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A Fair Barbarian by Francis Hodgson Burnett

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fluttered, and, after the first exchange of civilities, subsided into
monosyllables and attentive stares. They were, indeed, very anxious to
hear Octavia converse, but had not the courage to attempt to draw her
out, unless a sudden query of Miss Lydia's could be considered such an
attempt.

"Do you like England?" she asked.

"Is this England?" inquired Octavia.

"It is a part of England, of course," replied the young lady, with calm
literalness.

"Then, of course, I like it very much," said Octavia, slightly waving her
fan and smiling.

Miss Lydia Egerton and Miss Violet Egerton each regarded her in dubious
silence for a moment. They did not think she looked as if she were
"clever;" but the speech sounded to both as if she were, and as if she
meant to be clever a little at their expense.

Naturally, after that they felt slightly uncomfortable, and said less
than before; and conversation lagged to such an extent that Octavia was
not sorry when tea was announced.

And it so happened that tea was not the only thing announced. The ladies
had all just risen from their seats with a gentle rustle, and Lady
Theobald was moving forward to marshal her procession into the
dining-room, when Dobson appeared at the door again.

"Mr. Barold, my lady," he said, "and Mr. Burmistone."

Everybody glanced first at the door, and then at Lady Theobald. Mr.
Francis Barold crossed the threshold, followed by the tall,
square-shouldered builder of mills, who was a strong, handsome man, and
bore himself very well, not seeming to mind at all the numerous eyes
fixed upon him.

"I did not know," said Barold, "that we should find you had guests. Beg
pardon, I'm sure, and so does Burmistone, whom I had the pleasure of
meeting at Broadoaks, and who was good enough to invite me to return with
him." Lady Theobald extended her hand to the gentleman specified.

"I am glad," she said rigidly, "to see Mr. Burmistone."

Then she turned to Barold.

"This is very fortunate," she announced. "We are just going in to take
tea, in which I hope you will join us. Lucia"--

Mr. Francis Barold naturally turned, as her ladyship uttered her
granddaughter's name in a tone of command. It may be supposed that his
first intention in turning was to look at Lucia; but he had scarcely done
so, when his attention was attracted by the figure nearest to her,--the
figure of a young lady, who was playing with a little blue fan, and
smiling at him brilliantly and unmistakably.

The next moment he was standing at Octavia Bassett's side, looking rather
pleased, and the blood of Slowbridge was congealing, as the significance
of the situation was realized.

One instant of breathless--of awful--suspense, and her ladyship
recovered herself.

"We will go in to tea," she said. "May I ask you, Mr. Burmistone, to
accompany Miss Pilcher?"

CHAPTER XI.

A SLIGHT INDISCRETION.

During the remainder of the evening, Miss Belinda was a prey to
wretchedness and despair. When she raised her eyes to her hostess, she
met with a glance full of icy significance; when she looked across the
tea-table, she saw Octavia seated next to Mr. Francis Barold,
monopolizing his attention, and apparently in the very best possible
spirits. It only made matters worse, that Mr. Francis Barold seemed to
find her remarks worthy of his attention. He drank very little tea, and
now and then appeared much interested and amused. In fact, he found Miss
Octavia even more entertaining than he had found her during their
journey. She did not hesitate at all to tell him that she was delighted
to see him again at this particular juncture.

"You don't know how glad I was to see you come in," she said.

She met his rather startled glance with the most open candor as she
spoke.

"It is very civil of you to say so," he said; "but you can hardly expect
me to believe it, you know. It is too good to be true."

"I thought it was too good to be true when the door opened," she answered
cheerfully. "I should have been glad to see _anybody_, almost"--

"Well, that," he interposed, "isn't quite so civil."

"It is not quite so civil to"--

But there she checked herself, and asked him a question with the most
_naive_ seriousness.

"Are you a great friend of Lady Theobald's?" she said.

"No," he answered. "I am a relative."

"That's worse," she remarked.

"It is," he replied. "Very much worse."

"I asked you," she proceeded, with an entrancing little smile of
irreverent approval, "because I was going to say that my last speech was
not quite so civil to Lady Theobald."

"That is perfectly true," he responded. "It wasn't civil to her at all."

He was passing his time very comfortably, and was really surprised to
feel that he was more interested in these simple audacities than he had
been in any conversation for some time. Perhaps it was because his
companion was so wonderfully pretty, but it is not unlikely that there
were also other reasons. She looked him straight in the eyes, she
comported herself after the manner of a young lady who was enjoying
herself, and yet he felt vaguely that she might have enjoyed herself
quite as much with Burmistone, and that it was probable that she would
not think a second time of him, or of what she said to him.

After tea, when they returned to the drawing-room, the opportunities
afforded for conversation were not numerous. The piano was opened, and
one after another of the young ladies were invited to exhibit their
prowess. Upon its musical education Slowbridge prided itself. "Few
towns," Miss Pilcher frequently remarked, "could be congratulated upon
the possession of _such_ talent and _such_ cultivation." The Misses
Egerton played a duet, the Misses Loftus sang, Miss Abercrombie
"executed" a sonata with such effect as to melt Miss Pilcher to tears;
and still Octavia had not been called upon. There might have been a
reason for this, or there might not; but the moment arrived, at length,
when Lady Theobald moved toward Miss Belinda with evidently fell intent.

"Perhaps," she said, "perhaps your niece, Miss Octavia, will favor us."

Miss Belinda replied in a deprecatory and uncertain murmur.

"I--am not sure. I really don't know. Perhaps--Octavia, my dear."

Octavia raised a smiling face.

"I don't play," she said. "I never learned."

"You do not play!" exclaimed Lady Theobald. "You do not play at all!"

"No," answered Octavia. "Not a note. And I think I am rather glad of it;
because, if I tried, I should be sure to do it worse than other people. I
would rather," with unimpaired cheerfulness, "let some one else do it."

There were a few seconds of dead silence. A dozen people seated around
her had heard. Miss Pilcher shuddered; Miss Belinda looked down; Mr.
Francis Barold preserved an entirely unmoved countenance, the general
impression being that he was very much shocked, and concealed his disgust
with an effort.

"My dear," said Lady Theobald, with an air of much condescension and some
grave pity, "I should advise you to try to learn. I can assure you that
you would find it a great source of pleasure."

"If you could assure me that my friends would find it a great source of
pleasure, I might begin," answered the mistaken young person, still
cheerfully; "but I am afraid they wouldn't."

It seemed that fate had marked her for disgrace. In half an hour from
that time she capped the climax of her indiscretions.

The evening being warm, the French windows had been left open; and, in
passing one of them, she stopped a moment to look out at the brightly
moonlit grounds.

Barold, who was with her, paused too.

"Looks rather nice, doesn't it?" he said.

"Yes," she replied. "Suppose we go out on the terrace."

He laughed in an amused fashion she did not understand.

"Suppose we do," he said. "By Jove, that's a good idea!"

He laughed as he followed her.

"What amuses you so?" she inquired.

"Oh!" he replied, "I am merely thinking of Lady Theobald."

"Well," she commented, "I think it's rather disrespectful in you to
laugh. Isn't it a lovely night? I didn't think you had such moonlight
nights in England. What a night for a drive!"

"Is that one of the things you do in America--drive by moonlight?"

"Yes. Do you mean to say you don't do it in England?"

"Not often. Is it young ladies who drive by moonlight in America?"

"Well, you don't suppose they go alone, do you?" quite ironically. "Of
course they have some one with them."

"Ah! Their papas?"

"No."

"Their mammas?"

"No."

"Their governesses, their uncles, their aunts?"

"No," with a little smile.

He smiled also.

"That is another good idea," he said. "You have a great many nice ideas
in America."

She was silent a moment or so, swinging her fan slowly to and fro by its
ribbon, and appearing to reflect.

"Does that mean," she said at length, "that it wouldn't be considered
proper in England?"

"I hope you won't hold me responsible for English fallacies," was his
sole answer.

"I don't hold anybody responsible for them," she returned with some
spirit. "I don't care one thing about them."

"That is fortunate," he commented. "I am happy to say I don't, either. I
take the liberty of pleasing myself. I find it pays best."

"Perhaps," she said, returning to the charge, "perhaps Lady Theobald will
think _this_ is improper."

He put his hand up, and stroked his mustache lightly, without replying.

"But it is _not_," she added emphatically: "it is _not!_"

"No," he admitted, with a touch of irony, "it is not!"

"Are _you_ any the worse for it?" she demanded.

"Well, really, I think not--as yet," he replied.

"Then we won't go in," she said, the smile returning to her lips again.

CHAPTER XII.

AN INVITATION.

In the mean time Mr. Burmistone was improving his opportunities within
doors. He had listened to the music with the most serious attention; and
on its conclusion he had turned to Mrs. Burnham, and made himself very
agreeable indeed. At length, however, he arose, and sauntered across the
room to a table at which Lucia Gaston chanced to be standing alone,
having just been deserted by a young lady whose mamma had summoned her.
She wore, Mr. Burmistone regretted to see, as he advanced, a troubled and
anxious expression; the truth being that she had a moment before remarked
the exit of Miss Belinda's niece and her companion. It happened oddly
that Mr. Burmistone's first words touched upon the subject of her
thought. He began quite abruptly with it.

