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- Beechcroft at Rockstone - 40/74 -

lady thinks poor Kally too handsome for it to be good for a young clergyman to have much to say to her. They have not been so cordial to them of late, but that is partly owing to poor Mrs. White's foolish talk, and in part to young Alexis having been desultory and mopy of late---not taking the interest in his music he did. Mr. Lee says he is sure some young woman is at the bottom of it.'

Miss Mohun saw her niece's ears crimson under her hat, and was afraid Mrs. Lee would likewise see them. They had reached the front of the house, and she made haste to take out a visiting-card and to beg Mrs. Lee kindly to give it with the basket, saying that she would not give trouble by coming to the door.

And then she turned back with Gillian, who was in a strange tumult of shame and consternation, yet withal, feeling that first strange thrill of young womanhood at finding itself capable of stirring emotion, and too much overcome by these strange sensations---above all by the shock of shame---to be able to utter a word.

I must make light of it, but not too light, thought Miss Mohun, and she broke the ice by saying, 'Poor foolish boy----'

'Oh, Aunt Jane, what shall I do?'

'Let it alone, my dear.'

'But that I should have done so much harm and upset him so'---in a voice betraying a certain sense of being flattered. 'Can't I do anything to undo it?'

'Certainly not. To be perfectly quiet and do nothing is all you can do. My dear, boys and young men have such foolish fits---more in that station than in ours, because they have none of the public school and college life which keeps people out of it. You were the first lady this poor fellow was brought into contact with, and---well, you were rather a goose, and he has been a greater one; but if he is let alone, he will recover and come to his senses. I could tell you of men who have had dozens of such fits. I am much more interested about his sister. What a noble girl she is!'

'Oh, isn't she, Aunt Jane. Quite a real heroine! And now mamma is coming, she will know what to do for her!'

'I hope she will, but it is a most perplexing case altogether.'

'And that horrid young Stebbing is come back too. I am glad she has that nice Mrs. Lee to help her.'

'And to defend her,' added Miss Mohun. 'Her testimony is worth a great deal, and I am glad to know where to lay my hand upon it. And here is our first house, "Les Rochers." For Madame de Sevigne's sake, I hope it will do!'

But it didn't! Miss Mohun got no farther than the hall before she detected a scent of gas; and they had to betake themselves to the next vacant abode. The investigating nature had full scope in the various researches that she made into parlour, kitchen, and hall, desperately wearisome to Gillian, whose powers were limited to considering how the family could sit at ease in the downstairs rooms, how they could be stowed away in the bedrooms, and where there were the prettiest views of the bay. Aunt Jane, becoming afraid that while she was literally 'ferreting' in the offices Gillian might be meditating on her conquest, picked up the first cheap book that looked innocently sensational, and left her to study it on various sofas. And when daylight failed for inspections, Gillian still had reason to rejoice in the pastime devised for her, since there was an endless discussion at the agent's, over the only two abodes that could be made available, as to prices, repairs, time, and terms. They did not get away till it was quite dark and the gas lighted, and Miss Mohun did not think the ascent of the steps desirable, so that they went round by the street.

'I declare,' exclaimed Miss Mohun, 'there's Mr. White's house lighted up. He must be come!'

'I wonder whether he will do anything for Kalliope,' sighed Gillian.

'Oh, Jenny,' exclaimed Miss Adeline, as the two entered the drawing- room. 'You have had such a loss; Rotherwood has been here waiting to see you for an hour, and such an agreeable man he brought with him!'

'Who could it have been?'

'I didn't catch his name---Rotherwood was mumbling in his quick way--- indeed, I am not sure he did not think I knew him. A distinguished- looking man, like a picture, with a fine white beard, and he was fresh from Italy; told me all about the Carnival and the curious ceremonies in the country villages.'

'From Italy? It can't have been Mr. White.'

'Mr. White! My dear Jane! this was a gentleman---quite a grand- looking man. He might have been an Italian nobleman, only he spoke English too well for that, though I believe those diplomates can speak all languages. However, you will see, for we are to go and dine with them at eight o'clock---you, and I, and Gillian.'

'You, Ada!'

