It was therefore with some sinking of the spirit that her husband beheld her thus heroically attired, putting down her candle in the little hall, and coming down the doorsteps through the little front court to open the gate for him.
Something had gone wrong with the house-door, for R. Wilfer stopped on the steps, staring at it, and cried:
'Yes,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'the man came himself with a pair of pincers, and took it off, and took it away. He said that as he had no expectation of ever being paid for it, and as he had an order for another LADIES' SCHOOL door-plate, it was better (burnished up) for the interests of all parties.'
'Perhaps it was, my dear; what do you think?'
'You are master here, R. W.,' returned his wife. 'It is as you think; not as I do. Perhaps it might have been better if the man had taken the door too?'
'My dear, we couldn't have done without the door.'
'Why, my dear! Could we?'
'It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do.' With those submissive words, the dutiful wife preceded him down a few stairs to a little basement front room, half kitchen, half parlour, where a girl of about nineteen, with an exceedingly pretty figure and face, but with an impatient and petulant expression both in her face and in her shoulders (which in her sex and at her age are very expressive of discontent), sat playing draughts with a younger girl, who was the youngest of the House of Wilfer. Not to encumber this page by telling off the Wilfers in detail and casting them up in the gross, it is enough for the present that the rest were what is called 'out in the world,' in various ways, and that they were Many. So many, that when one of his dutiful children called in to see him, R. Wilfer generally seemed to say to himself, after a little mental arithmetic, 'Oh! here's another of 'em!' before adding aloud, 'How de do, John,' or Susan, as the case might be.
'Well Piggywiggies,' said R. W., 'how de do to-night? What I was thinking of, my dear,' to Mrs Wilfer already seated in a corner with folded gloves, 'was, that as we have let our first floor so well, and as we have now no place in which you could teach pupils even if pupils--'
'The milkman said he knew of two young ladies of the highest respectability who were in search of a suitable establishment, and he took a card,' interposed Mrs Wilfer, with severe monotony, as if she were reading an Act of Parliament aloud. 'Tell your father whether it was last Monday, Bella.'
'But we never heard any more of it, ma,' said Bella, the elder girl.
'In addition to which, my dear,' her husband urged, 'if you have no place to put two young persons into--'
'Pardon me,' Mrs Wilfer again interposed; 'they were not young persons. Two young ladies of the highest respectability. Tell your father, Bella, whether the milkman said so.'
'My dear, it is the same thing.'
'No it is not,' said Mrs Wilfer, with the same impressive monotony. 'Pardon me!'
'I mean, my dear, it is the same thing as to space. As to space. If you have no space in which to put two youthful fellow-creatures, however eminently respectable, which I do not doubt, where are those youthful fellow-creatures to be accommodated? I carry it no further than that. And solely looking at it,' said her husband, making the stipulation at once in a conciliatory, complimentary, and argumentative tone--'as I am sure you will agree, my love-- from a fellow-creature point of view, my dear.'
'I have nothing more to say,' returned Mrs Wilfer, with a meek renunciatory action of her gloves. 'It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do.'
Here, the huffing of Miss Bella and the loss of three of her men at a swoop, aggravated by the coronation of an opponent, led to that young lady's jerking the draught-board and pieces off the table: which her sister went down on her knees to pick up.
'Poor Bella!' said Mrs Wilfer.
'And poor Lavinia, perhaps, my dear?' suggested R. W.
'Pardon me,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'no!'
It was one of the worthy woman's specialities that she had an amazing power of gratifying her splenetic or wordly-minded humours by extolling her own family: which she thus proceeded, in the present case, to do.