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- The Maid of Maiden Lane - 30/44 -

accustomed herself to the idea of Cornelia as mistress of the beautiful home she had made. She was an American, and madame loved her country and wished her daughter-in-law to be of American lineage. She was aware that some trouble had come between the lovers, and she trusted that this visit might be the ground of a reconciliation. Without question, or plan, or even strong desire, she felt the wisdom of making opportunities, and then leaving the improvement of them to circumstances.

So about the beginning of February the Hydes were settled in Philadelphia more comfortably than could have been expected. A handsome house, handsomely furnished, had been found; and madame had brought with her the servants necessary to care for it, and for the family's comfort. And she was glad, when the weariness of the journey was over, to see how naturally and pleasantly her husband and son took their places in the gay world around them. She watched the latter constantly, being sure she would be able to read on his face, and by his manner and temper, whether affairs relating to Cornelia were favourable.

In a week she had come to the conclusion that he was disappointed; which indeed was very much the case. He could hear nothing of Cornelia. He had never once got a glimpse of her lovely countenance, and no scrutiny had revealed to him the place of her abode. Every house inhabited by a person of the name of Willing, had been the object of his observation; but no form that by any possibility could be mistaken for hers, had passed in or out of their doors. He became ashamed of haunting particular streets, and fancied the ladies of certain houses watched him; and that the maids and menservants chattered and speculated about his motives.

Every day when he went out Annie gave him an assuring smile, every day when he returned, she opened her eyes on him with the question in them she did not care to formulate; and every day she received in an answer an almost imperceptible negative shake of the head, that slight as it was, said despairingly, "I have not seen her."

A month passed in this unfruitful searching misery, and Hyde was almost hopeless. The journey appeared to be altogether a failure; and he said to Annie, "I am to be blamed for my selfishness in permitting you to come here. I see that you have tired yourself to death for nothing at all."

She gave her head a resolute little shake and answered, "Wait and see. Something is coming. You have no patience."

"I assure you, Annie, I ought to have. I have been buying it every day since we came to this detestable place."

"The place is not to blame. Do you know that I am going to Mrs. Washington's reception to-morrow evening? I shall see the President. He may even speak to me; for my uncle says he appears there, only as a private gentleman. Cousin, you are to be my cavalier if it please you; and my uncle and aunt will attend us."

"I am devotedly at your service, Annie; and I will at least point out to you some of the dazzling beauties of our court--the splendid Mrs. Bingham, the Miss Allens, and Miss Chews, and the brilliant Sally McKean."

"And the lovely Cornelia Moran?"

"She will not be there."

"My aunt says I must wear a white gown, and I shah do you all the justice it is in my power to do."

"I am always proud of you, Annie. There is no one like you."

"Do not say that, George!" The few words were almost a cry; and she closed her eyes, and clasped her small hands tightly.

"What have I said, Annie?"

"Nothing--nothing--only do not flatter me."

"It is the very truth."

"Let it pass?--it is nothing." She was silent afterwards, like a person in pain; all her childlike gaiety gone; and Hyde having a full share of a man's stupidity about matters of pure feeling, did not for one moment suspect why his praise should give her pain. He thought her objection must come from some religious scruple.

The next evening however he had every reason to feel proud of his cousin. She was really an exquisite little creature; angels would have given her all she wished, she was so charming. The touch of phantasy and flame in her nature illumined her face, and no one could look at her without feeling that a fervent and transparent soul gazed from eyes, so lambent with soft spiritual fire. This impression was enhanced by her childlike gown of white crape over soft white silk; it suggested her sweet fretless life, and also something unknown and unseen in her very simplicity.

Hyde, who was dressed in the very finest mode, was proud to take her on his arm; and the Earl watched them with a fond and faithful hope that all would soon fall out as he desired it. He could not indeed imagine a man remaining unimpressed by a beauty so captivating to the highest senses. "It will be as we wish," he said to his Countess as they watched them entering the waiting coach; and she answered with that smile of admission, which has always its reserved opinion.