"It seems to me," he said, "that Miss Octavia Bassett"--

Lucia stopped him with a courage which surprised herself.

"Oh, if you please," she implored, "don't say any thing unkind about
her!"

Mr. Burmistone looked down into her soft eyes with a good deal of
feeling.

"I was not going to say any thing unkind," he answered. "Why should I?"

"Everybody seems to find a reason for speaking severely of her," Lucia
faltered. "I have heard so many unkind things tonight, that I am quite
unhappy. I am sure--I am _sure_ she is very candid and simple."

"Yes," answered Mr. Burmistone, "I am sure she is very candid and
simple."

"Why should we expect her to be exactly like ourselves?" Lucia went on.
"How can we be sure that our way is better than any other? Why should
they be angry because her dress is so expensive and pretty? Indeed, I
only wish I had such a dress. It is a thousand times prettier than any we
ever wear. Look around the room, and see if it is not. And as to her not
having learned to play on the piano, or to speak French--why should she
be obliged to do things she feels she would not be clever at? I am not
clever, and have been a sort of slave all my life, and have been scolded
and blamed for what I could not help at all, until I have felt as if I
must be a criminal. How happy she must have been to be let alone!"

She had clasped her little hands, and, though she spoke in a low
voice, was quite impassioned in an unconscious way. Her brief girlish
life had not been a very happy one, as may be easily imagined; and a
glimpse of the liberty for which she had suffered roused her to a
sense of her own wrongs.

"We are all cut out after the same pattern," she said. "We learn the same
things, and wear the same dresses, one might say. What Lydia Egerton has
been taught, I have been taught; yet what two creatures could be more
unlike each other, by nature, than we are?"

Mr. Burmistone glanced across the room at Miss Egerton. She was a fine,
robust young woman, with a high nose and a stolid expression of
countenance.

"That is true," he remarked.

"We are afraid of every thing," said Lucia bitterly. "Lydia Egerton is
afraid--though you might not think so. And, as for me, nobody knows what
a coward I am but myself. Yes, I am a coward! When grandmamma looks at
me, I tremble. I dare not speak my mind, and differ with her, when I know
she is unjust and in the wrong. No one could say that of Miss Octavia
Bassett."

"That is perfectly true," said Mr. Burmistone; and he even went so far as
to laugh as he thought of Miss Octavia trembling in the august presence
of Lady Theobald.

The laugh checked Lucia at once in her little outburst of eloquence. She
began to blush, the color mounting to her forehead.

"Oh!" she began, "I did not mean to--to say so much. I"--

There was something so innocent and touching in her sudden timidity and
confusion, that Mr. Burmistone forgot altogether that they were not very
old friends, and that Lady Theobald might be looking.

He bent slightly forward, and looked into her upraised, alarmed eyes.

"Don't be afraid of _me_" he said; "don't, for pity's sake!"

He could not have hit upon a luckier speech, and also he could not have
uttered it more feelingly than he did. It helped her to recover herself,
and gave her courage.

"There," she said, with a slight catch of the breath, "does not that
prove what I said to be true? I was afraid, the very moment I ceased to
forget myself. I was afraid of you and of myself. I have no courage at
all."

"You will gain it in time," he said.

"I shall try to gain it," she answered. "I am nearly twenty, and it is
time that I should learn to respect myself. I think it must be because I
have no self-respect that I am such a coward."

It seemed that her resolution was to be tried immediately; for at that
very moment Lady Theobald turned, and, on recognizing the full
significance of Lucia's position, was apparently struck temporarily dumb
and motionless. When she recovered from the shock, she made a majestic
gesture of command.

Mr. Burmistone glanced at the girl's face, and saw that it changed color
a little. "Lady Theobald appears to wish to speak to you," he said.

Lucia left her seat, and walked across the room with a steady air. Lady
Theobald did not remove her eye from her until she stopped within three
feet of her. Then she asked a rather unnecessary question:--

"With whom have you been conversing?"

"With Mr. Burmistone."

"Upon what subject?"

"We were speaking of Miss Octavia Bassett."

Her ladyship glanced around the room, as if a new idea had occurred to
her, and said,--

"Where _is_ Miss Octavia Bassett?"

Here it must be confessed that Lucia faltered.

"She is on the terrace with Mr. Barold."

"She is on"--

Her ladyship stopped short in the middle of her sentence. This was too
much for her. She left Lucia, and crossed the room to Miss Belinda.

"Belinda," she said, in an awful undertone, "your niece is out upon the
terrace with Mr. Barold. Perhaps it would be as well for you to
intimate to her that in England it is not customary--that--Belinda, go
and bring her in."

Miss Belinda arose, actually looking pale. She had been making such
strenuous efforts to converse with Miss Pilcher and Mrs. Burnham, that
she had been betrayed into forgetting her charge. She could scarcely
believe her ears. She went to the open window, and looked out, and then
turned paler than before.

"Octavia, my dear," she said faintly.

"Francis!" said Lady Theobald, over her shoulder.

Mr. Francis Barold turned a rather bored countenance toward them; but it
was evidently not Octavia who had bored him.

"Octavia," said Miss Belinda, "how imprudent! In that thin dress--the
night air! How could you, my dear, how could you?"

"Oh! I shall not catch cold," Octavia answered. "I am used to it. I have
been out hours and hours, on moonlight nights, at home."

But she moved toward them.

"You must remember," said Lady Theobald, "that there are many things
which may be done in America which would not be safe in England."

And she made the remark in an almost sepulchral tone of warning.

How Miss Belinda would have supported herself if the coach had not been
announced at this juncture, it would be difficult to say. The coach was
announced, and they took their departure. Mr. Barold happening to make
his adieus at the same time, they were escorted by him down to the
vehicle from the Blue Lion.

When he had assisted them in, and closed the door, Octavia bent forward,
so that the moonlight fell full on her pretty, lace-covered head, and the
sparkling drops in her ears.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "if you stay here at all, you must come and see
us.--Aunt Belinda, ask him to come and see us."

Miss Belinda could scarcely speak.

"I shall be most--most happy," she fluttered, "Any--friend of dear Lady
Theobald's, of course"--

"Don't forget," said Octavia, waving her hand.

The coach moved off, and Miss Belinda sank back into a dark corner.

"My dear," she gasped, "what will he think?"

Octavia was winding her lace scarf around her throat.

"He'll think I want him to call," she said serenely. "And I do."

CHAPTER XIII.

INTENTIONS.

The position in which Lady Theobald found herself placed, after these
occurrences, was certainly a difficult and unpleasant one. It was Mr.
Francis Barold's caprice, for the time being, to develop an intimacy with
Mr. Burmistone. He had, it seemed, chosen to become interested in him
during their sojourn at Broadoaks. He had discovered him to be a
desirable companion, and a clever, amiable fellow. This much he
condescended to explain incidentally to her ladyship's self.

"I can't say I expected to meet a nice fellow or a companionable fellow,"
he remarked, "and I was agreeably surprised to find him both. Never says
too much or too little. Never bores a man."

To this Lady Theobald could make no reply. Singularly enough, she had
discovered early in their acquaintance that her wonted weapons were
likely to dull their edges upon the steely coldness of Mr. Francis
Barold's impassibility. In the presence of this fortunate young man,
before whom his world had bowed the knee from his tenderest infancy, she
lost the majesty of her demeanor. He refused to be affected by it: he was
even implacable enough to show openly that it bored him, and to insinuate
by his manner that he did not intend to submit to it. He entirely ignored
the claim of relationship, and acted according to the promptings of his
own moods. He did not feel it at all incumbent upon him to remain at
Oldclough Hall, and subject himself to the time-honored customs there
in vogue. He preferred to accept Mr. Burmistone's invitation to become
his guest at the handsome house he had just completed, in which he lived
in bachelor splendor. Accordingly he installed himself there, and thereby
complicated matters greatly.

Slowbridge found itself in a position as difficult as, and far more
delicate than, Lady Theobald's. The tea-drinkings in honor of that
troublesome young person, Miss Octavia Bassett, having been inaugurated
by her ladyship, must go the social rounds, according to ancient custom.
But what, in discretion's name, was to be done concerning Mr. Francis
Barold? There was no doubt whatever that he must not be ignored; and, in
that case, what difficulties presented themselves!

The mamma of the two Misses Egerton, who was a nervous and easily
subjugated person, was so excited and overwrought by the prospect before
her, that, in contemplating it when she wrote her invitations, she was
affected to tears.

"I can assure you, Lydia," she said, "that I have not slept for three
nights, I have been so harassed. Here, on one hand, is Mr. Francis
Barold, who must be invited; and on the other is Mr. Burmistone, whom we
cannot pass over; and here is Lady Theobald, who will turn to stone the
moment she sees him,--though, goodness knows, I am sure he seems a very
quiet, respectable man, and said some of the most complimentary things
about your playing. And here is that dreadful girl, who is enough to give
one cold chills, and who may do all sorts of dreadful things, and is
certainly a living example to all respectable, well-educated girls. And
the blindest of the blind could see that nothing would offend Lady
Theobald more fatally than to let her be thrown with Francis Barold;
and how one is to invite them into the same room, and keep them apart,
I'm sure I don't know how. Lady Theobald herself could not do it, and how
can we be expected to? And the refreshments on my mind too; and Forbes
failing on her tea-cakes, and bringing up Sally Lunns like lead."

