‘Thank God for one thing,’ he said: ’we shan’t have that fellow bothering—shan’t have the other half of your family messing the business. You’ll have to account for him to your wife as you best can. I ’ve nothing to do with him, mind that. He came to my house, stole my daughter, crazed her wits, dragged us all . . .’
The excuse to turn away from the hearing of abuse of my father was too good to be neglected, though it was horribly humiliating that I should have to take advantage of it—vexatious that I should seem chargeable with tacit lying in allowing the squire to suppose the man he hated to be a stranger to the princess. Not feeling sure whether it might be common prudence to delude him even passively, I thought of asking Janet for her opinion, but refrained. A stout deceiver has his merits, but a feeble hypocrite applying to friends to fortify him in his shifts and tergiversations must provoke contempt. I desired that Janet might continue to think well of me. I was beginning to drop in my own esteem, which was the mirror of my conception of Ottilia’s view of her lover.
Now, had I consulted Janet, I believe the course of my history would have been different, for she would not then, I may imagine, have been guilty of her fatal slip of the tongue that threw us into heavy seas when we thought ourselves floating on canal waters. A canal barge (an image to me of the most perfect attainable peace), suddenly, on its passage through our long fir-woods, with their scented reeds and flowing rushes, wild balsam and silky cotton-grass beds, sluiced out to sea and storm, would be somewhat in my likeness soon after a single luckless observation had passed at our Riversley breakfast-table one Sunday morning.
My aunt Dorothy and Mr. Peterborough were conversing upon the varieties of Christian sects, and particularly such as approached nearest to Anglicanism, together with the strange, saddening fact that the Christian religion appeared to be more divided than, Peterborough regretted to say, the forms of idolatry established by the Buddha, Mahomet, and other impostors. He claimed the audacious merit for us, that we did not discard the reason of man we admitted man’s finite reason to our school of faith, and it was found refractory. Hence our many divisions.
‘The Roman Catholics admit reason?’ said Janet, who had too strong a turn for showing her keenness in little encounters with Peterborough.
‘No,’ said he; ‘the Protestants.’ And, anxious to elude her, he pressed on to enchain my aunt Dorothy’s attention. Janet plagued him meanwhile; and I helped her. We ran him and his schoolboy, the finite refractory, up and down, until Peterborough was glad to abandon him, and Janet said, ‘Did you preach to the Germans much?’ He had officiated in Prince Ernest’s private chapel: not, he added in his egregious modesty, not that he personally wished to officiate.
‘It was Harry’s wish?’ Janet said, smiling.