divinely appointed conditions of this preliminary existence. No; she was uncomfortable, and content that others should be so, for discomfort’s sake. It fretted her that the Sunday in Naples could not be as universally dolorous as it was at Bartles. It revolted her to hear happy voices in a country abandoned to heathendom.