That these misgivings were equally shared by each entertainer in
prospective, might be adduced from the fact that the same afternoon Mrs.
Burnham and Miss Pilcher appeared upon the scene, to consult with Mrs.
Egerton upon the subject.

Miss Lydia and Miss Violet being dismissed up-stairs to their practising,
the three ladies sat in the darkened parlor, and talked the matter over
in solemn conclave.

"I have consulted Miss Pilcher, and mentioned the affair to Mrs. Gibson,"
announced Mrs. Burnham. "And, really, we have not yet been able to arrive
at any conclusion."

Mrs. Egerton shook her head tearfully.

"Pray don't come to me, my dears," she said,--"don't, I beg of you! I
have thought about it until my circulation has all gone wrong, and Lydia
has been applying hot-water bottles to my feet all the morning. I gave it
up at half-past two, and set Violet to writing invitations to one and
all, let the consequences be what they may."

Miss Pilcher glanced at Mrs. Burnham, and Mrs. Burnham glanced at Miss
Pilcher.

"Perhaps," Miss Pilcher suggested to her companion, "it would be as well
for you to mention your impressions."

Mrs. Burnham's manner became additionally cautious. She bent forward
slightly.

"My dear," she said, "has it struck you that Lady Theobald has
any--intentions, so to speak?"

"Intentions?" repeated Mrs. Egerton.

"Yes," with deep significance,--"so to speak. With regard to Lucia."

Mrs. Egerton looked utterly helpless.

"Dear me!" she ejaculated plaintively. "I have never had time to think of
it. Dear me! With regard to Lucia!"

Mrs. Burnham became more significant still.

"_And_" she added, "Mr. Francis Barold."

Mrs. Egerton turned to Miss Pilcher, and saw confirmation of the fact in
her countenance.

"Dear, dear!" she said. "That makes it worse than ever."

"It is certain," put in Miss Pilcher, "that the union would be a
desirable one; and we have reason to remark that a deep interest in Mr.
Francis Barold has been shown by Lady Theobald. He has been invited to
make her house his home during his stay in Slowbridge; and, though he has
not done so, the fact that he has not is due only to some inexplicable
reluctance upon his own part. And we all remember that Lady Theobald once
plainly intimated that she anticipated Lucia forming, in the future, a
matrimonial alliance."

"Oh!" commented Mrs. Egerton, with some slight impatience, "it is all
very well for Lady Theobald to have intentions for Lucia; but, if the
young man has none, I really don't see that her intentions will be likely
to result in any thing particular. And I am sure Mr. Francis Barold is
not in the mood to be influenced in that way now. He is more likely to
entertain himself with Miss Octavia Bassett, who will take him out in the
moonlight, and make herself agreeable to him in her American style."

Miss Pilcher and Mrs. Burnham exchanged glances again.

"My dear," said Mrs. Burnham, "he has called upon her twice since Lady
Theobald's tea. They say she invites him herself, and flirts with him
openly in the garden."

"Her conduct is such," said Miss Pilcher, with a shudder, "that the
blinds upon the side of the seminary which faces Miss Bassett's garden
are kept closed by my orders. I have young ladies under my care whose
characters are in process of formation, and whose parents repose
confidence in me."

"Nothing but my friendship for Belinda Bassett," remarked Mrs. Burnham,
"would induce me to invite the girl to my house." Then she turned to Mrs.
Egerton. "But--ahem--have you included them _all_ in your invitations?"
she observed.

Mrs. Egerton became plaintive again.

"I don't see how I could be expected to do any thing else," she said.
"Lady Theobald herself could not invite Mr. Francis Barold from Mr.
Burmistone's house, and leave Mr. Burmistone at home. And, after all, I
must say it is my opinion nobody would have objected to Mr. Burmistone,
in the first place, if Lady Theobald had not insisted upon it."

Mrs. Burnham reflected.

"Perhaps that is true," she admitted cautiously at length. "And it must
be confessed that a man in his position is not entirely without his
advantages--particularly in a place where there are but few gentlemen,
and those scarcely desirable as"--

She paused there discreetly, but Mrs. Egerton was not so discreet.

"There are a great many young ladies in Slowbridge," she said, shaking
her head,--"a great many! And with five in a family, all old enough to be
out of school, I am sure it is flying in the face of Providence to
neglect one's opportunities."

When the two ladies took their departure, Mrs. Burnham seemed reflective.
Finally she said,--"Poor Mrs. Egerton's mind is not what it was, and it
never was remarkably strong. It must be admitted, too, that there is a
lack of--of delicacy. Those great plain girls of hers must be a trial to
her."

As she spoke they were passing the privet hedge which surrounded Miss
Bassett's house and garden; and a sound caused both to glance around. The
front door had just been opened; and a gentleman was descending the
steps,--a young gentleman in neat clerical garb, his guileless
ecclesiastical countenance suffused with mantling blushes of confusion
and delight. He stopped on the gravel path to receive the last words of
Miss Octavia Bassett, who stood on the threshold, smiling down upon him
in the prettiest way in the world.

"Tuesday afternoon," she said. "Now don't forget; because I shall ask Mr.
Barold and Miss Gaston, on purpose to play against us. Even St. James
can't object to croquet."

"I--indeed, I shall be _most_ happy and--and delighted," stammered her
departing guest, "if you will be so kind as to--to instruct me, and
forgive my awkwardness."

"Oh! I'll instruct you," said Octavia. "I have instructed people before,
and I know how."

Mrs. Burnham clutched Miss Pilcher's arm.

"Do you see who _that_ is?" she demanded. "Would you have believed it?"

Miss Pilcher preserved a stony demeanor.

"I would believe any thing of Miss Octavia Bassett," she replied. "There
would be nothing at all remarkable, to my mind, in her flirting with the
bishop himself! Why should she hesitate to endeavor to entangle the
curate of St. James?"

CHAPTER XIV.

A CLERICAL VISIT.

It was indeed true that the Rev. Arthur Poppleton had spent the greater
part of his afternoon in Miss Belinda Bassett's front parlor, and that
Octavia had entertained him in such a manner that he had been beguiled
into forgetting the clerical visits he had intended to make, and had
finally committed himself by a promise to return a day or two later to
play croquet. His object in calling had been to request Miss Belinda's
assistance in a parochial matter. His natural timorousness of nature had
indeed led him to put off making the visit for as long a time as
possible. The reports he had heard of Miss Octavia Bassett had inspired
him with great dread. Consequently he had presented himself at Miss
Belinda's front door with secret anguish.

"Will you say," he had faltered to Mary Anne, "that it is Mr. Poppleton,
to see _Miss_ Bassett--Miss _Belinda_ Bassett?"

And then he had been handed into the parlor, the door had been closed
behind him, and he had found himself shut up entirely alone in the room
with Miss Octavia Bassett herself.

His first impulse was to turn, and flee precipitately: indeed, he even
went so far as to turn, and clutch the handle of the door; but somehow a
second thought arrived in time to lead him to control himself.

This second thought came with his second glance at Octavia.

She was not at all what he had pictured her. Singularly enough, no one
had told him that she was pretty; and he had thought of her as a gaunt
young person, with a determined and manly air. She struck him, on the
contrary, as being extremely girlish and charming to look upon. She wore
the pale pink gown; and as he entered he saw her give a furtive little
dab to her eyes with a lace handkerchief, and hurriedly crush an open
letter into her pocket. Then, seeming to dismiss her emotion with
enviable facility, she rose to greet him.

"If you want to see aunt Belinda," she said, "perhaps you had better sit
down. She will be here directly." He plucked up spirit to take a seat,
suddenly feeling his terror take wing. He was amazed at his own courage.

"Th-thank you," he said. "I have the pleasure of"--There, it is true, he
stopped, looked at her, blushed, and finished somewhat disjointedly.
"Miss Octavia Bassett, I believe."

"Yes," she answered, and sat down near him.

When Miss Belinda descended the stairs, a short time afterward, her ears
were greeted by the sound of brisk conversation, in which the Rev. Arthur
Poppleton appeared to be taking part with before-unheard-of spirit. When
he arose at her entrance, there was in his manner an air of mild buoyancy
which astonished her beyond measure. When he re-seated himself, he seemed
quite to forget the object of his visit for some minutes, and was thus
placed in the embarrassing position of having to refer to his note-book.

Having done so, and found that he had called to ask assistance for the
family of one of his parishioners, he recovered himself somewhat. As he
explained the exigencies of the case, Octavia listened.

"Well," she said, "I should think it would make you quite uncomfortable,
if you see things like that often."

"I regret to say I do see such things only too frequently," he answered.

"Gracious!" she said; but that was all.

He was conscious of being slightly disappointed at her apathy; and
perhaps it is to be deplored that he forgot it afterward, when Miss
Belinda had bestowed her mite, and the case was dismissed for the time
being. He really did forget it, and was beguiled into making a very long
call, and enjoying himself as he had never enjoyed himself before.

