The very first morning after the expiry of the fortnight, when I was in the kitchen with Sarah, giving her instructions about a certain dish as if I had made it twenty times, whereas I had only just learned how from a shilling cookery-book, there came a double knock at the door. I guessed who it must be.
"Run, Sarah," I said, "and show Mrs. Morley into the drawing-room."
When I entered, there she was,--Mrs. Morley, alias Cousin Judy.
"Well, little cozzie!" she cried, as she kissed me three or four times, "I'm glad to see you gone the way of womankind,--wooed and married and a'! Fate, child! inscrutable fate!" and she kissed me again.
She always calls me little coz, though I am a head taller than herself. She is as good as ever, quite as brusque, and at the first word apparently more overbearing. But she is as ready to listen to reason as ever was woman of my acquaintance; and I think the form of her speech is but a somewhat distorted reflex of her perfect honesty. After a little trifling talk, which is sure to come first when people are more than ordinarily glad to meet, I asked after her children. I forget how many there were of them, but they were then pretty far into the plural number.
"Growing like ill weeds," she said; "as anxious as ever their grandfathers and mothers were to get their heads up and do mischief. For my part I wish I was Jove,--to start them full grown at once. Or why shouldn't they be made like Eve out of their father's ribs? It would be a great comfort to their mother."
My father had always been much pleased with the results of Judy's training, as contrasted with those of his sister's. The little ones of my aunt Martha's family were always wanting something, and always looking care-worn like their mother, while she was always reading them lectures on their duty, and never making them mind what she said. She would represent the self-same thing to them over and over, until not merely all force, but all sense as well, seemed to have forsaken it. Her notion of duty was to tell them yet again the duty which they had been told at least a thousand times already, without the slightest result. They were dull children, wearisome and uninteresting. On the other hand, the little Morleys were full of life and eagerness. The fault in them was that they wouldn't take petting; and what's the good of a child that won't be petted? They lacked that something which makes a woman feel motherly.
"When did you arrive, cozzie?" she asked.
"A fortnight ago yesterday."
"Ah, you sly thing! What have you been doing with yourself all the time?"
"What! you came into an empty house?"
"Not quite that, but nearly."
"It is very odd I should never have seen your husband. We have crossed each other twenty times."
"Not so very odd, seeing he has been my husband only a fortnight."
"What is he like?"
"Like nothing but himself."
"Is he tall?"
"Is he stout?"
"Very clever, I believe."
"Not at all."
For my father had taught me to look down on that word.
"Why did you marry him then?"
"I didn't. He married me."
"What did you marry him for then?"
"What did you love him for?"
"Because he was a philosopher."
"That's the oddest reason I ever heard for marrying a man."
"I said for loving him, Judy."
Her bright eyes were twinkling with fun.
"Come, cozzie," she said, "give me a proper reason for falling in love with this husband of yours."
"Well, I'll tell you, then," I said; "only you mustn't tell any other body; he's got such a big shaggy head, just like a lion's."
"And such a huge big foot,--just like a bear's?"
"Yes, and such great huge hands! Why, the two of them go quite round my waist! And such big eyes, that they look right through me; and such a big heart, that if he saw me doing any thing wrong, he would kill me, and bury me in it."
"Well, I must say, it is the most extraordinary description of a husband I ever heard. It sounds to me very like an ogre."
"Yes; I admit the description is rather ogrish. But then he's poor, and that makes up for a good deal."
I was in the humor for talking nonsense, and of course expected of all people that Judy would understand my fun.
"How does that make up for any thing?"
"Because if he is a poor man, he isn't a rich man, and therefore not so likely to be a stupid."
"How do you make that out?"
