My replies to these and hundreds of other questions like them, were received by Margaret with the most eager attention. On the favourite subject of Clara’s dresses, my answers were an unending source of amusement and pleasure to her. She especially enjoyed overcoming the difficulties of interpreting aright my clumsy, circumlocutory phrases in attempting to describe shawls, gowns, and bonnets; and taught me the exact millinery language which I ought to have made use of with an arch expression of triumph and a burlesque earnestness of manner, that always enchanted me. At that time, every word she uttered, no matter how frivolous, was the sweetest of all music to my ears. It was only by the stern test of after-events that I learnt to analyse her conversation. Sometimes, when I was away from her, I might think of leading her girlish curiosity to higher things; but when we met again, the thought vanished; and it became delight enough for me simply to hear her speak, without once caring or considering what she spoke of.
Those were the days when I lived happy and unreflecting in the broad sunshine of joy which love showered round me—my eyes were dazzled; my mind lay asleep under it. Once or twice, a cloud came threatening, with chill and shadowy influence; but it passed away, and then the sunshine returned to me, the same sunshine that it was before.
The first change that passed over the calm uniformity of the life at North Villa, came in this manner:
One evening, on entering the drawing-room, I missed Mrs. Sherwin; and found to my great disappointment that her husband was apparently settled there for the evening. He looked a little flurried, and was more restless than usual. His first words, as we met, informed me of an event in which he appeared to take the deepest interest.
“News, my dear sir!” he said. “Mr. Mannion has come back—at least two days before I expected him!”
At first, I felt inclined to ask who Mr. Mannion was, and what consequence it could possibly be to me that he had come back. But immediately afterwards, I remembered that this Mr. Mannion’s name had been mentioned during my first conversation with Mr. Sherwin; and then I recalled to mind the description I had heard of him, as “confidential clerk;” as forty years of age; and as an educated man, who had made his information of some use to Margaret in keeping up the knowledge she had acquired at school. I knew no more than this about him, and I felt no curiosity to discover more from Mr. Sherwin.
Margaret and I sat down as usual with our books about us.