When, at length, he was recalled to a sense of duty by a glance at the
clock, he had already before his eyes an opening vista of delights,
taking the form of future calls, and games of croquet played upon Miss
Belinda's neatly-shaven grass-plat. He had bidden the ladies adieu in the
parlor, and, having stepped into the hall, was fumbling rather excitedly
in the umbrella-stand for his own especially slender clerical umbrella,
when he was awakened to new rapture by hearing Miss Octavia's tone again.

He turned, and saw her standing quite near him, looking at him with
rather an odd expression, and holding something in her hand.

"Oh!" she said. "See here,--those people."

"I--beg pardon," he hesitated. "I don't quite understand."

"Oh, yes!" she answered. "Those desperately poor wretches, you know, with
fever, and leaks in their house, and all sorts of disagreeable things the
matter with them. Give them this, won't you?"

"This" was a pretty silk purse, through whose meshes he saw the gleam of
gold coin.

"That?" he said. "You don't mean--isn't there a good deal--I beg
pardon--but really"--

"Well, if they are as poor as you say they are, it won't be too much,"
she replied. "I don't suppose they'll object to it: do you?"

She extended it to him as if she rather wished to get it out of her
hands.

"You'd better take it," she said. "I shall spend it on something I don't
need, if you don't. I'm always spending money on things I don't care for
afterward."

He was filled with remorse, remembering that he had thought her
apathetic.

"I--I really thought you were not interested at all," he burst forth.
"Pray forgive me. This is generous indeed."

She looked down at some particularly brilliant rings on her hand, instead
of looking at him.

"Oh, well!" she said, "I think it must be simply horrid to have to do
without things. I can't see how people live. Besides, I haven't denied
myself any thing. It would be worth talking about if I had, I suppose.
Oh! By the by, never mind telling any one, will you?"

Then, without giving him time to reply, she raised her eyes to his face,
and plunged into the subject of the croquet again, pursuing it until the
final moment of his exit and departure, which was when Mrs. Burnham and
Miss Pilcher had been scandalized at the easy freedom of her adieus.

CHAPTER XV.

SUPERIOR ADVANTAGES.

When Mr. Francis Barold called to pay his respects to Lady Theobald,
after partaking of her hospitality, Mr. Burmistone accompanied him; and,
upon almost every other occasion of his presenting himself to her
ladyship, Mr. Burmistone was his companion.

It may as well be explained at the outset, that the mill-owner of
Burmistone Mills was a man of decided determination of character, and
that, upon the evening of Lady Theobald's tea, he had arrived at the
conclusion that he would spare no effort to gain a certain end he felt it
would add to his happiness to accomplish.

"I stand rather in awe of Lady Theobald, as any ordinary man would," he
had said dryly to Barold, on their return to his house. "But my awe of
her is not so great yet that I shall allow it to interfere with any of
my plans."

"Have you any especial plan?" inquired Barold carelessly, after a pause.

"Yes," answered Mr. Burmistone,--"several. I should like to go to
Oldclough rather often."

"I feel it the civil thing to go to Oldclough oftener than I like. Go
with me."

"I should like to be included in all the invitations to tea for the next
six months."

"I shall be included in all the invitations so long as I remain here; and
it is not likely you will be left out in the cold. After you have gone
the rounds once, you won't be dropped."

"Upon the whole, it appears so," said Mr. Burmistone. "Thanks."

So, at each of the tea-parties following Lady Theobald's, the two men
appeared together. The small end of the wedge being inserted into the
social stratum, the rest was not so difficult. Mrs. Burnham was at once
surprised and overjoyed by her discoveries of the many excellences of the
man they had so hastily determined to ignore. Mrs. Abercrombie found Mr.
Burmistone's manner all that could be desired. Miss Pilcher expressed the
highest appreciation of his views upon feminine education and "our duty
to the young in our charge." Indeed, after Mrs. Egerton's evening, the
tide of public opinion turned suddenly in his favor.

Public opinion did not change, however, as far as Octavia was concerned.
Having had her anxiety set at rest by several encouraging paternal
letters from Nevada, she began to make up her mind to enjoy herself, and
was, it is to be regretted, betrayed by her youthful high spirits into
the committing of numerous indiscretions. Upon each festal occasion she
appeared in a new and elaborate costume: she accepted the attentions of
Mr. Francis Barold, as if it were the most natural thing in the world
that they should be offered; she joked--in what Mrs. Burnham designated
"her Nevada way"--with the Rev. Arthur Poppleton, who appeared more
frequently than had been his habit at the high teas. She played croquet
with that gentleman and Mr. Barold day after day, upon the grass-plat,
before all the eyes gazing down upon her from the neighboring windows;
she managed to coerce Mr. Burmistone into joining these innocent orgies;
and, in fact, to quote Miss Pilcher, there was "no limit to the
shamelessness of her unfeminine conduct."

Several times much comment had been aroused by the fact that Lucia Gaston
had been observed to form one of the party of players. She had indeed
played with Barold, against Octavia and Mr. Poppleton, on the memorable
day upon which that gentleman had taken his first lesson.

Barold had availed himself of the invitation extended to him by Octavia,
upon several occasions, greatly to Miss Belinda's embarrassment. He had
dropped in the evening after the curate's first call.

"Is Lady Theobald very fond of you?" Octavia had asked, in the course of
this visit.

"It is very kind of her, if she is," he replied with languid irony.

"Isn't she fond enough of you to do any thing you ask her?" Octavia
inquired.

"Really, I think not," he replied. "Imagine the degree of affection it
requires! I am not fond enough of any one to do any thing they ask me."

Octavia bestowed a long look upon him.

"Well," she remarked, after a pause, "I believe you are not. I shouldn't
think so."

Barold colored very faintly.

"I say," he said, "is that an imputation, or something of that character?
It sounds like it, you know."

Octavia did not reply directly. She laughed a little.

"I want you to ask Lady Theobald to do something," she said.

"I am afraid I am not in such favor as you imagine," he said, looking
slightly annoyed.

"Well, I think she won't refuse you this thing," she went on. "If she
didn't loathe me so, I would ask her myself."

He deigned to smile.

"Does she loathe you?" he inquired.

"Yes," nodding. "She would not speak to me if it weren't for aunt
Belinda. She thinks I am fast and loud. Do _you_ think I am fast and
loud?"

He was taken aback, and not for the first time, either. She had startled
and discomposed him several times in the course of their brief
acquaintance; and he always resented it, priding himself in private, as
he did, upon his coolness and immobility. He could not think of the right
thing to say just now, so he was silent for a second.

"Tell me the truth," she persisted. "I shall not care--much."

"I do not think you would care at all."

"Well, perhaps I shouldn't. Go on. Do you think I am fast?"

"I am happy to say I do not find you slow."

She fixed her eyes on him, smiling faintly.

"That means I am fast," she said. "Well, no matter. Will you ask Lady
Theobald what I want you to ask her?"

"I should not say you were fast at all," he said rather stiffly. "You
have not been educated as--as Lady Theobald has educated Miss Gaston, for
instance."

"I should rather think not," she replied. Then she added, very
deliberately, "She has had what you might call very superior advantages,
I suppose."

Her expression was totally incomprehensible to him. She spoke with the
utmost seriousness, and looked down at the table. "That is derision, I
suppose," he remarked restively.

She glanced up again.

"At all events," she said, "there is nothing to laugh at in Lucia Gaston.
Will you ask Lady Theobald? I want you to ask her to let Lucia Gaston
come and play croquet with us on Tuesday. She is to play with you against
Mr. Poppleton and me."

"Who is Mr. Poppleton?" he asked, with some reserve. He did not exactly
fancy sharing his entertainment with any ordinary outsider. After all,
there was no knowing what this little American might do.

"He is the curate of the church," she replied, undisturbed. "He is very
nice, and little, and neat, and blushes all over to the toes of his
boots. He came to see aunt Belinda, and I asked him to come and be
taught to play."

"Who is to teach him?"

"I am. I have taught at least twenty men in New York and San Francisco."

"I hope he appreciates your kindness."

"I mean to try if I can make him forget to be frightened," she said, with
a gay laugh.

It was certainly nettling to find his air of reserve and displeasure met
with such inconsequent lightness. She never seemed to recognize the
subtle changes of temperature expressed in his manner. Only his sense of
what was due to himself prevented his being very chilly indeed; but as
she went on with her gay chat, in utter ignorance of his mood, and
indulged in some very pretty airy nonsense, he soon recovered himself,
and almost forgot his private grievance.

Before going away, he promised to ask Lady Theobald's indulgence in the
matter of Lucia's joining them in their game. One speech of Octavia's,
connected with the subject, he had thought very pretty, as well as kind.

"I like Miss Gaston," she said. "I think we might be friends if Lady
Theobald would let us. Her superior advantages might do me good. They
might improve me," she went on, with a little laugh, "and I suppose I
need improving very much. All my advantages have been of one kind."

When he had left her, she startled Miss Belinda by saying,--

"I have been asking Mr. Barold if he thought I was fast; and I believe he
does--in fact, I am sure he does."

