"We had a rainy day yesterday: but we enjoyed it. We sat all the morning at our window, gossiping and flirting, and watching the peasants sauntering home from market, apparently unconscious that they were being drenched. I had bought Carrie a huge sugar stick (sucre de pomme, I think they call it), and she looked bewitchingly as she nibbled it, and then coaxingly held it to my lips. You remember my old antipathy to sweets; well, strange to say, I thought I had never tasted anything more delicious than this sugar stick; but remember, it came direct from Carrie's lips. Then we speculated on what our friends were doing at that very moment, peeped into Clapham, and we made bad guesses enough, I have no doubt. It ended by our agreeing that none of you were half so happy as we were.
"In the evening the weather cleared a little, and we went out for a stroll. A stroll through the streets of Fontainebleau is not one of the pleasantest exploits in the world. I thought every moment that my wife (delightful word, that thrills me to the finger tips as I write it) would sprain an ankle, for the paving is simply a heap of round stones thrown out of a cart; but she stepped so nimbly and lightly, that no harm came to her. I wish, my dear Mac, you could hear her conversation. From morning till night she prattles away, hopping, skipping, and jumping from one subject to another, and saying something sensible or droll on each. You must know that Carrie has an immense fund of humour. Her imitations of people make me almost die with laughter. You remember Mrs. Calfsfoot's habit of twitching her nose and twirling her thumbs when she is beginning an anecdote about somebody one never saw, and never cared to see. Well, Carrie stopped in the middle of our rambles in the forest, and imitated her squeaky voice and absurd gestures to the life. The anecdote, concocted impromptu, was a wonderfully sustained bit of pure invention. On my honour, when she had finished her little performance, I could not help giving her a kiss for it.
"You will smile, my dear Mac, at this: remembering the horror we mutually expressed one night at Ardbye's chambers, of female mimics. But there is a difference, which we do not appear to have recognised on that occasion, between good-natured and ill-natured mimicry. Now nothing can be more harmless fun than my Carrie's imitations. She never has the bad taste to mimic a deformity, or to burlesque a misfortune. She certainly said of Mrs. Blomonge (who is known to be the stoutest person in the parish of St. Bride's) that her head floated on her shoulders like a waterlily on a pond; but then the joke was irresistible, and there was not a touch of malice in the way the thing was said. How much there is in manner!
"Carrie is beginning to yearn for the repose of Arcady Cottage. She wants to see herself mistress of a house. She longs to have to order dinner, inspect the dusting of the drawing-room, pour out tea from our own tea-pot, and work antimacassars for our chairs. I can see already that she will make the most perfect little housewife in the world.
"There are dolts and dullards who declare that women who are witty and accomplished, generally make bad housewives. They are said to lie on sofas all day through, reading hooks they cannot understand; playing all kinds of tortuous music; and painting moss roses upon velvet. I am not an old married man (twenty days old only), but I am ready to wager, from what I have already seen of my Carrie, that there is not the slightest ground for those charges against clever women; on the contrary, it seems to me that your clever woman will see the duty, as well as the pleasure, of ordering her husband's house in a becoming manner. Why should empty-headed girls, who haven't a word to say for themselves, nor an accomplishment to their back—why should they be the superlative concocters of custards, and menders of shirts and stockings? Do you mean to tell me that a woman must be a fool to have a light hand at pastry? I believe these libels on clever women have been propagated by designing mothers who had stupid daughters on their hands. Whenever you see a heavy-eyed, lumpish girl, who hides herself in corners, and reddens to the very roots of the hair when you say a civil thing to her, you are sure to be told that she is the very best house-keeper in the world, and will make a better wife than her pretty sister. In future I shall treat all such excuses for ugliness and dulness as they deserve. For I say it boldly beforehand, ere Carrie has tried her first undercrust, she will be a pattern housewife—although she reads John Stuart Mill.
"'Tom, darling!' sounds from the next room, and the music goes to my soul. Good-bye. The next from Aready Cottage. Thine,
"P.S.—We met yesterday a most charming travelling companion; and although, as I think I hinted in my last, I and Carrie intend to suffice for each other, he had so vast a fund of happy anecdote, we could not find it in our hearts to snub him. Besides, he began by lending me the day's Galignani."
"That travelling companion," remarked shrewd Mr. Mac, "marks the beginning of the end of the honeymoon. I shall keep him dark when I dine with Papa Cockayne on Sunday."
GATHERING A FEW THREADS.
Is there a more melancholy place than the street in which you have lived; than the house, now curtainless and weather-stained, you knew prim, and full of happy human creatures; than the "banquet-hall deserted:" than the empty chair; than the bed where Death found the friend you loved?
The Rue Millevoye is all this to me. I avoid it. If any cabman wants to make a short cut that way I stop him. Mrs. Rowe rests at last, in the same churchyard with the Whytes of Battersea: her faults forgiven; that dark story which troubled all her afterlife and made her son the terror of every hour, ended and forgotten.
If hers was a sad life, even cheered by the consolations of Mr. Mohun given over refreshing rounds of buttered toast; what was the gloom upon the head of Emily Sharp, whom the child of shame (was it in revenge) brought to shame? I never tread the deck of a Boulogne steamer without thinking of her sweet, loving face; I never wait for my luggage in the chilly morning at the Chemin de Fer du Nord terminus, without seeing her agony as the deserted one.
The Cockayne girls are prospering in all the comfort of maternal dignity in the genteel suburbs; and yet were they a patch upon forlorn Emmy Sharp? Miss Sophonisba, with her grand airs, in her critical letters from Paris—what kind of a heart had she? Miss Theodosia was a flirt of the vulgarest type who would have thrown up John Catt as she would throw away a two-button glove for a three-button pair, had not the Vicomte de Gars given her father to understand that he must have a very substantial dot with her. Mademoiselle Cockayne without money was not a thing to be desired, according to "his lordship."
John Catt was a rough diamond, as the reader has perceived, given to copious draughts of beer, black pipes, short sticks, prodigious shirt-collars, and music-halls. But he was a brave, honest, chivalrous lad in his coarse way. He loved Miss Theodosia Cockayne, and was seriously stricken when he left Paris, although he had tried to throw off the affair with a careless word or two. He hid his grief behind his bluntness; but she had no tears to hide. It was only when the Vicomte, after a visit to Clapham (paid much against Mr. Cockayne's will) had come to business in the plumpest manner, that the young lady had been brought to her senses by the father's observation that he was not prepared to buy a foreign viscount into the family on his own terms, and that "his lordship" would not take the young lady on her own merits, aroused Miss Theodosia's pride;—and with it the chances of John Catt revived. He took her renewed warmth for repentance after a folly. He said to himself, "She loved me all the time; and even the Vicomte was not, in the long run, proof against her affection for me." Miss Theodosia, having lost the new love, was fortunate enough to get on with the old again, and she is, I hear, reasonably happy—certainly happier than she deserves to be, as Mrs. John Catt.
I am told she is very severe upon Emma Sharp, and wonders how her sister Carrie can have the creature's portrait hung up in her morning room. But there are a few things she no longer wonders at. Carrie speaks to Lucy Rowe; kisses Lucy Rowe; puts her arm round Lucy Rowe's neck; and tumbles her baby upon Lucy Rowe's knees; and Mrs. John Catt wonders no longer. Not, I suspect, because she is fonder of Lucy now than she was in the Rue Millevoye, but because—well, I married her, as the reader, who is not a goose, has suspected long ago.
And a little Lucy writes for me, in big round hand, her mother guiding the pen—
LONDON: SAVILL, EDWARDS AND CO., PRINTERS, CHANDOS STREET, COVENT GARDEN.