I was anticipating the relish of this happiness before I left my old lodgings, and was realizing it as I went down to dinner with my cousin. But we were no sooner seated than I observed that although this lady was on my right hand, my friend's oldest boy, to my misfortune, was on my left. The boy is now about seven years old, and possesses many of his father's good qualities, but he has inherited from his mother an indiscreet zeal for chatting and propounding questions which, however becoming in the more mature and attractive, is out of place in the young and the uninformed. The humorous stories in Punch that relate the inopportune sayings of precocious children have often afforded me amusement, but the blunders that fell from the mouths of those "babes and sucklings" were nothing to the remarks of this prodigy. "Why, mamma," broke out the child in a lull of the conversation, "Mary has set the table with the best china."
My fair companion and I were soon deep in a pleasing discussion on social life.
"Men are purely and simply selfish," she began.
"Are you not too severe and too sweeping in stating your proposition? I shall await with interest your demonstration."
"If it suits their convenience," she continued, not minding my interruption, "to forsake their warm rooms and their cosy fires, they may sometimes be persuaded to grace a ball-room with their presence; but as for paying visits on ladies from whom they have received attention, they generally neglect them. If the truth be known, the entire social fabric is sustained by the votive offerings of the ladies."
"What are votive offerings?" inquired the young seeker-after-knowledge; and all conversation was stopped until the sacrificial rites of the ancients were explained.
Before we had finished the meal the boy had asked me about my collar and my waistcoat, and as I pride myself on the modesty of my dress, these little attentions on his part did not increase my love and affection for the child. I have always admired the sound common-sense of the old gentleman who, when asked if he liked children, said he was very fond of them in Bougereau.
We had hardly sat down to whist in the parlor when my tormentor took a seat beside me, and gave me directions about playing my hand. I remonstrated with him, but to no purpose; he assured me, with the utmost candor, that his mamma liked to have him look over people's hands so as to learn how to play, and his father liked to have him watch and see who did the cheating!
But I was so wearied with this grievance that I withdrew early in the evening. On my return home I fell into a profound contemplation on the evils of family companies and the decay of good old Roman customs. The children in Rome, according to Tacitus, sat at a table apart from the triclinium where their elders reclined, and, we may justly suppose, did not add their valuable fund to the resources of polite conversation. The little Britannicus is said to have been sitting at one of those tables when he took the poison. His fate was, to be sure, a severe and an undeserved one; but it was hardly more cruel than the doom I desired would fall on the imp who haunted me last evening.