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- Love and Life - 3/60 -
of her hair and faltered, "It was Lady Herries who presented him."
"Yes, the child is not to blame," said Betty; "I left her in charge of Mrs. Churchill while I went to wash my hands after milking the cow, which these fine folk seemed to suppose could be done without soiling a finger."
"That's the way with Chloe and Phyllida in Arcadia," said her father.
"But not here," said Betty. "In the house, I was detained a little while, for the housekeeper wanted me to explain my recipe for taking out the grease spots."
"A little while, sister?" said Harriet. "It was through the dancing of three minuets, and the country dance had long been begun."
"I was too busy to heed the time," said Betty, "for I obtained the recipe for those delicious almond-cakes, and showed Mrs. Waldron the Vienna mode of clearing coffee. When I came back the fiddles were playing, and Aurelia going down the middle with a young gentleman in a scarlet coat. Poor little Robert Rowe was too bashful to find a partner, though he longed to dance; so I made another couple with him, and thus missed further speech, save that as we took our leave, both Sir George and the Dean complimented me, and said what there is no occasion to repeat just now, sir, when I ought to be fetching your supper."
"Ha! Is it too flattering for little Aura?" asked her father. "Come, never spare. She will hear worse than that in her day, I'll warrant."
"It was merely," said Betty, reluctantly, "that the Dean called her the star of the evening, and declared that her dancing equalled her face."
"Well said of his reverence! And his honour the baronet, what said he?"
"He said, sir, that so comely and debonnaire a couple had not been seen in these parts since you came home from Flanders and led off the assize ball with Mistress Urania Delavie."
"There, Aura, 'tis my turn to blush!" cried the Major, comically hiding his face behind Betty's fan. "But all this time you have never told me who was this young spark."
"That I cannot tell, sir," returned Betty. "We were sent home in the coach with Mistress Duckworth and her daughters, who talked so incessantly that we could not open our lips. Who was he, Aura?"
"My Lady Herries only presented him as Sir Amyas, sister," replied Aurelia.
"Sir Amyas!" cried her auditors, all together.
"Nothing more," said Aurelia. "Indeed she made as though he and I must be acquainted, and I suppose that she took me for Harriet, but I knew not how to explain."
"No doubt," said Harriet. "I was sick of the music and folly, and had retired to the summerhouse with Peggy Duckworth, who had brought a sweet sonnet of Mr. Ambrose Phillips, 'Defying Cupid.'"
Her father burst into a chuckling laugh, much to her mortification, though she would not seem to understand it, and Betty took up the moral.
"Sir Amyas! Are you positive that you caught the name, child?"
"I thought so, sister," said Aurelia, with the insecurity produced by such cross-questioning; "but I may have been mistaken, since, of course, the true Sir Amyas Belamour would never be here without my father's knowledge."
"Nor is there any other of the name," said her father, "except that melancholic uncle of his who never leaves his dark chamber."
"Depend upon it," said Harriet, "Lady Herries said Sir Ambrose. No doubt it was Sir Ambrose Watford."
"Nay, Harriet, I demur to that," said her father drolly. "I flatter myself I was a more personable youth than to be likened to Watford with his swollen nose. What like was your cavalier, Aura?"
"Indeed, sir, I cannot describe him. I was so much terrified lest he should speak to me that I had much ado to mind my steps. I know he had white gloves and diamond shoe-buckles, and that his feet moved by no means like those of Sir Ambrose."
"Aura is a modest child, and does credit to her breeding," said Betty. "Thus much I saw, that the young gentleman was tall and personable enough to bear comparison even to you, sir, not more than nineteen or twenty years of age, in a laced scarlet uniform, as I think, of the Dragoon Guards, and with a little powder, but not enough to disguise that his hair was entire gold."
"That all points to his being indeed young Belamour," said her father; "age, military appearance, and all--I wonder what this portends!"
"What a disaster!" exclaimed Harriet, "that my sister and I should have been out of the way, and only a chit like Aura be there to be presented to him."
"If young ladies _will_ defy Cupid," began her father;--but at that moment Corporal Palmer knocked at the door, bringing a basin of soup for his master, and announcing "Supper is served, young ladies."
Each of the three bent her knee to receive her father's blessing and kiss, then curtseying at the door, departed, Betty lingering behind her two juniors to see her father taste his soup and to make sure that he relished it.
CHAPTER II. THE HOUSE OF DELAVIE.
All his Paphian mother fear; Empress! all thy sway revere! EURIPEDES (Anstice).
The parlour where the supper was laid was oak panelled, but painted white. Like a little island in the vast polished slippery floor lay a square much-worn carpet, just big enough to accommodate a moderate- sized table and the surrounding high-backed chairs. There was a tent- stitch rug before the Dutch-tiled fireplace, and on the walls hung two framed prints,--one representing the stately and graceful Duke of Marlborough; the other, the small, dark, pinched, but fiery Prince Eugene. On the spotless white cloth was spread a frugal meal of bread, butter, cheese, and lettuce; a jug of milk, another of water, and a bottle of cowslip wine; for the habits of the family were more than usually frugal and abstemious.
Frugality and health alike obliged Major Delavie to observe a careful regimen. He had served in all Marlborough's campaigns, and had afterwards entered the Austrian army, and fought in the Turkish war, until he had been disabled before Belgrade by a terrible wound, of which he still felt the effects. Returning home with his wife, the daughter of a Jacobite exile, he had become a kind of agent in managing the family estate for his cousin the heiress, Lady Belamour, who allowed him to live rent-free in this ruinous old Manor-house, the cradle of the family.
This was all that Harriet and Aurelia knew. The latter had been born at the Manor, and young girls, if not brought extremely forward, were treated like children; but Elizabeth, the eldest of the family, who could remember Vienna, was so much the companion and confidante of her father, that she was more on the level of a mother than a sister to her juniors.
"Then you think Aurelia's beau was really Sir Amyas Belamour," said Harriet, as they sat down to supper.
"So it appears," said Betty, gravely.
"Do you think he will come hither, sister? I would give the world to see him," continued Harriet.
"He said something of hoping for better acquaintance," softly put in Aurelia.
"Oh, did he so?" cried Harriet. "For demure as you are, Miss Aura, I fancy you looked a little above the diamond shoe-buckles!"
"Fie, Harriet!" exclaimed Betty; "I will not have the child tormented. He ought to come and pay his respects to my father."
"Have you ever seen my Lady?" asked Aurelia.
"That have I, Miss Aurelia," interposed Corporal Palmer, "and a rare piece of beauty she would be, if one could forget the saying 'handsome is as handsome does.'"
"I never knew what she has done," said Aurelia.
"'Tis a long story," hastily said Betty, "too long to tell at table. I must make haste to prepare the poultice for my father."
She quickly broke up the supper party, and the two younger sisters repaired to their chamber, both conscious of having been repressed; the one feeling injured, the other rebuked for forwardness and curiosity. The three sisters shared one long low room with a large light closet at each end. One of these was sacred to powder, the other was Betty's private property. Harriet had a little white bed to herself, Betty and Aurelia nightly climbed into a lofty and solemn structure curtained with ancient figured damask. Each had her own toilette-table and a press for her clothes, where she contrived to stow them in a wonderfully small space.
Harriet and Aurelia had divested themselves of their finery before Betty came in, and they assisted her operations, Harriet preferring a complaint that she never would tell them anything.
"I have no objection to tell you at fitting times," said Betty, "but not with Palmer putting in his word. You should have discretion, Harriet."
"The Dean's servants never speak when they are waiting at table," said Harriet with a pout.
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