Mrs. Washington's parlours were crowded when they entered them, but the splendid throng gave the highest expression of their approval possible, by that involuntary silence which indicates a pleased astonishment. The Earl at once presented his niece to Mrs. Washington, and afterwards to the President, who as a guest of Mrs. Washington was walking about the rooms talking to the ladies present. Resplendent in purple and white satin and the finest of laces, the august man captivated Lady Annie at the first glance. She curtsied with inimitable grace, and would have kissed the hand he held out to her, had he permitted the homage. For a few minutes he remained in conversation with the party, then he went forward, and Hyde turning with his beautiful charge, met Cornelia face to face.

They looked at each other as two disembodied souls might meet and look after death--reproaching, questioning, entreating, longing. Hyde flushed and paled, and could not for his very life make the slightest effort at recognition or speech. Not a word would come. He knew not what word to say. Cornelia who had seen his entry was more prepared. She gave him one long look of tender reproach as she passed, but she made no movement of recognition. If she had said one syllable--if she had paused one moment-- if she had shown in any way the least desire for a renewal of their acquaintance, Hyde was sure his heart would have instantly responded. As it was, they had met and parted in a moment, and every circumstance had been against him. For it was the most natural thing in life, that he should, after his cousin's interview with Washington, stoop to her words with delight and interest; and it was equally natural for Cornelia to put the construction on his attentions which every one else did. Then being angry at her apparent indifference, he made these attentions still more prominent; and Cornelia heard on every hand the confirmation of her own suspicions: "They are to be married at Easter. What a delightful little creature!"

"They have loved each other all their lives."

"The Earl is delighted with the marriage."

"He is the most devoted of lovers."

And there was not a word of dissent from this opinion until pretty Sally McKean said, "A fig for your prophecies! George Hyde has loved and galloped away a score of times. I would not pay any more attention to his proposals and promises, than I would pay to the wind that blows where it listeth; here to-day, and somewhere else to-morrow."

To all these speculations Cornelia forced herself to listen with a calm unalterable; and Hyde and Annie watched her from a distance. "So that is the marvellous beauty!" said Annie.

"Is she not marvellously beautiful?" asked Hyde.

"Yes. I will say that much. But why did she look at you with so much of reproach? What have you done to her?"

"That is it. What have I done? Or left undone?"

"Who is the gentleman with her?"

"I know not. She has many relatives here; wealthy Quakers, and some of them doubtless of the new order, who do not disdain the frivolity of fine clothing."

"Indeed, I assure you the Quakers were ever nice in their taste for silks and velvets and laces. The man is handsome enough even to be her escort. And to judge by appearances he is her devoted servant. Will you regard them, cousin?"

"I do. Alas, I see nothing else! She is more lovely then ever."

"She is wonderfully dressed. That gown of pale blue and silver would make any woman look like an angel?-but indeed she is lovely beyond comparison. There are none like her in this room. It will be a thousand pities if you lose her."

"I shall be inconsolable."

"You may have another opportunity even tonight. I see that my aunt is approaching with a young lady, if you do not wish to make a new acquaintance, go and try to meet Cornelia again."

"Thank you, Annie. You can tell me what I have missed afterwards."

He wandered through the parlours speaking to one and another but ever on the watch for Cornelia. He saw her no more that night. She had withdrawn as soon as possible after meeting Hyde, and he was so miserably disappointed, so angry at the unpropitious circumstances which had dominated their casual meeting, that he hardly spoke to anyone as they returned home; and was indeed so little interested in other affairs that he forgot until the next day to ask Annie whose acquaintance he had rather palpably refused.

"You cannot guess who it was," said Annie in answer to his query;" so I will make a favour of telling you. Do you remember the Rev. Mr. Darner, rector of Downhill Market?"

"Very well. He preached very tiresome sermons."

"The young lady was his daughter Mary."

"'Tis a miracle! What is Mary Darner doing in America?"

The Maid of Maiden Lane - 30/44

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