Jemima would not have been allowed to come so frequently if Mr. Bradshaw had not been possessed with the idea of patronising Ruth. If the latter had chosen, she might have gone dressed from head to foot in the presents which he wished to make her, but she refused them constantly; occasionally to Miss Benson's great annoyance. But if he could not load her with gifts, he could show his approbation by asking her to his house; and after some deliberation, she consented to accompany Mr. and Miss Benson there. The house was square and massy-looking, with a great deal of drab-colour about the furniture. Mrs. Bradshaw, in her lackadaisical, sweet-tempered way, seconded her husband in his desire of being kind to Ruth; and as she cherished privately a great taste for what was beautiful or interesting, as opposed to her husband's love of the purely useful, this taste of hers had rarely had so healthy and true a mode of gratification as when she watched Ruth's movements about the room, which seemed in its unobtrusiveness and poverty of colour to receive the requisite ornament of light and splendour from Ruth's presence. Mrs. Bradshaw sighed, and wished she had a daughter as lovely, about whom to weave a romance; for castle-building, after the manner of the Minerva Press, was the outlet by which she escaped from the pressure of her prosaic life, as Mr. Bradshaw's wife. Her perception was only of external beauty, and she was not always alive to that, or she might have seen how a warm, affectionate, ardent nature, free from all envy or carking care of self, gave an unspeakable charm to her plain, bright-faced daughter Jemima, whose dark eyes kept challenging admiration for her friend. The first evening spent at Mr. Bradshaw's passed like many succeeding visits there. There was tea, the equipage for which was as handsome and as ugly as money could purchase. Then the ladies produced their sewing, while Mr. Bradshaw stood before the fire, and gave the assembled party the benefit of his opinions on many subjects. The opinions were as good and excellent as the opinions of any man can be who sees one side of a case very strongly, and almost ignores the other. They coincided in many points with those held by Mr. Benson, but he once or twice interposed with a plea for those who might differ; and then he was heard by Mr. Bradshaw with a kind of evident and indulgent pity, such as one feels for a child who unwittingly talks nonsense. By-and-by Mrs. Bradshaw and Miss Benson fell into one tete-a-tete, and Ruth and Jemima into another. Two well-behaved but unnaturally quiet children were sent to bed early in the evening, in an authoritative voice, by their father, because one of them had spoken too loud while he was enlarging on an alteration in the tariff. Just before the supper-tray was brought in, a gentleman was announced whom Ruth had never previously seen, but who appeared well known to the rest of the party. It was Mr. Farquhar, Mr. Bradshaw's partner; he had been on the Continent for the last year, and had only recently returned. He seemed perfectly at home, but spoke little. He leaned back in his chair, screwed up his eyes, and watched everybody; yet there was nothing unpleasant or impertinent in his keenness of observation. Ruth wondered to hear him contradict Mr. Bradshaw, and almost expected some rebuff; but Mr. Bradshaw, if he did not yield the point, admitted, for the first time that evening, that it was possible something might be said on the other side. Mr. Farquhar differed also from Mr. Benson, but it was in a more respectful manner than Mr. Bradshaw had done. For these reasons, although Mr. Farquhar had never spoken to Ruth, she came away with the impression that he was a man to be respected and perhaps liked.
Sally would have thought herself mightily aggrieved if, on their return, she had not heard some account of the evening. As soon as Miss Benson came in, the old servant began--
"Well, and who was there? and what did they give you for supper?"
"Only Mr. Farquhar besides ourselves: and sandwiches, sponge-cake, and wine there was no occasion for anything more," replied Miss Benson, who was tired and preparing to go upstairs.
"Mr. Farquhar! Why, they do say he's thinking of Miss Jemima!"
"Nonsense, Sally! why, he's old enough to be her father!" said Miss Benson, halfway up the first flight.
"There's no need for it to be called nonsense, though he may be ten year older," muttered Sally, retreating towards the kitchen. "Bradshaw's Betsy knows what she's about, and wouldn't have said it for nothing."
Ruth wondered a little about it. She loved Jemima well enough to be interested in what related to her; but, after thinking for a few minutes, she decided that such a marriage was, and would ever be, very unlikely.
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