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'Well, we will not,' said Reginald; 'boys can always keep secrets, and I'll engage for Phyl. Now for it.'
'She is in a terrible fright lest it should be Mr. Mohun. She got it into her head last autumn, and all I could say would not persuade her out of it. Why, she always calls me Aunt Marianne when we are alone. Now, Reginald, here comes Maurice. Do not say anything, I beg and entreat. It is my secret, you know. I daresay you will all be told to-morrow,--indeed, mamma said so,--but pray say nothing about me or Jane. It was only settled yesterday evening.'
At this moment Maurice came up, with a message that Miss Weston and Eleanor were going away, and wanted the little girls. They followed him to the tent, which had been cleared of the tables, and lighted up, in order that the dancing might continue there. Most of their own party were collected at the entrance, watching for them. Lilias came up just as they did, and exclaimed in a tone of disappointment, on finding them preparing to depart. She had enjoyed herself exceedingly, found plenty of partners, and was not in the least tired.
'Why should she not stay?' said William. 'Claude has engaged to stay to the end of everything, and he may as well drive her as ride the gray.'
'And you, Jenny,' said Mr. Mohun, 'do you like to stay or go? Alethea will make room for you in the pony-carriage, or you may go with Eleanor.
'With Eleanor, if you please,' said Jane.
'Already, Jane?' said Lily. 'Are you tired?'
Jane drew her aside. 'Tired of hearing that I was right about what you would not believe. Did you not hear what he called her? And Rotherwood has found it out.'
'It is all gossip and mistake,' said Lily.
Here Jane was called away by Eleanor, and departed with her; Lilias went to look for her aunt or Florence, but on the way was asked to dance by Mr. Carrington.
'I suppose I may congratulate you,' said he in one of the pauses in the quadrille.
Lily thought it best to misunderstand, and answered, 'Everything has gone off very well.'
'Very. Lord Rotherwood will be a popular man; but my congratulations refer to something nearer home. I think you owe us some thanks for having brought them into the neighbourhood.'
'Report is very kind in making arrangements,' said Lily, with something of Emily's haughty courtesy.
'I hope this is something more than report,' said her partner.
'Indeed, I believe not. I think I may safely say that it is at present quite unfounded,' said Lily,
Mr. Carrington, much surprised, said no more.
Lily did not believe the report sufficiently to be annoyed by it during the excitement and pleasure of the evening, and at present her principal vexation was caused by the rapid diminution of the company. She and her brother were the very last to depart, even Florence had gone to bed, and Lady Rotherwood, looking exceedingly tired, kissed Lily at the foot of the stairs, pitied her for going home in an open carriage, and wished her good-night in a very weary tone.
'I should think you were the fiftieth lady I have handed across the hall,' said Lord Rotherwood, as he gave Lily his arm.
'But where were the fireworks, Rotherwood?'
'Countermanded long ago. We have had enough of them. Well, I am sorry it is over.'
'I am very glad it is so well over,' said Claude.
'Thanks to your exertions, Claude,' said the Marquis. 'You acted like a hero.'
'Like a dancing dervish you mean,' said Claude. 'It will suffice for my whole life.'
'I hope you are not quite exhausted.'
'No, thank you. I have turned over a new leaf.'
'Talking of new leaves,' said the Marquis, 'I always had a presentiment that Emily's government would come to a crisis to-day.'
'Do you think it has?' said Claude.
'Trust my word, you will hear great news to-morrow. And that reminds me--can you come here to-morrow morning? Travers is going--I drive him to meet the coach at the town, and you were talking of wanting to see the new windows in the cathedral: it will be a good opportunity. And dine here afterwards to talk over the adventures.'
'Thank you--that last I cannot do. The Baron was saying it would be the first time of having us all together.'
'Very well, besides the great news. I wish I was going back with you; it is a tame conclusion, only to go to bed. If I was but to be on the scene of action to-morrow. Tell the Baron that--no, use your influence to get me invited to dinner on Saturday--I really want to speak to him.'
'Very well,' said Claude, 'I'll do my best. Good-night.'
'Good-night,' said the Marquis. 'You have both done wonders. Still, I wish it was to come over again.'
'Few people would say so,' said Lily, as they drove off.
'Few would say so if they thought so,' said Claude. 'I have been quite admiring the way Rotherwood has gone on--enjoying the fun as if he was nobody--just as Reginald might, making other people happy, and making no secret of his satisfaction in it all.'
'Very free from affectation and nonsense,' said Lily, 'as William said of him last Christmas. You were in a fine fright about his speech, Claude.'
'More than I ought to have been. I should have known that he is too simple-minded and straightforward to say anything but just what he ought. What a nice person that Miss Aylmer is.'
'Is not she, Claude? I was very glad you had her for a neighbour. Happy the children who have her for a governess. How sensible and gentle she seems. The Westons--But oh! Claude, tell me one thing, did you hear--'
'I am ashamed to say. That preposterous report about papa. Why, Rotherwood himself seems to believe it, and Mr. Carrington began to congratulate--'
'The public has bestowed so many ladies on the Baron, that I wonder it is not tired,' said Claude. 'It is time it should patronise William instead.'
'Rotherwood is not the public,' said Lily, 'and he is the last person to say anything impertinent of papa. And I myself heard papa call her Alethea, which he never used to do. Claude, what do you think?'
After a long pause Claude slowly replied, 'Think? Why, I think Miss Weston must be a person of great courage. She begins the world as a grandmother, to say nothing of her eldest daughter and son being considerably her seniors.'
'I do not believe it,' said Lily. 'Do you, Claude?'
'I cannot make up my mind--it is too amazing. My hair is still standing on end. When it comes down I may be able to tell you something.'
Such were the only answers that Lily could extract from him. He did not sufficiently disbelieve the report to treat it with scorn, yet he did not sufficiently credit it to resign himself to such a state of things.
On coming home Lily found Emily and Jane in her room, eagerly discussing the circumstances which, to their prejudiced eyes, seemed strong confirmation. While their tongues were in full career the door opened and Eleanor appeared. She told them it was twelve o'clock, turned Jane out of the room, and made Emily and Lily promise not to utter another syllable that night.
CHAPTER XXVI: THE CRISIS
'"Is this your care of the nest?" cried he, "It comes of your gadding abroad," said she.'
To the consternation of the disconsolate damsels, the first news they heard the next morning was that Mr. Mohun was gone to breakfast at Broomhill, and the intelligence was received by Frank Hawkesworth with a smile which they thought perfectly malicious. Frank, William, and Reginald talked a little at breakfast about the fete, but no one joined them, and Claude looked so grave that Eleanor was convinced that he had a headache, and vainly tried to persuade him to stay at home, instead of setting off to Devereux Castle immediately after breakfast.
The past day had not been spent in vain by Ada. Mrs. Weston had led her by degrees to open her heart to her, had made her perceive the real cause of her father's displeasure, see her faults, and promise to confess them, a promise which she performed with many tears, as soon as she saw Eleanor in the morning.
On telling this to Emily Eleanor was surprised to find that she was
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