"Because, first of all, the rich man doesn't know what to do with his money, whereas my ogre knows what to do without it. Then the rich man wonders in the morning which waistcoat he shall put on, while my ogre has but one, besides his Sunday one. Then supposing the rich man has slept well, and has done a fair stroke or two of business, he wants nothing but a well-dressed wife, a well-dressed dinner, a few glasses of his favorite wine, and the evening paper, well-diluted with a sleep in his easy chair, to be perfectly satisfied that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Now my ogre, on the other hand"--
I was going on to point out how frightfully different from all this my ogre was,--how he would devour a half-cooked chop, and drink a pint of ale from the public-house, &c., &c., when she interrupted me, saying with an odd expression of voice,--
"You are satirical, cozzie. He's not the worst sort of man you've just described. A woman might be very happy with him. If it weren't such early days, I should doubt if you were as comfortable as you would have people think; for how else should you be so ill-natured?"
It flashed upon me, that, without the least intention, I had been giving a very fair portrait of Mr. Morley. I felt my face grow as red as fire.
"I had no intention of being satirical, Judy," I replied.
"I was only describing a man the very opposite of my husband."
"You don't know mine yet," she said. "You may think"--
She actually broke down and cried. I had never in my life seen her cry, and I was miserable at what I had done. Here was a nice beginning of social relations in my married life!
I knelt down, put my arms round her, and looked up in her face.
"Dear Judy," I said, "you mistake me quite. I never thought of Mr. Morley when I said that. How should I have dared to say such things if I had? He is a most kind, good man, and papa and every one is glad when he comes to see us. I dare say he does like to sleep well,--I know Percivale does; and I don't doubt he likes to get on with what he's at: Percivale does, for he's ever so much better company when he has got on with his picture; and I know he likes to see me well dressed,--at least I haven't tried him with any thing else yet, for I have plenty of clothes for a while; and then for the dinner, which I believe was one of the points in the description I gave, I wish Percivale cared a little more for his, for then it would be easier to do something for him. As to the newspaper, there I fear I must give him up, for I have never yet seen him with one in his hand. He's so stupid about some things!"
"Oh, you've found that out! have you? Men are stupid; there's no doubt of that. But you don't know my Walter yet."
I looked up, and, behold, Percivale was in the room! His face wore such a curious expression that. I could hardly help laughing. And no wonder: for here was I on my knees, clasping my first visitor, and to all appearance pouring out the woes of my wedded life in her lap,--woes so deep that they drew tears from her as she listened. All this flashed upon me as I started to my feet: but I could give no explanation; I could only make haste to introduce my husband to my cousin Judy.
He behaved, of course, as if he had heard nothing. But I fancy Judy caught a glimpse of the awkward position, for she plunged into the affair at once.
"Here is my cousin, Mr. Percivale, has been abusing my husband to my face, calling him rich and stupid, and I don't know what all. I confess he is so stupid as to be very fond of me, but that's all I know against him."
And her handkerchief went once more to her eyes.
"Dear Judy!" I expostulated, "you know I didn't say one word about him."
"Of course I do, you silly coz!" she cried, and burst out laughing. "But I won't forgive you except you make amends by dining with us to-morrow."
Thus for the time she carried it off; but I believe, and have since had good reason for believing, that she had really mistaken me at first, and been much annoyed.
She and Percivale got on very well. He showed her the portrait he was still working at,--even accepted one or two trifling hints as to the likeness, and they parted the best friends in the world. Glad as I had been to see her, how I longed to see the last of her! The moment she was gone, I threw myself into his arms, and told him how it came about. He laughed heartily.
"I was a little puzzled," he said, "to hear you informing a lady I had never seen that I was so very stupid."
"But I wasn't telling a story, either, for you know you are ve-e-e-ry stupid, Percivale. You don't know a leg from a shoulder of mutton, and you can't carve a bit. How ever you can draw as you do, is a marvel to me, when you know nothing about the shapes of things. It was very wrong to say it, even for the sake of covering poor Mrs. Morley's husband; but it was quite true you know."
"Perfectly true, my love," he said, with something else where I've only put commas; "and I mean to remain so, in order that you may always have something to fall back upon when you get yourself into a scrape by forgetting that other people have husbands as well as you."
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