The table was laid for four, and I was curious enough to enquire who was the fourth person.
"It was to have been my daughter, but I left her behind, as when I told her that you and her brother had arrived she asked me if you were well."
"And you have punished her for doing so?"
"Certainly, for in my opinion she ought to have asked for her brother first and then for you. Don't you think I was right?"
"Poor Sophie! I am sorry for her. Gratitude has evidently more influence over her than blood relationship."
"It is not a question of sentiment, but of teaching young persons to think with propriety."
"Propriety is often far from proper."
The woman told her son that she was working hard to leave him a fortune when she died, and that she had been obliged to summon him to England as he was old enough to help her in her business.
"And how am I to help you, my dear mother?"
"I give twelve balls and twelve suppers to the nobility, and the same number to the middle classes in the year. I have often as many as six hundred guests at two guineas a head. The expenses are enormous, and alone as I am I must be robbed, for I can't be in two places at once. Now that you are here you can keep everything under lock and key, keep the books, pay and receive accounts, and see that everyone is properly attended to at the assemblies; in fine, you will perform the duties of the master."
"And do you think that I can do all that?"
"You will easily learn it."
"I think it will be very difficult."
"One of my secretaries will come and live with you, and instruct you in everything. During the first year you will only have to acquire the English language, and to be present at my assemblies, that I may introduce you to the most distinguished people in London. You will get quite English before long."
"I would rather remain French."
"That's mere prejudice, my dear, you will like the sound of Mister Cornelis by-and-bye."
"Yes; that is your name."
"It's a very funny one."
"I will write it down, so that you may not forget it." Thinking that her dear son was joking. Madame Cornelis looked at me in some astonishment, and told him to go to bed, which he did instantly. When we were alone she said he struck her as badly educated, and too small for his age.
"I am very much afraid," said she, "that we shall have to begin his education all over again. What has he learnt in the last six years?"
"He might have learnt a great deal, for he went to the best boarding school in Paris; but he only learnt what he liked, and what he liked was not much. He can play the flute, ride, fence, dance a minuet, change his shirt every day, answer politely, make a graceful bow, talk elegant trifles, and dress well. As he never had any application, he doesn't know anything about literature; he can scarcely write, his spelling is abominable, his arithmetic limited, and I doubt whether he knows in what continent England is situated."
"He has used the six years well, certainly."
"Say, rather, he has wasted them; but he will waste many more."
"My daughter will laugh at him; but then it is I who have had the care of her education. He will be ashamed when he finds her so well instructed though she is only eight."
"He will never see her at eight, if I know anything of reckoning; she is fully ten."
"I think I ought to know the age of my own daughter. She knows geography, history, languages, and music; she argues correctly, and behaves in a manner which is surprising in so young a child. All the ladies are in love with her. I keep her at a school of design all day; she shews a great taste for drawing. She dines with me on Sundays, and if you would care to come to dinner next Sunday you will confess that I have not exaggerated her capacities."
It was Monday. I said nothing, but I thought it strange that she did not seem to consider that I was impatient to see my daughter. She should have asked me to meet her at supper the following evening.
"You are just in time," said she, "to witness the last assembly of the year; for in a few weeks all the nobility will leave town in order to pass the summer in the country.