'Oh! I have ordered the chair round; it won't hurt me with the glasses up. Gillian, my dear, you must put on the white dress that Mrs. Grinstead's maid did up for you---it is quite simple, and I should like you to look nice! Well---oh, how tired you both look! Ring for some fresh tea, Gillian. Have you found a house?'

So excited and occupied was Adeline that the house-hunting seemed to have assumed quite a subordinate place in her mind. It really was an extraordinary thing for her to dine out, though this was only a family party next door; and she soon sailed away to hold counsel with Mrs. Mount on dresses and wraps, and to get her very beautiful hair dressed. She made by far the most imposing appearance of the three when they shook themselves out in the ante-room at the hotel, in her softly-tinted sheeny pale-gray dress, with pearls in her hair, and two beautiful blush roses in her bosom; while her sister, in black satin and coral, somehow seemed smaller than ever, probably from being tired, and from the same cause Gillian had dark marks under her brown eyes, and a much more limp and languid look than was her wont.

Fly was seated on her father's knee, looking many degrees better and brighter, as if his presence were an elixir of life, and when he put her down to greet the arrivals, both she and Mysie sprang to Gillian to ask the result of the quest of houses. The distinguished friend was there, and was talking to Lady Rotherwood about Italian progress, and there was only time for an inquiry and reply as to the success of the search for a house before dinner was announced---the little girls disappeared, and the Marquess gave his arm to his eldest cousin.

'Grand specimen of marble, isn't he!' he muttered.

'Ada hasn't the least idea who he is. She thinks him a great diplomate,' communicated Jane in return, and her arm received an ecstatic squeeze.

It was amusing to Jane Mohun to see how much like a dinner at Rotherwood this contrived to be, with my lady's own footman, and my lord's valet waiting in state. She agreed mentally with her sister that the other guest was a very fine-looking man, with a picturesque head, and he did not seem at all out of place or ill-at-ease in the company in which he found himself. Lord Rotherwood, with a view, perhaps, to prolonging Adeline's mystification, turned the conversation to Italian politics, and the present condition and the industries of the people, on all of which subjects much ready information was given in fluent, good English, with perhaps rather unnecessarily fine words. It was only towards the end of the dinner that a personal experience was mentioned about the impossibility of getting work done on great feast days, or of knowing which were the greater---and the great dislike of the peasant mind to new methods.

When it came to 'At first, I had to superintend every blasting with gelatine,' the initiated were amused at the expression of Adeline's countenance, and the suppressed start of frightful conviction that quivered on her eyelids and the corners of her mouth, though kept in check by good breeding, and then smoothed out into a resolute complacency, which convinced her sister that having inadvertently exalted the individual into the category of the distinguished, she meant to abide staunchly by her first impression.

Lady Rotherwood, like most great ladies in public life, was perfectly well accustomed to have all sorts of people brought home to dinner, and would have been far less astonished than her cousins at sitting down with her grocer; but she gave the signal rather early, and on reaching the sitting-room, where Miss Elworthy was awaiting them, said---

'We will leave them to discuss their water-works at their ease. Certainly residence abroad is an excellent education.'

'A very superior man,' said Adeline.

'Those self-made men always are.'

'In the nature of things, added Miss Mohun, 'or they would not have mounted.'

'It is the appendages that are distressing,' said Lady Rotherwood, 'and they seldom come in one's way. Has this man left any in Italy?'

'Oh no, none alive. He took his wife there for her health, and that was the way he came to set up his Italian quarries; but she and his child both died there long ago, and he has never come back to this place since,' explained Ada.

'But he has relations here,' said Jane. 'His cousin was an officer in Jasper Merrifield's regiment.'

She hoped to have been saying a word in the cause of the young people, but she regretted her attempt, for Lady Rotherwood replied---

'I have heard of them. A very undeserving family, are they not?'

Gillian, whom Miss Elworthy was trying to entertain, heard, and could not help colouring all over, face, neck, and ears, all the more for so much hating the flush and feeling it observed.

Miss Mohun's was a very decided, 'I should have said quite the reverse.'

'Indeed! Well, I heard the connection lamented, for his sake, by--- what was her name? Mrs. Stirling---or---'

Beechcroft at Rockstone - 40/74

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