"Ah, my dear, my dear!" ejaculated Miss Belinda, "what a terrible thing
to say to a gentleman! What will he think?"

Octavia smiled one of her calmest smiles.

"Isn't it queer how often you say that!" she remarked. "I think I should
perish if I had to pull myself up that way as you do. I just go right on,
and never worry. I don't mean to do any thing queer, and I don't see why
any one should think I do."

CHAPTER XVI.

CROQUET.

Lucia was permitted to form one of the players in the game of croquet,
being escorted to and from the scene by Francis Barold. Perhaps it
occurred to Lady Theobald that the contrast of English reserve and
maidenliness with the free-and-easy manners of young women from Nevada
might lead to some good result.

"I trust your conduct will be such as to show that you at least have
resided in a civilized land," she said. "The men of the present day may
permit themselves to be amused by young persons whose demeanor might
bring a blush to the cheek of a woman of forty, but it is not their habit
to regard them with serious intentions."

Lucia reddened. She did not speak, though she wished very much for the
courage to utter the words which rose to her lips. Lately she had found
that now and then, at times when she was roused to anger, speeches of
quite a clever and sarcastic nature presented themselves to her mind. She
was never equal to uttering them aloud; but she felt that in time she
might, because of course it was quite an advance in spirit to think them,
and face, even in imagination, the probability of astounding and striking
Lady Theobald dumb with their audacity.

"It ought to make me behave very well," she was saying now to herself,
"to have before me the alternative of not being regarded with serious
intentions. I wonder if it is Mr. Poppleton or Francis Barold who might
not regard me seriously. And I wonder if they are any coarser in America
than we can be in England when we try."

She enjoyed the afternoon very much, particularly the latter part of it,
when Mr. Burmistone, who was passing, came in, being invited by Octavia
across the privet hedge. Having paid his respects to Miss Belinda, who
sat playing propriety under a laburnum-tree, Mr. Burmistone crossed the
grass-plat to Lucia herself. She was awaiting her "turn," and laughing at
the ardent enthusiasm of Mr. Poppleton, who, under Octavia's direction,
was devoting all his energies to the game: her eyes were bright, and she
had lost, for the time being, her timid air of feeling herself somehow in
the wrong.

"I am glad to see you here," said Mr. Burmistone.

"I am glad to be here," she answered. "It has been such a happy
afternoon. Every thing has seemed so bright and--and different!"

"'Different' is a very good word," he said, laughing.

"It isn't a very bad one," she returned, "and it expresses a good deal."

"It does indeed," he commented.

"Look at Mr. Poppleton and Octavia," she began.

"Have you got to 'Octavia'?" he inquired.

She looked down and blushed.

"I shall not say 'Octavia' to grandmamma."

Then suddenly she glanced up at him.

"That is sly, isn't it?" she said. "Sometimes I think I am very sly,
though I am sure it is not my nature to be so. I would rather be open
and candid."

"It would be better," he remarked.

"You think so?" she asked eagerly.

He could not help smiling.

"Do you ever tell untruths to Lady Theobald?" he inquired. "If you do, I
shall begin to be alarmed."

"I act them," she said, blushing more deeply. "I really do--paltry sorts
of untruths, you know; pretending to agree with her when I don't;
pretending to like things a little when I hate them. I have been trying
to improve myself lately, and once or twice it has made her very angry.
She says I am disobedient and disrespectful. She asked me, one day, if it
was my intention to emulate Miss Octavia Bassett. That was when I said I
could not help feeling that I had wasted time in practising."

She sighed softly as she ended.

In the mean time Octavia had Mr. Poppleton and Mr. Francis Barold upon
her hands, and was endeavoring to do her duty as hostess by both of them.
If it had been her intention to captivate these gentlemen, she could not
have complained that Mr. Poppleton was wary or difficult game. His first
fears allayed, his downward path was smooth, and rapid in proportion.
When he had taken his departure with the little silk purse in his
keeping, he had carried under his clerical vest a warmed and thrilled
heart. It was a heart which, it must be confessed, was of the most
inexperienced and susceptible nature. A little man of affectionate and
gentle disposition, he had been given from his earliest youth to
indulging in timid dreams of mild future bliss,--of bliss represented by
some lovely being whose ideals were similar to his own, and who preferred
the wealth of a true affection to the glitter of the giddy throng. Upon
one or two occasions, he had even worshipped from afar; but as on each of
these occasions his hopes had been nipped in the bud by the union of
their object with some hollow worldling, his dream had, so far, never
attained very serious proportions. Since he had taken up his abode in
Slowbridge, he had felt himself a little overpowered by circumstances. It
had been a source of painful embarrassment to him, to find his innocent
presence capable of producing confusion in the breasts of young ladies
who were certainly not more guileless than himself. He had been conscious
that the Misses Egerton did not continue their conversation with freedom
when he chanced to approach the group they graced; and he had observed
the same thing in their companions,--an additional circumspection of
demeanor, so to speak, a touch of new decorum, whose object seemed to be
to protect them from any appearance of imprudence.

"It is almost as if they were afraid of me," he had said to himself once
or twice. "Dear me! I hope there is nothing in my appearance to lead
them to"--

He was so much alarmed by this dreadful thought, that he had ever
afterward approached any of these young ladies with a fear and trembling
which had not added either to his comfort or their own; consequently his
path had not been a very smooth one.

"I respect the young ladies of Slowbridge," he remarked to Octavia that
very afternoon. "There are some very remarkable young ladies here,--very
remarkable indeed. They are interested in the church, and the poor, and
the schools, and, indeed, in every thing, which is most unselfish and
amiable. Young ladies have usually so much to distract their attention
from such matters."

"If I stay long enough in Slowbridge," said Octavia, "I shall be
interested in the church, and the poor, and the schools."

It seemed to the curate that there had never been any thing so delightful
in the world as her laugh and her unusual remarks. She seemed to him so
beautiful, and so exhilarating, that he forgot all else but his
admiration for her. He enjoyed himself so much this afternoon, that he
was almost brilliant, and excited the sarcastic comment of Mr. Francis
Barold, who was not enjoying himself at all.

"Confound it!" said that gentleman to himself, as he looked on. "What did
I come here for? This style of thing is just what I might have expected.
She is amusing herself with that poor little cad now, and I am left in
the cold. I suppose that is her habit with the young men in Nevada."

He had no intention of entering the lists with the Rev. Arthur Poppleton,
or of concealing the fact that he felt that this little Nevada flirt was
making a blunder. The sooner she knew it, the better for herself; so he
played his game as badly as possible, and with much dignity.

But Octavia was so deeply interested in Mr. Poppleton's ardent efforts
to do credit to her teaching, that she was apparently unconscious of
all else. She played with great cleverness, and carried her partner to
the terminus, with an eager enjoyment of her skill quite pleasant to
behold. She made little darts here and there, advised, directed, and
controlled his movements, and was quite dramatic in a small way when he
made a failure.

Mrs. Burnham, who was superintending the proceeding, seated in her own
easy-chair behind her window-curtains, was roused to virtuous indignation
by her energy.

"There is no repose whatever in her manner," she said. "No dignity. Is a
game of croquet a matter of deep moment? It seems to me that it is almost
impious to devote one's mind so wholly to a mere means of recreation."

"She seems to be enjoying it, mamma," said Miss Laura Burnham, with a
faint sigh. Miss Laura had been looking on over her parent's shoulder.
"They all seem to be enjoying it. See how Lucia Gaston and Mr. Burmistone
are laughing. I never saw Lucia look like that before. The only one who
seems a little dull is Mr. Barold."

"He is probably disgusted by a freedom of manner to which he is not
accustomed," replied Mrs. Burnham. "The only wonder is that he has not
been disgusted by it before."

CHAPTER XVII.

ADVANTAGES.

The game over, Octavia deserted her partner. She walked lightly, and with
the air of a victor, to where Barold was standing. She was smiling, and
slightly flushed, and for a moment or so stood fanning herself with a gay
Japanese fan.

"Don't you think I am a good teacher?" she asked at length.

"I should say so," replied Barold, without enthusiasm. "I am afraid I am
not a judge."

She waved her fan airily.

"I had a good pupil," she said. Then she held her fan still for a moment,
and turned fully toward him. "I have done something you don't like," she
said. "I knew I had."

Mr. Francis Barold retired within himself at once. In his present mood
it really appeared that she was assuming that he was very much interested
indeed.

"I should scarcely take the liberty upon a limited acquaintance," he
began.

She looked at him steadily, fanning herself with slow, regular movements.

"Yes," she remarked. "You're mad. I knew you were."

He was so evidently disgusted by this observation, that she caught at the
meaning of his look, and laughed a little.

"Ah!" she said, "that's an American word, ain't it? It sounds queer to
you. You say 'vexed' instead of 'mad.' Well, then, you are vexed."

"If I have been so clumsy as to appear ill-humored," he said, "I beg
pardon. Certainly I have no right to exhibit such unusual interest in
your conduct."

He felt that this was rather decidedly to the point, but she did not seem
overpowered at all. She smiled anew.

