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  • 1881
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He was silent. He did not enjoy being amusing at all, and he made no pretence of appearing to submit to the indignity calmly.

She bent forward a little.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, “you are mad again–I mean, you are vexed. I am always vexing you.”

There was a hint of appeal in her voice, which rather pleased him; but he had no intention of relenting at once.

“I confess I am at a loss to know why you laughed,” he said.

“Are you,” she asked, “really?” letting her eyes rest upon him anxiously for a moment. Then she actually gave vent to a little sigh. “We look at things so differently, that’s it,” she said.

“I suppose it is,” he responded, still chillingly.

In spite of this, she suddenly assumed a comparatively cheerful aspect. A happy thought occurred to her.

“Lucia would beg your pardon,” she said. “I am learning good manners from Lucia. Suppose I beg your pardon.”

“It is quite unnecessary,” he replied.

“Lucia wouldn’t think so,” she said. “And why shouldn’t I be as well-behaved as Lucia? I beg your pardon.”

He felt rather absurd, and yet somewhat mollified. She had a way of looking at him, sometimes, when she had been unpleasant, which rather soothed him. In fact, he had found of late, a little to his private annoyance, that it was very easy for her either to soothe or disturb him.

And now, just as Octavia had settled down into one of the prettiest and least difficult of her moods, there came a knock at the front door, which, being answered by Mary Anne, was found to announce the curate of St. James.

Enter, consequently, the Rev. Arthur Poppleton,–blushing, a trifle timorous perhaps, but happy beyond measure to find himself in Miss Belinda’s parlor again, with Miss Belinda’s niece.

Perhaps the least possible shade of his joyousness died out when he caught sight of Mr. Francis Barold, and certainly Mr. Francis Barold was not at all delighted to see him.

“What does the fellow want?” that gentleman was saying inwardly. “What does he come simpering and turning pink here for? Why doesn’t he go and see some of his old women, and read tracts to them? That’s _his_ business.” Octavia’s manner toward her visitor formed a fresh grievance for Barold. She treated the curate very well indeed. She seemed glad to see him, she was wholly at her ease with him, she made no trying remarks to him, she never stopped to fix her eyes upon him in that inexplicable style, and she did not laugh when there seemed nothing to laugh at. She was so gay and good-humored that the Rev. Arthur Poppleton beamed and flourished under her treatment, and forgot to change color, and even ventured to talk a good deal, and make divers quite presentable little jokes.

“I should like to know,” thought Barold, growing sulkier as the others grew merrier,–“I should like to know what she finds so interesting in him, and why she chooses to treat him better than she treats me; for she certainly does treat him better.”

It was hardly fair, however, that he should complain; for, at times, he was treated extremely well, and his intimacy with Octavia progressed quite rapidly. Perhaps, if the truth were told, it was always himself who was the first means of checking it, by some suddenly prudent instinct which led him to feel that perhaps he was in rather a delicate position, and had better not indulge in too much of a good thing. He had not been an eligible and unimpeachable desirable _parti_ for ten years without acquiring some of that discretion which is said to be the better part of valor. The matter-of-fact air with which Octavia accepted his attentions caused him to pull himself up sometimes. If he had been Brown, or Jones, or even Robinson, she could not have appeared to regard them as more entirely natural. When–he had gone so far, once or twice–he had deigned to make a more than usually agreeable speech to her, it was received with none of that charming sensitive tremor to which he was accustomed. Octavia neither blushed, nor dropped her eyes.

It did not add to Barold’s satisfaction to find her as cheerful and ready to be amused by a mild little curate, who blushed and stammered, and was neither brilliant, graceful, nor distinguished. Could not Octavia see the wide difference between the two? Regarding the matter in this light, and watching Octavia as she encouraged her visitor, and laughed at his jokes, and never once tripped him up by asking him a startling question, did not, as already has been said, improve Mr. Francis Barold’s temper; and, by the time his visit was over, he had lapsed into his coldest and most haughty manner. As soon as Miss Belinda entered, and engaged Mr. Poppleton for a moment, he rose, and crossed the little room to Octavia’s side.

