I had long desired this meeting, and when I saw Sophie I ran to meet her; but she, who had profited by her mother's instructions, drew back with profound courtesy and a compliment learnt by heart. I did not say anything for fear I should embarrass her, but I felt grieved to the heart.
Madame Cornelis then brought forward her son, telling the company that I had brought him to England after superintending his education for six years. She spoke in French, so I was glad to see that her friends understood that language.
We sat down to table; Madame Cornelis between her two children, and I between the two Englishwomen, one of whom delighted me by her pleasant wit. I attached myself to her as soon as I noticed that the mistress of the house only spoke to me by chance, and that Sophie did not look at me. She was so like me that no mistake was possible. I could see that she had been carefully tutored by her mother to behave in this manner, and I felt this treatment to be both absurd and impertinent.
I did not want to let anyone see that I was angry, so I began to discourse in a pleasant strain on the peculiarities of English manners, taking care, however, not to say anything which might wound the insular pride of the English guests. My idea was to make them laugh and to make myself agreeable, and I succeeded, but not a word did I speak to Madame Cornelis; I did not so much as look at her.
The lady next to me, after admiring the beauty of my lace, asked me what was the news at Court.
"It was all news to me," said I, "for I went there to-day for the first time."
"Have you seen the king?" said Sir Joseph Cornelis.
"My dear, you should not ask such questions," said his mother.
"Because the gentleman may not wish to answer them."
"On the contrary, madam, I like being questioned. I have been teaching your son for the last six years to be always asking something, for that is the way to acquire knowledge. He who asks nothing knows nothing."
I had touched her to the quick, and she fell into a sulky silence.
"You have not told me yet," said the lad, "whether you saw the king."
"Yes, my man, I saw the king and the queen, and both their majesties did me the honour to speak to me."
"Who introduced you?"
"The French ambassador."
"I think you will agree with me," said the mother, "that last question was a little too much."
"Certainly it would be if it were addressed to a stranger, but not to me who am his friend. You will notice that the reply he extracted from me did me honour. If I had not wished it to be known that I had been at Court, I should not have come here in this dress."
"Very good; but as you like to be questioned, may I ask you why you were not presented by your own ambassador?"
"Because the Venetian ambassador would not present me, knowing that his Government have a bone to pick with me."
By this time we had come to the dessert, and poor Sophie had not uttered a syllable.
"Say something to M. de Seingalt," said her mother.
"I don't know what to say," she answered. "Tell M. de Seingalt to ask me some questions, and I will answer to the best of my ability."
"Well, Sophie, tell me in what studies you are engaged at the present time."
"I am learning drawing; if you like I will shew you some of my work."
"I will look at it with pleasure; but tell me how you think you have offended me; you have a guilty air."
"I, sir? I do not think I have done anything amiss."
"Nor do I, my dear; but as you do not look at me when you speak I thought you must be ashamed of something. Are you ashamed of your fine eyes? You blush. What have you done?"
"You are embarrassing her," said the mother. "Tell him, my dear, that you have done nothing, but that a feeling of modesty and respect prevents you from gazing at the persons you address."
"Yes," said I; "but if modesty bids young ladies lower their eyes, politeness should make them raise them now and again."
No one replied to this objection, which was a sharp cut for the absurd woman; but after an interval of silence we rose from the table, and Sophie went to fetch her drawings.