"Anybody has a right to be mad--I mean vexed," she observed. "I should
like to know how people would live if they hadn't. I am mad--I mean
vexed--twenty times a day."

"Indeed?" was his sole reply.

"Well," she said, "I think it's real mean in you to be so cool about it
when you remember what I told you the other day."

"I regret to say I don't remember just now. I hope it was nothing very
serious."

To his astonishment she looked down at her fan, and spoke in a slightly
lowered voice:--

"I told you that I wanted to be improved."

It must be confessed that he was mollified. There was a softness in her
manner which amazed him. He was at once embarrassed and delighted. But,
at the same time, it would not do to commit himself to too great a
seriousness.

"Oh!" he answered, "that was a rather good joke, I thought."

"No, it wasn't," she said, perhaps even half a tone lower. "I was
in earnest."

Then she raised her eyes.

"If you told me when I did any thing wrong, I think it might be a good
thing," she said.

He felt that this was quite possible, and was also struck with the idea
that he might find the task of mentor--so long as he remained entirely
non-committal--rather interesting. Still, he could not afford to descend
at once from the elevated stand he had taken.

"I am afraid you would find it rather tiresome," he remarked.

"I am afraid _you_ would," she answered. "You would have to tell me of
things so often."

"Do you mean seriously to tell me that you would take my advice?" he
inquired.

"I mightn't take all of it," was her reply; "but I should take
some--perhaps a great deal."

"Thanks," he remarked. "I scarcely think I should give you a great deal."

She simply smiled.
"I have never had any advice at all," she said. "I don't know that I
should have taken it if I had--just as likely as not I shouldn't; but I
have never had any. Father spoiled me. He gave me all my own way. He said
he didn't care, so long as I had a good time; and I must say I have
generally had a good time. I don't see how I could help it--with all my
own way, and no one to worry. I wasn't sick, and I could buy any thing I
liked, and all that: so I had a good time. I've read of girls, in books,
wishing they had mothers to take care of them. I don't know that I ever
wished for one particularly. I can take care of myself. I must say, too,
that I don't think some mothers are much of an institution. I know girls
who have them, and they are always worrying."

He laughed in spite of himself; and though she had been speaking with the
utmost seriousness and _naivete_, she joined him.

When they ceased, she returned suddenly to the charge.

"Now tell me what I have done this afternoon that isn't right," she
said,--"that Lucia Gaston wouldn't have done, for instance. I say
that, because I shouldn't mind being a little like Lucia Gaston--in
some things."

"Lucia ought to feel gratified," he commented.

"She does," she answered. "We had a little talk about it, and she was as
pleased as could be. I didn't think of it in that way until I saw her
begin to blush. Guess what she said."

"I am afraid I can't."

"She said she saw so many things to envy in me, that she could scarcely
believe I wanted to be at all like her."

"It was a very civil speech," said Barold ironically. "I scarcely thought
Lady Theobald had trained her so well."

"She meant it," said Octavia. "You mayn't believe it, but she did. I know
when people mean things, and when they don't."

"I wish I did," said Barold.

Octavia turned her attention to her fan.

"Well, I am waiting," she said.

"Waiting?" he repeated.

"To be told of my faults."

"But I scarcely see of what importance my opinion can be."

"It is of some importance to me--just now."

The last two words rendered him really impatient, and, it may be, spurred
him up.

"If we are to take Lucia Gaston as a model," he said, "Lucia Gaston would
possibly not have been so complaisant in her demeanor toward our clerical
friend."

"Complaisant!" she exclaimed, opening her lovely eyes. "When I was
actually plunging about the garden, trying to teach him to play. Well, I
shouldn't call that being complaisant."

"Lucia Gaston," he replied, "would not say that she had been 'plunging'
about the garden."

She gave herself a moment for reflection.

"That's true," she remarked, when it was over: "she wouldn't. When I
compare myself with the Slowbridge girls, I begin to think I must say
some pretty awful things."

Barold made no reply, which caused her to laugh a little again.

"You daren't tell me," she said. "Now, do I? Well, I don't think I want
to know very particularly. What Lady Theobald thinks will last quite a
good while. Complaisant!"

"I am sorry you object to the word," he said.

"Oh, I don't!" she answered. "I like it. It sounds so much more polite
than to say I was flirting and being fast."

"Were you flirting?" he inquired coldly.

He objected to her ready serenity very much.

She looked a little puzzled.

"You are very like aunt Belinda," she said.

He drew himself up. He did not think there was any point of resemblance
at all between Miss Belinda and himself.

She went on, without observing his movement.

"You think every thing means something, or is of some importance. You
said that just as aunt Belinda says, 'What will they think?' It never
occurs to me that they'll think at all. Gracious! Why should they?"

"You will find they do," he said.

"Well," she said, glancing at the group gathered under the laburnum-tree,
"just now aunt Belinda thinks we had better go over to her; so, suppose
we do it? At any rate, I found out that I was too complaisant to Mr.
Poppleton."

When the party separated for the afternoon, Barold took Lucia home, and
Mr. Burmistone and the curate walked down the street together.

Mr. Poppleton was indeed most agreeably exhilarated. His expressive
little countenance beamed with delight.

"What a very charming person Miss Bassett is!" he exclaimed, after they
had left the gate. "What a very charming person indeed!"

"Very charming," said Mr. Burmistone with much seriousness. "A
prettier young person I certainly have never seen; and those wonderful
gowns of hers"--

"Oh!" interrupted Mr. Poppleton, with natural confusion, "I--referred to
Miss Belinda Bassett; though, really, what you say is very true. Miss
Octavia Bassett--indeed--I think--in fact, Miss Octavia Bassett is
_quite_, one might almost say even _more_, charming than her aunt."

"Yes," admitted Mr. Burmistone; "perhaps one might. She is less ripe, it
is true; but that is an objection time will remove."

"There is such a delightful gayety in her manner!" said Mr. Poppleton;
"such an ingenuous frankness! such a--a--such spirit! It quite carries me
away with it,--quite."

He walked a few steps, thinking over this delightful gayety and ingenuous
frankness; and then burst out afresh,--

"And what a remarkable life she has had too! She actually told me, that,
once in her childhood, she lived for months in a gold-diggers' camp,--the
only woman there. She says the men were kind to her, and made a pet of
her. She has known the most extraordinary people."

In the mean time Francis Barold returned Lucia to Lady Theobald's safe
keeping. Having done so, he made his adieus, and left the two to
themselves. Her ladyship was, it must be confessed, a little at a loss to
explain to herself what she saw, or fancied she saw, in the manner and
appearance of her young relative. She was persuaded that she had never
seen Lucia look as she looked this afternoon. She had a brighter color in
her cheeks than usual, her pretty figure seemed more erect, her eyes had
a spirit in them which was quite new. She had chatted and laughed gayly
with Francis Barold, as she approached the house; and after his departure
she moved to and fro with a freedom not habitual to her.

"He has been making himself agreeable to her," said my lady, with grim
pleasure. "He can do it if he chooses; and he is just the man to please a
girl,--good-looking, and with a fine, domineering air."

"How did you enjoy yourself?" she asked.

"Very much," said Lucia; "never more, thank you."

"Oh!" ejaculated my lady. "And which of her smart New York gowns did Miss
Octavia Bassett wear?"

They were at the dinner-table; and, instead of looking down at her soup,
Lucia looked quietly and steadily across the table at her grandmother.

"She wore a very pretty one," she said: "it was pale fawn-color, and
fitted her like a glove. She made me feel very old-fashioned and
badly dressed."

Lady Theobald laid down her spoon.

"She made you feel old-fashioned and badly dressed,--you!"

"Yes," responded Lucia: "she always does. I wonder what she thinks of the
things we wear in Slowbridge." And she even went to the length of smiling
a little.

"What _she_ thinks of what is worn in Slowbridge!" Lady Theobald
ejaculated. "She! may I ask what weight the opinion of a young woman from
America--from Nevada--is supposed to have in Slowbridge?"

Lucia took a spoonful of soup in a leisurely manner.

"I don't think it is supposed to have any; but--but I don't think she
minds that. I feel as if I shouldn't if I were in her place. I have
always thought her very lucky."

"You have thought her lucky!" cried my lady. "You have envied a Nevada
young woman, who dresses like an actress, and loads herself with jewels
like a barbarian? A girl whose conduct toward men is of a character
to--to chill one's blood!"

"They admire her," said Lucia simply, "more than they admire Lydia
Egerton, and more than they admire me."

"Do _you_ admire her?" demanded my lady.

"Yes, grandmamma," replied Lucia courageously. "I think I do."

Never had my lady been so astounded in her life. For a moment she could
scarcely speak. When she recovered herself she pointed to the door.

"Go to your room," she commanded. "This is American freedom of speech, I
suppose. Go to your room."

Lucia rose obediently. She could not help wondering what her ladyship's
course would be if she had the hardihood to disregard her order. She
really looked quite capable of carrying it out forcibly herself. When the
girl stood at her bedroom window, a few minutes later, her cheeks were
burning and her hands trembling.

