However, the battery must have been amicable, for Fergus was crazy to go in and see Clement’s little pump, which he declared ’would do it’- —an enigmatical phrase supposed to refer to the great peg-top-perpetual-motion invention. He was dragged away with difficulty on the plea of its being too late by Aunt Jane, who could not quite turn two unexpected children in on Mrs. Varley, and had to effect a cruel severance of Val and Kitty in the midst of their kisses.
‘Sudden friendships,’ said Gillian, from the superiority of her age.
‘I do not think you are given that way,’ said Aunt Jane.
’Does the large family suffice for all of you? People are so different,’ added Aunt Ada.
‘Yes,’ said Gillian. ’We have never been in the way of caring for any outsider. I don’t reckon Bessie Merrifield so—–nor Fly Devereux, nor Dolores, because they are cousins.’
‘Cousins may be everything or nothing,’ asserted Miss Mohun. ’You have been about so much that you have hardly had time to form intimacies. But had you no friends in the officers’ families?’
’People always retired before their children grew up to be companionable, said Gillian. ’There was nobody except the Whites. And that wasn’t exactly friendship.’
‘Who were they?’ said Aunt Jane, who always liked to know all about everybody.
‘He rose from the ranks,’ said Gillian. ’He was very much respected, and nobody would have known that he was not a gentleman to begin with. But his wife was half a Greek. Papa said she had been very pretty; but, oh! she had grown so awfully fat. We used to call her the Queen of the White Ants. Then Kally—–her name was really Kalliope—–was very nice, and mamma got them to send her to a good day-school at Dublin, and Alethea and Phyllis used to have her in to try to make a lady of her. There used to be a great deal of fun about their Muse, I remember; Claude thought her very pretty, and always stood up for her, and Alethea was very fond of her. But soon after we went to Belfast, Mr. White was made to retire with the rank of captain. I think papa tried to get something for him to do; but I am not sure whether he succeeded, and I don’t know any more about them.’
‘Not exactly friendship, certainly,’ said Aunt Jane, smiling. ’After all, Gillian, in your short life, you have had wider experiences than have befallen your old aunts!’
‘Wider, perhaps, not deeper, Jane,’ suggested Miss Adeline.
And Gillian thought—–though she felt it would be too sentimental to say—–that in her life, persons and scenes outside her own family had seemed to ‘come like shadows and so depart’; and there was a general sense of depression at the partings, the anxiety, and the being unsettled again when she was just beginning to have a home.
If Fergus had not yet discovered the secret of perpetual motion, Gillian felt as if Aunt Jane had done so, and moreover that the greater proportion of parish matters were one vast machine, of which she was the moving power.