High Performance

Sydney Walk
June 2nd 1853

I have had such fun at poor Papa’s expense! As I sat with him drinking tea and making a good effort to eat some of the biscuits Constance had presented, I could not help but tease him with vague references to the secret Boo had shared with me. I was much relieved by her reassurance and could barely conceal my amusement – I do not think he quite knew how to respond to me.

“Papa!” I said, happily, “How glad I am to see you looking so well. After what happened yesterday, I was……”

“Let us not speak of yesterday, Euphemia! ” He put up his hand and reddenend slightly, “Much as it pains me to say it, I wish to hear news of Josiah, or Cook, or anyone you have had dealings with of late. What of your cat, is he quite grown up now?”

Papa never asks about Josiah, so I knew he was anxious to change the subject. I was in no mind to let him off so lightly, though.

“I will tell you everything that has happened since we last spoke, Papa, of course I will. You must act as though you are interested, though. I know my life is too silly for you to concentrate on but I insist you at least make a show of listening to me.”

“Effie, my own dearest child – how can you think me disinterested in your doings? Who else should I care to listen to if not my own flesh and blood?” Papa looked most affronted by my words, but I pressed on.

“Papa you are very convincing – I almost believe you,” I smiled at him, “But you have an intelligent mind – far more so than mine will ever be – and I cannot think you anything other than bored by my prattling. However, I must commend you on your artifice. You should be on the stage!”

I laughed so much at my joke that some biscuit crumbs became lodged in my throat and I succumbed to a violent fit of coughing. I have not seen Papa so alarmed in a long time – not since Josiah came to Wentworth that first time if I am to be quite truthful – and I was unsure whether his distress was caused by my inability to breathe or his fear of being found out. Whichever it was , I composed myself and went on to tell him all my news. Bless him, he did try to feign interest – he is indeed a better actor than I would have thought.

I spent a happy hour or two with him and then took my leave. As he showed me to the landing and thence to Constance’s open front door I could not resist one last tease.

“We must go out into Town soon, Papa,” I said, ” I should so like to spend an evening in your company.”

“That is a very attractive prospect my dear,” he answered, “Do you have a destination or particular activity in mind?”

“I should enjoy a trip to Drury Lane and to see a play at the theatre, Papa,” I offered, then paused ever so slightly before carrying on, “But I know how much you dislike pretence and showmanship. I know that a man with your intellectual depth will never enjoy an evening in the presence of a lot of silly actors.” I began to laugh again and he rushed forward to prevent another respiratory attack, “No I will wait for you to choose something more edifying for us to do. Goodbye, Papa!”

And I swept out! I must tell Boo – I am sure she will be cross with me for playing my game but I do not care. I am so happy that he is not in need of nursing, as I feared, that she could not quell my spirit for long.

I did promise Papa that I would pass on his good wishes to Mrs Doughty – he seems to hold her in good esteem – and he even gave me a donation to pass on directly to the girls at the Press. He is convinced they do not have enough to occupy them in their leisure hours – not that they have many of those – so he entreated me to provide them with some reading material. I said I thought they had enough reading to do all day what with the publications they produce but he said that was different and he wished them to become acquainted with the works of poets such as Shelley and Keats. I shall indulge his wish, bless him; it is not much to ask.

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