"I am afraid it was very badly done," she said to herself. "I am sure it
was; but--but it will be a kind of practice. I was in such a hurry to try
if I were equal to it, that I didn't seem to balance things quite
rightly. I ought to have waited until I had more reason to speak out.
Perhaps there wasn't enough reason then, and I was more aggressive than I
ought to have been. Octavia is never aggressive. I wonder if I was at all
pert. I don't think Octavia ever means to be pert. I felt a little as if
I meant to be pert. I must learn to balance myself, and only be cool and
frank."

Then she looked out of the window, and reflected a little.

"I was not so very brave, after all," she said, rather reluctantly. "I
didn't tell her Mr. Burmistone was there. I daren't have done that. I am
afraid I _am_ sly--that sounds sly, I am sure."

CHAPTER XVIII.

CONTRAST.

"Lady Theobald will put a stop to it," was the general remark. "It will
certainly not occur again."

This was said upon the evening of the first gathering upon Miss Belinda's
grass-plat, and at the same time it was prophesied that Mr. Francis
Barold would soon go away.

But neither of the prophecies proved true. Mr. Francis Barold did _not_
return to London; and, strange to say, Lucia was seen again and again
playing croquet with Octavia Bassett, and was even known to spend
evenings with her.

Perhaps it might be that an appeal made by Miss Belinda to her ladyship
had caused her to allow of these things. Miss Belinda had, in fact, made
a private call upon my lady, to lay her case before her.

"I feel so very timid about every thing," she said, almost with tears,
"and so fearful of trusting myself, that I really find it quite a trial.
The dear child has such a kind heart--I assure you she has a kind heart,
dear Lady Theobald,--and is so innocent of any intention to do wrong--I
am sure she is innocent,--that it seems cruel to judge her severely. If
she had had the benefit of such training as dear Lucia's. I am convinced
that her conduct would have been most exemplary. She sees herself that
she has faults: I am sure she does. She said to me only last night, in
that odd way of hers,--she had been sitting, evidently thinking deeply,
for some minutes,--and she said, 'I wonder if I shouldn't be nicer if I
were more like Lucia Gaston.' You see what turn her mind must have taken.
She admires Lucia so much."

"Yesterday evening at dinner," said Lady Theobald severely, "Lucia
informed me that _she_ admired your niece. The feeling seems to be
mutual."

Miss Belinda colored, and brightened visibly.

"Did she, indeed?" she exclaimed. "How pleased Octavia will be to hear
it! Did she, indeed?" Then, warned by a chilliness, and lack of response,
in her ladyship's manner, she modified her delight, and became apologetic
again. "These young people are more--are less critical than we are," she
sighed. "Octavia's great prettiness"--

"I think," Lady Theobald interposed, "that Lucia has been taught to feel
that the body is corruptible, and subject to decay, and that mere beauty
is of small moment."

Miss Belinda sighed again.

"That is very true," she admitted deprecatingly; "very true indeed."

"It is to be hoped that Octavia's stay in Slowbridge will prove
beneficial to her," said her ladyship in her most judicial manner. "The
atmosphere is wholly unlike that which has surrounded her during her
previous life."

"I am sure it will prove beneficial to her," said Miss Belinda eagerly.
"The companionship of well-trained and refined young people cannot fail
to be of use to her. Such a companion as Lucia would be, if you would
kindly permit her to spend an evening with us now and then, would
certainly improve and modify her greatly. Mr. Francis Barold is--is, I
think, of the same opinion; at least, I fancied I gathered as much from a
few words he let fall."

"Francis Barold?" repeated Lady Theobald. "And what did Francis Barold
say?"

"Of course it was but very little," hesitated Miss Belinda; "but--but I
could not help seeing that he was drawing comparisons, as it were.
Octavia was teaching Mr. Poppleton to play croquet; and she was rather
exhilarated, and perhaps exhibited more--freedom of manner, in an
innocent way,--quite in an innocent, thoughtless way,--than is exactly
customary; and I saw Mr. Barold glance from her to Lucia, who stood near;
and when I said, 'You are thinking of the contrast between them,' he
answered, 'Yes, they differ very greatly, it is true;' and of course I
knew that my poor Octavia could not have the advantage in his eyes. She
feels this herself, I know. She shocked me the other day, beyond
expression, by telling me that she had asked him if he thought she was
really fast, and that she was sure he did. Poor child! she evidently did
not comprehend the dreadful significance of such terms."

"A man like Francis Barold does understand their significance," said Lady
Theobald; "and it is to be deplored that your niece cannot be taught what
her position in society will be if such a reputation attaches itself to
her. The men of the present day fight shy of such characters."

This dread clause so impressed poor Miss Belinda by its solemnity, that
she could not forbear repeating it to Octavia afterward, though it is to
be regretted that it did not produce the effect she had hoped.

"Well, I must say," she observed, "that if some men fought a little shyer
than they do, I shouldn't mind it. You always _do_ have about half a
dozen dangling around, who only bore you, and who will keep asking you to
go to places, and sending you bouquets, and asking you to dance when they
can't dance at all, and only tear your dress, and stand on your feet. If
they would 'fight shy,' it would be splendid."

To Miss Belinda, who certainly had never been guilty of the indecorum of
having any member of the stronger sex "dangling about" at all, this was
very trying.

"My dear," she said, "don't say 'you always have;' it--it really seems to
make it so personal."

Octavia turned around, and fixed her eyes wonderingly upon her blushing
countenance. For a moment she made no remark, a marvellous thought
shaping itself slowly in her mind.

"Aunt Belinda," she said at length, "did nobody ever"--

"Ah, no, my dear! No, no, I assure you!" cried Miss Belinda, in the
greatest possible trepidation. "Ah, dear, no! Such--such things
rarely--very rarely happen in--Slowbridge; and, besides, I couldn't
possibly have thought of it. I couldn't, indeed!"

She was so overwhelmed with maidenly confusion at the appalling thought,
that she did not recover herself for half an hour at least. Octavia,
feeling that it would not be safe to pursue the subject, only uttered one
word of comment,--

"Gracious!"

CHAPTER XIX.

AN EXPERIMENT.

Much to her own astonishment, Lucia found herself allowed new liberty.
She was permitted to spend the afternoon frequently with Octavia; and on
several occasions that young lady and Miss Bassett were invited to
partake of tea at Oldclough in company with no other guest than Francis
Barold.

"I don't know what it means, and I think it must mean something," said
Lucia to Octavia; "but it is very pleasant. I never was allowed to be so
intimate with any one before."

"Perhaps," suggested Octavia sagely, "she thinks, that, if you see me
often enough, you will get sick of me, and it will be a lesson to you."

"The more I see of you," answered Lucia with a serious little air, "the
fonder I am of you. I understand you better. You are not at all like what
I thought you at first, Octavia."

"But I don't know that there's much to understand in me."

"There is a great deal to understand in you," she replied. "You are a
puzzle to me often. You seem so frank, and yet one knows so little about
you after all. For instance," Lucia went on, "who would imagine that you
are so affectionate?"

"Am I affectionate?" she asked.

"Yes," answered Lucia: "I am sure you are very affectionate. I have found
it out gradually. You would suffer things for any one you loved."

Octavia thought the matter over.

"Yes," she said at length, "I would."

"You are very fond of Miss Bassett," proceeded Lucia, as if arraigning
her at the bar of justice. "You are _very_ fond of your father; and I am
sure there are other people you are very fond of--_very_ fond of indeed."

Octavia pondered seriously again.

"Yes, there are," she remarked; "but no one would care about them here,
and so I'm not going to make a fuss. You don't want to make a fuss over
people you l-like."

"_You_ don't," said Lucia. "You are like Francis Barold in one way, but
you are altogether different in another. Francis Barold does not wish to
show emotion; and he is so determined to hedge himself around, that one
can't help suspecting that he is always guarding himself against one. He
seems always to be resenting any interference; but you do not appear to
care at all, and so it is not natural that one should suspect you. I did
not suspect you."

"What do you suspect me of now?"

"Of thinking a great deal," answered Lucia affectionately. "And of being
very clever and very good."

Octavia was silent for a few moments.

"I think," she said after the pause,--"I think you'll find out that it's
a mistake."

"No, I shall not," returned Lucia, quite glowing with enthusiasm. "And I
know I shall learn a great deal from you."

This was such a startling proposition that Octavia felt decidedly
uncomfortable. She flushed rosy red.

"I'm the one who ought to learn things, I think," she said. "I'm always
doing things that frighten aunt Belinda, and you know how the rest
regard me."

"Octavia," said Lucia, very naively indeed, "suppose we try to help each
other. If you will tell me when I am wrong, I will try to--to have the
courage to tell you. That will be good practice for me. What I want most
is courage and frankness, and I am sure it will take courage to make up
my mind to tell you of your--of your mistakes."

Octavia regarded her with mingled admiration and respect.

"I think that's a splendid idea," she said.

"Are you sure," faltered Lucia, "are you sure you won't mind the
things I may have to say? Really, they are quite little things in
themselves--hardly worth mentioning"--

"Tell me one of them, right now," said Octavia, point-blank.

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Lucia, starting. "I'd rather not--just now."

