[Image…’The pug-dog sat up’]
The pug-dog sat up, as a precautionary measure, as I passed;
but, as I took no notice of the treasure he was guarding, he let me go
by without even one remonstrant bark. “He that takes my life,”
he seemed to be saying, wheezily, to himself, “takes trash: But he that
takes the Daily Telegraph–!” But this awful contingency I did not face.
The party in the drawing-room–I had walked straight in, you understand,
without ringing the bell, or giving any notice of my approach–
consisted of four laughing rosy children, of ages from about fourteen
down to ten, who were, apparently, all coming towards the door
(I found they were really walking backwards), while their mother,
seated by the fire with some needlework on her lap, was saying, just as
I entered the room, “Now, girls, you may get your things on for a walk.”
To my utter astonishment–for I was not yet accustomed to the action of
the Watch “all smiles ceased’, (as Browning says) on the four pretty
faces, and they all got out pieces of needle-work, and sat down.
No one noticed me in the least, as I quietly took a chair and sat down
to watch them.
When the needle-work had been unfolded, and they were all ready to
begin, their mother said “Come, that’s done, at last! You may fold up
your work, girls.” But the children took no notice whatever of the
remark; on the contrary, they set to work at once sewing–if that is
the proper word to describe an operation such as I had never before
witnessed. Each of them threaded her needle with a short end of thread
attached to the work, which was instantly pulled by an invisible force
through the stuff, dragging the needle after it: the nimble fingers of
the little sempstress caught it at the other side, but only to lose it
again the next moment. And so the work went on, steadily undoing
itself, and the neatly-stitched little dresses, or whatever they were,
steadily falling to pieces. Now and then one of the children would
pause, as the recovered thread became inconveniently long, wind it on a
bobbin, and start again with another short end.
At last all the work was picked to pieces and put away, and the lady
led the way into the next room, walking backwards, and making the
insane remark “Not yet, dear: we must get the sewing done first.”
After which, I was not surprised to see the children skipping backwards
after her, exclaiming “Oh, mother, it is such a lovely day for a walk!”
In the dining-room, the table had only dirty plates and empty dishes on it.
However the party–with the addition of a gentleman, as good-natured,
and as rosy, as the children–seated themselves at it very contentedly.
You have seen people eating cherry-tart, and every now and then
cautiously conveying a cherry-stone from their lips to their plates?
Well, something like that went on all through this ghastly–or shall we
say ‘ghostly’?—banquet. An empty fork is raised to the lips: there
it receives a neatly-cut piece of mutton, and swiftly conveys it to the
plate, where it instantly attaches itself to the mutton already there.
Soon one of the plates, furnished with a complete slice of mutton and
two potatoes, was handed up to the presiding gentleman, who quietly
replaced the slice on the joint, and the potatoes in the dish.
Their conversation was, if possible, more bewildering than their mode
of dining. It began by the youngest girl suddenly, and without
provocation, addressing her eldest sister.
“Oh, you wicked story-teller!” she said.
I expected a sharp reply from the sister; but, instead of this, she
turned laughingly to her father, and said, in a very loud stage-whisper,
“To be a bride!”
The father, in order to do his part in a conversation that seemed only
fit for lunatics, replied “Whisper it to me, dear.”
But she didn’t whisper (these children never did anything they were told):
she said, quite loud, “Of course not! Everybody knows what Dotty wants!”
And little Dolly shrugged her shoulders, and said, with a pretty
pettishness, “Now, Father, you’re not to tease!