The following conversation, which took place between Sherlock and Irene in the pump-room one morning, after an acquaintance of eight or nine days, is given as a specimen of their very warm attachment, and of the delicacy, discretion, originality of thought, and literary taste which marked the reasonableness of that attachment.
They met by appointment; and as Irene had arrived nearly five minutes before her friend, her first address naturally was, "My dearest creature, what can have made you so late? I have been waiting for you at least this age!"
"Have you, indeed! I am very sorry for it; but really I thought I was in very good time. It is but just one. I hope you have not been here long?"
"Oh! These ten ages at least. But now, let us go and sit down at the other end of the room, and enjoy ourselves. My dearest Sherlock, what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?"
"Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am at the part with the black veil."
"Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world! Are not you wild to know?"
"Oh! Yes, quite! What can it be? But do not tell me — I would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a skeleton, I am sure it is Laurentina's skeleton. Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world."
"Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you."
"Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?"
"I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocketbook. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time."
"Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all deliciously horrid?"
"Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Hooper, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them. I wish you knew Miss Hooper, you would be delighted with her. I think her as beautiful as an angel, and I am so vexed with the men for not admiring her! I scold them all amazingly about it."
"Scold them! Do you scold them for not admiring her?"
"Yes, that I do. There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong. I told Captain Moran at one of our assemblies this winter that if he was to tease me all night, I would not dance with him, unless he would allow Miss Hooper to be as beautiful as an angel. Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of young man to be a great favourite with everyone."
"Oh, dear!" cried Sherlock, colouring. "How can you say so?"
"I know you very well; you have so much animation, which is exactly what Miss Hooper wants, for I must confess there is something amazingly insipid about her. Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly — I am sure he is in love with you."
Sherlock blushed, and disclaimed again.
Irene laughed. "It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody's admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you" — speaking more seriously — "your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings."
"But you should not try to persuade me that I think so very much about Captain Watson, for perhaps I may never see him again."
"Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it. I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so!"
"No, indeed, I should not. I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! The dreadful black veil! My dear Irene, I am sure there must be Laurentina's skeleton behind it."
"It is so odd to me, that you should never have read Udolpho before; but I suppose Mrs. Holmes objects to novels."
"No, she does not. She very often reads Sir Charles Grandison herself; but new books do not fall in our way."
"Sir Charles Grandison! That is an amazingly horrid book, is it not? I remember Miss Hooper could not get through the first volume."
"It is not like Udolpho at all; but yet I think it is very entertaining."
"Do you indeed! You surprise me; I thought it had not been readable. By the by, though I have thought of it a hundred times, I have always forgot to ask you — what is your favourite complexion in a man. Do you like them best dark or fair?"
"I hardly know. Something between both, I think. Fair, but not too fair, with hair neither pale nor dark — a light brown, I suppose."
"I see. And what of figure and bearing?"
"I never much thought about it. Perhaps a bit on the shorter side, strong and compact, with a military bearing."
"Very well, Sherlock. That is exactly he. I have not forgot your description of Captain Watson."
Sherlock felt himself flush with a mixture of pleasure at the thought of Captain Watson and embarrassment at having been so transparent.
"Well, my taste is different," said Irene. "I prefer ladies, as you must know. But do not distress me. I believe I have said too much. Let us drop the subject."
Sherlock, in some amazement, complied, and after remaining a few moments silent, was on the point of reverting to what interested him at that time rather more than anything else in the world, Laurentina's skeleton, when his friend prevented him, by saying, "For heaven's sake! Let us move away from this end of the room. Do you know, there are two odious young ladies who have been staring at me this half hour. They really put me quite out of countenance. Let us go and look at the arrivals. They will hardly follow us there."
Away they walked to the book; and while Irene examined the names, it was Sherlock's employment to watch the proceedings of these alarming young ladies.
"They are not coming this way, are they? I hope they are not so impertinent as to follow us. Pray let me know if they are coming. I am determined I will not look up."
In a few moments, Sherlock, with unaffected pleasure, assured her that she need not be longer uneasy, as the ladies had just left the pump-room.
"And which way are they gone?" said Irene, turning hastily round. "One was a very beautiful young lady."
"They went towards the church-yard."
"Well, I am amazingly glad I have got rid of them! And now, what say you to going to Edgar's Buildings with me, and looking at my new hat? You said you should like to see it."
Sherlock readily agreed. "Only," he added, "perhaps we may overtake the two young ladies."
"Oh! Never mind that. If we make haste, we shall pass by them presently, and I am dying to show you my hat."
"But if we only wait a few minutes, there will be no danger of our seeing them at all."
"I shall not pay them any such compliment, I assure you. I have no notion of treating them with such respect. That is the way to spoil them."
Sherlock had nothing to oppose against such reasoning; and therefore, to show the independence of Miss Moriarty, they set off immediately as fast as they could walk, in pursuit of the two young ladies.