"Well," commented Octavia, "that sounds as if they must be pretty
unpleasant. Why don't you want to? They will be quite as bad to-morrow.
And to refuse to tell me one is a bad beginning. It looks as if you were
frightened; and it isn't good practice for you to be frightened at such a
little thing."

Lucia felt convicted. She made an effort to regain her composure.

"No, it is not," she said. "But that is always the way. I am continually
telling myself that I _will_ be courageous and candid; and, the first
time any thing happens, I fail. I _will_ tell you one thing."

She stopped short here, and looked at Octavia guiltily.

"It is something--I think I would do if--if I were in your place," Lucia
stammered. "A very little thing indeed."

"Well?" remarked Octavia anxiously.

Lucia lost her breath, caught it again, and proceeded cautiously, and
with blushes at her own daring.

"If I were in your place," she said, "I think--that, perhaps--only
perhaps, you know--I would not wear--my hair--_quite_ so low down--over
my forehead."

Octavia sprang from her seat, and ran to the pier-glass over the mantle.
She glanced at the reflection of her own startled, pretty face, and
then, putting her hand up to the soft blonde "bang" which met her brows,
turned to Lucia.

"Isn't it becoming?" she asked breathlessly.

"Oh, yes!" Lucia answered. "Very."

Octavia started.

"Then, why wouldn't you wear it?" she cried. "What do you mean?"

Lucia felt her position truly a delicate one. She locked her hands, and
braced herself; but she blushed vividly.

"It may sound rather silly when I tell you why, Octavia," she said; "but
I really do think it is a sort of reason. You know, in those absurd
pictures of actresses, bangs always seem to be the principal feature. I
saw some in the shop-windows when I went to Harriford with grandmamma.
And they were such dreadful women,--some of them,--and had so very few
clothes on, that I can't help thinking I shouldn't like to look like
them, and"--

"Does it make me look like them?"

"Oh, very little!" answered Lucia; "very little indeed, of course; but"--

"But it's the same thing after all," put in Octavia. "That's what you
mean."

"It is so very little," faltered Lucia, "that--that perhaps it isn't
a reason."

Octavia looked at herself in the glass again.

"It isn't a very good reason," she remarked, "but I suppose it will do."

She paused, and looked Lucia in the face.

"I don't think that's a little thing," she said. "To be told you look
like an _opera bouffe_ actress."

"I did not mean to say so," cried Lucia, filled with the most poignant
distress. "I beg your pardon, indeed--I--oh, dear! I was afraid you
wouldn't like it. I felt that it was taking a great liberty."

"I don't like it," answered Octavia; "but that can't be helped. I didn't
exactly suppose I should. But I wasn't going to say any thing about
_your_ hair when _I_ began," glancing at poor Lucia's coiffure, "though I
suppose I might."

"You might say a thousand things about it!" cried Lucia piteously. "I
know that mine is not only in bad taste, but it is ugly and unbecoming."
"Yes," said Octavia cruelly, "it is."

"And yours is neither the one nor the other," protested Lucia. "You know
I told you it was pretty, Octavia."

Octavia walked over to the table, upon which stood Miss Belinda's
work-basket, and took therefrom a small and gleaming pair of scissors,
returning to the mantle-glass with them.

"How short shall I cut it?" she demanded.

"Oh!" exclaimed Lucia, "don't, don't!"

For answer, Octavia raised the scissors, and gave a snip. It was a savage
snip, and half the length and width of her love-locks fell on the mantle;
then she gave another snip, and the other half fell.

Lucia scarcely dared to breathe.

For a moment Octavia stood gazing at herself, with pale face and dilated
eyes. Then suddenly the folly of the deed she had done seemed to reveal
itself to her.

"Oh!" she cried out. "Oh, how diabolical it looks!"

She turned upon Lucia.

"Why did you make me do it?" she exclaimed. "It's all your fault--every
bit of it;" and, flinging the scissors to the other end of the room, she
threw herself into a chair, and burst into tears.

Lucia's anguish of mind was almost more than she could bear. For at least
three minutes she felt herself a criminal of the deepest dye; after the
three minutes had elapsed, however, she began to reason, and called to
mind the fact that she was failing as usual under her crisis.

"This is being a coward again," she said to herself. "It is worse than to
have said nothing. It is true that she will look more refined, now one
can see a little of her forehead; and it is cowardly to be afraid to
stand firm when I really think so. I--yes, I will say something to her."

"Octavia," she began aloud, "I am sure you are making a mistake again."
This as decidedly as possible, which was not very decidedly. "You--you
look very much--nicer."

"I look _ghastly_!" said Octavia, who began to feel rather absurd.

"You do not. Your forehead--you have the prettiest forehead I ever saw,
Octavia," said Lucia eagerly; "and your eyebrows are perfect. I--wish you
would look at yourself again."

Rather to her surprise, Octavia began to laugh under cover of her
handkerchief: reaction had set in, and, though the laugh was a trifle
hysterical, it was still a laugh. Next she gave her eyes a final little
dab, and rose to go to the glass again. She looked at herself, touched up
the short, waving fringe left on her forehead, and turned to Lucia, with
a resigned expression.

"Do you think that any one who was used to seeing it the other way
would--would think I looked horrid?" she inquired anxiously.

"They would think you prettier,--a great deal," Lucia answered earnestly.
"Don't you know, Octavia, that nothing could be really unbecoming to you?
You have that kind of face."

For a few seconds Octavia seemed to lose herself in thought of a
speculative nature.

"Jack always said so," she remarked at length.

"Jack!" repeated Lucia timidly.

Octavia roused herself, and smiled with candid sweetness.

"He is some one I knew in Nevada," she explained. "He worked in father's
mine once."

"You must have known him very well," suggested Lucia, somewhat awed.

"I did," she replied calmly. "Very well."

She tucked away her pocket-handkerchief in the jaunty pocket at the back
of her basque, and returned to her chair. Then she turned again to Lucia.

"Well," she said, "I think you have found out that you _were_ mistaken,
haven't you, dear? Suppose you tell me of something else."

Lucia colored.

"No," she answered: "that is enough for to-day."

CHAPTER XX.

PECULIAR TO NEVADA.

Whether, or not, Lucia was right in accusing Octavia Bassett of being
clever, and thinking a great deal, is a riddle which those who are
interested in her must unravel as they read; but, whether the surmise was
correct or incorrect, it seemed possible that she had thought a little
after the interview. When Barold saw her next, he was struck by a slight
but distinctly definable change he recognized in her dress and coiffure.
Her pretty hair had a rather less "professional" appearance: he had the
pleasure of observing, for the first time, how very white her forehead
was, and how delicate the arch of her eyebrows; her dress had a novel air
of simplicity, and the diamond rings were nowhere to be seen.

"She's better dressed than usual," he said to himself. "And she's always
well dressed,--rather too well dressed, fact is, for a place like this.
This sort of thing is in better form, under the circumstances." It was
so much "better form," and he so far approved of it, that he quite
thawed, and was very amiable and very entertaining indeed.

Octavia was entertaining too. She asked several most interesting
questions.

"Do you think," she inquired, "that it is bad taste to wear diamonds?"

"My mother wears them--occasionally."

"Have you any sisters?"

"No."

"Any cousins--as young as I am?"

"Ya-as."

"Do they wear them?"

"I must admit," he replied, "that they don't. In the first place, you
know, they haven't any; and, in the second, I am under the impression
that Lady Beauchamp--their mamma, you know--wouldn't permit it if they
had."

"Wouldn't permit it!" said Octavia. "I suppose they always do as she
tells them?"

He smiled a little.

"They would be very courageous young women if they didn't," he remarked.

"What would she do if they tried it?" she inquired. "She couldn't beat
them."

"They will never try it," he answered dryly. "And though I have never
seen her beat them, or heard their lamentations under chastisement, I
should not like to say that Lady Beauchamp could not do any thing. She is
a very determined person--for a gentlewoman."

Octavia laughed.

"You are joking," she said.

"Lady Beauchamp is a serious subject for jokes," he responded. "My
cousins think so, at least."

"I wonder if she is as bad as Lady Theobald," Octavia reflected aloud.
"She says I have no right to wear diamonds at all until I am married. But
I don't mind Lady Theobald," she added, as a cheerful afterthought. "I am
not fond enough of her to care about what she says."

"Are you fond of any one?" Barold inquired, speaking with a languid air,
but at the same time glancing at her with some slight interest from under
his eyelids.

"Lucia says I am," she returned, with the calmness of a young person who
wished to regard the matter from an unembarrassed point of view. "Lucia
says I am affectionate."

"Ah!" deliberately. "Are you?"

She turned, and looked at him serenely.

"Should _you_ think so?" she asked.

This was making such a personal matter of the question, that he did not
exactly enjoy it. It was certainly not "good form" to pull a man up in
such cool style.

"Really," he replied, "I--ah--have had no opportunity of judging."

He had not the slightest intention of being amusing, but to his infinite
disgust he discovered as soon as he spoke that she was amused. She
laughed outright, and evidently only checked herself because he looked so
furious. In consideration for his feelings she assumed an air of mild but
preternatural seriousness.

"No," she remarked, "that is true: you haven't, of course."

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