Chapter V.
 

Mr. Fountain sat at breakfast opposite his niece with a twinkle set in his eye like a cherry-clack in a tree, relishing beforehand her smiles, and blushes, and gratitude to him for having hooked and played his friend, so that now she had but to land him. "I'll just finish this delicious cup of coffee," thought he, "and then I'll tell you, my lady." While he was slowly sipping said cup, Lucy looked up and said graciously to him, "How silly Mr. Talboys was last night--was he not, dear?"

"Talboys? silly? what? do you know? Why, what on earth do you mean?"

"Silly is a harsh word--injudicious, then--praising me a tort et a travers, and was downright ill-bred--was discourteous to another of our guests, Mr. Dodd."

"Confound Mr. Dodd! I wish I had never invited him."

"So do I. If you remember, I dissuaded you."

"I do remember now. What! you don't like him, either?"

"There you are mistaken, dear. I esteem Mr. Dodd highly, and Miss Dodd, too, in spite of her manifest defects; but in making up parties, however small, we should choose our guests with reference to each other, not merely to ourselves. Now, forgive me, it was clear beforehand that Mr. Talboys and the Dodds, especially Miss Dodd, would never coalesce; hence my objection in inviting them; but you overruled me--with a rod of iron, dear."

"Yes; but why? Because you gave me such a bad reason; you never said a word about this incongruity."

"But it was in my mind all the time."

"Then why didn't it come out?"

"Because--because something else would come out instead. As if one gave one's real reasons for things!! Now, uncle dear, you allow me great liberties, but would it have been quite the thing for me to lecture you upon the selection of your own convives?"

"Why, you have ended by doing it."

Lucy colored. "Not till the event proves--not till--"

"Not till your advice is no longer any use."

Lucy, driven into a corner, replied by an imploring look, which had just the opposite effect of argument. It instantly disarmed the old boy; he grinned superior, and spared his supple antagonist three sarcasms that were all on the tip of his tongue. He was rewarded for his clemency by a little piece of advice, delivered by his niece with a sort of hesitating and penitent air he did not understand one bit, eyes down upon the cloth all the time.

It came to this. He was to listen to her suggestions with a prejudice in their favor if he could, and give them credit for being backed by good reasons; at all events, he was never to do them the injustice to suppose they rested on those puny considerations she might put forward in connection with them.

"Silly" is a term carrying with it a certain promptness and decision; above all, it was a very remarkable word for Lucy to use. "The girl is a martinet in these things," thought he; "she can't forgive the least bit of impoliteness. I suppose he snubbed Jack Tar. What a crime! But I had better let this blow over before I go any farther." So he postponed his disclosure till to-morrow.

But, before to-morrow came, he had thought it over again, and convinced himself it would be the wiser course not to interfere at all for the present, except by throwing the young people constantly together. He had lived long enough to see that, in nine cases out of ten, husband and wife might be defined "a man and a woman that were thrown a good deal together--generally in the country." A marries B, and C D; but, under similar circumstances, i.e., thrown together, A would have married D, and C B. This applies to puppy dogs, male and female, as well as to boys and girls.

Perhaps a personal feeling had some little share, too, in bringing him to the above conclusion. He was a bit of a schemer--liked to play puppets. At present, his niece and friend were the largest and finest puppets he had on hand; the day he should bring them to a mutual, rational understanding, the puppet-strings would fall from his hands and the puppets turn independent agents. He represented to Talboys that Lucy was young and very innocent in some respects; that marriage did not seem to run in her head as in most girls'; that a precipitate avowal might startle her, and raise unnecessary difficulties by putting her on her guard too early in their acquaintance. "You have no rival," he concluded; "best win her quietly by degrees. Undermine the coy jade! she is worth it." Cool Talboys acquiesced. David had spurred him out of his pace one night; but David was put out of the way; the course was clear; and, as he could walk over it now, why gallop?

Childish as his friend's jealousy of this poor sailor had seemed to Mr. Fountain, still, the idea once started, he could not help inspecting Lucy to see how she would take his sudden exclusion from these parties. Now Lucy missed the Dodds very much, and was surprised to see them invited no more. But it was not in her character to satisfy a curiosity of this sort by putting a point-blank question to the person who could tell her in two words. She was one of those thorough women whose instinct it is to find out little things, not to ask about them. When day after day passed by, and the Dodds were not invited, it flashed through her mind, first, that there must be some reason for this; secondly, that she had only to take no notice, and the reason, if any, would be sure to pop out. She half suspected Talboys, but gave him no sign of suspicion. With unruffled demeanor and tranquil patience, she watched demurely for disclosures from her uncle or from him like the prettiest little velvet panther conceivable lying flat in a blind path, deranging nobody, but waiting with amiable tranquillity for her friends to come her way.

Thus, under the smooth surface of the little society at Font Abbey finesse was cannily at work. But the surface of every society is like the skin of a man--hides a deal of secret machinery.

Here were two undermining a "coy jade" (perhaps, on the whole, Uncle Fountain, it might be more prudent in you not to call her that name again; you see she is my heroine, and I am a man that could cut you out of this story, and nobody miss you), and the coy jade watching for the miners like a sweet little velvet panther, and, to fling away metaphor, an honest heart set aching sore, hard by, for having come among such a lot.