Mrs. Chump was addressed. “Pole,” she said, fanning her cheek with vehement languor, “don’t ask me! my heart’s gone to the young fella.”
In pursuance of a determination to which the ladies of Brookfield had come, Adela, following her sprightly fancy, now gave the lead in affability toward Mrs. Chump.
“Has the conqueror run away with it to bury it?” she laughed.
“Och! won’t he know what it is to be a widde!” cried Mrs. Chump. “A widde’s heart takes aim and flies straight as a bullet; and the hearts o’ you garls, they’re like whiffs o’ tobacca, curlin’ and wrigglin’ and not knowin’ where they’re goin’. Marry ’em, Pole! marry ’em!” Mrs. Chump gesticulated, with two dangling hands. “They’re nice garls; but, lord! they naver see a man, and they’re stuputly contented, and want to remain garls; and, don’t ye see, it was naver meant to be? Says I to Mr. Wilfrud (and he agreed with me), ye might say, nice sour grapes, as well as nice garls, if the creatures think o’ stoppin’ where they are, and what they are. It’s horrud; and, upon my honour, my heart aches for ’m!”
Mr. Pole threw an uneasy side-glance of inquisition at his daughters, to mark how they bore this unaccustomed language, and haply intercede between the unworthy woman and their judgement of her. But the ladies merely smiled. Placidly triumphant in its endurance, the smile said: “We decline even to feel such a martyrdom as this.”
“Well, you know, Martha; I,” he said, “I—no father could wish—eh? if you could manage to persuade them not to be so fond of me. They must think of their future, of course. They won’t always have a home—a father, a father, I mean. God grant they may never want!—eh? the dinner; boh! let’s in to dinner. Ma’am!”
He bowed an arm to Mrs. Chump, who took it, with a scared look at him: “Why, if ye haven’t got a tear in your eye, Pole?”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” quoth he, bowing another arm to Adela.
“Papa, I’m not to be winked at,” said she, accepting convoy; and there was some laughter, all about nothing, as they went in to dinner.
The ladies were studiously forbearing in their treatment of Mrs. Chump. Women are wonderfully quick scholars under ridicule, though it half-kills them. Wilfrid’s theory had impressed the superior grace of civility upon their minds, and, now that they practised it, they were pleased with the contrast they presented. Not the less were they maturing a serious resolve. The suspicion that their father had secret vile designs in relation to Mrs. Chump, they kept in the background. It was enough for them that she was to be a visitor, and would thus destroy the great circle they had projected. To accept her in the circle, they felt, was out of the question. Wilfrid’s plain-speaking broke up the air-bubble, which they had so carefully blown, and in which they had embarked all their young hopes. They had as much as given one another a pledge that their home likewise should be broken up.