“I must bid you good-afternoon,” he said.

Octavia did not rise.

“Sit down a minute, while aunt Belinda is talking about red-flannel nightcaps and lumbago,” she said. “I wanted to ask you something. By the way, what _is_ lumbago?”

“Is that what you wished to ask me?” he inquired stiffly.

“No. I just thought of that. Have you ever had it? and what is it like? All the old people in Slowbridge have it, and they tell you all about it when you go to see them. Aunt Belinda says so. What I wanted to ask you was different”–

“Possibly Miss Bassett might be able to tell you,” he remarked.

“About the lumbago? Well, perhaps she might. I’ll ask her. Do you think it bad taste in _me_ to wear diamonds?”

She said this with the most delightful seriousness, fixing her eyes upon him with her very prettiest look of candid appeal, as if it were the most natural thing in the world that she should apply to him for information. He felt himself faltering again. How white that bit of forehead was! How soft that blonde, waving fringe of hair! What a lovely shape her eyes were, and how large and clear as she raised them!

“Why do you ask _me_?” he inquired.

“Because I think you are an unprejudiced person. Lady Theobald is not. I have confidence in you. Tell me.”

There was a slight pause.

“Really,” he said, after it, “I can scarcely believe that my opinion can be of any value in your eyes. I am–can only tell you that it is hardly customary in–an–in England for young people to wear a profusion of ornament.”

“I wonder if I wear a profusion.”

“You don’t need any,” he condescended. “You are too young, and–all that sort of thing.”

She glanced down at her slim, unringed hands for a moment, her expression quite thoughtful.

“Lucia and I almost quarrelled the other day,” she said–“at least, I almost quarrelled. It isn’t so nice to be told of things, after all. I must say I don’t like it as much as I thought I should.”

He kept his seat longer than, he had intended; and, when he rose to go, the Rev. Arthur Poppleton was shaking hands with Miss Belinda, and so it fell out that they left the house together.

“You know Miss Octavia Bassett well, I suppose,” remarked Barold, with condescension, as they passed through the gate. “You clergymen are fortunate fellows.”

“I wish that others knew her as well, sir,” said the little gentleman, kindling. “I wish they knew her–her generosity and kindness of heart and ready sympathy with misfortune!”

“Ah!” commented Mr. Barold, twisting his mustache with somewhat of an incredulous air. This was not at all the sort of thing he had expected to hear. For his own part, it would not have occurred to him to suspect her of the possession of such desirable and orthodox qualities.

“There are those who–misunderstand her,” cried the curate, warming with his subject, “who misunderstand, and–yes, and apply harsh terms to her innocent gayety and freedom of speech: if they knew her as I do, they would cease to do so.”

“I should scarcely have thought”–began Barold.

“There are many who scarcely think it,–if you will pardon my interrupting you,” said the curate. “I think they would scarcely believe it if I felt at liberty to tell them, which I regret to say I do not. I am almost breaking my word in saying what I cannot help saying to yourself. The poor under my care are better off since she came, and there are some who have seen her more than once, though she did not go as a teacher or to reprove them for faults; and her way of doing what she did was new to them, and perhaps much less serious than they were accustomed to, and they liked it all the better.”

“Ah!” commented Barold again. “Flannel under-garments, and–that sort of thing.”

“No,” with much spirit, “not at all, sir; but what, as I said, they liked much better. It is not often they meet a beautiful creature who comes among them with open hands, and the natural, ungrudging way of giving which she has. Sometimes they are at a loss to understand, as well as the rest. They have been used to what is narrower and more–more exacting.”

“They have been used to Lady Theobald,” observed Barold, with a faint smile.

“It would not become me to–to mention Lady Theobald in any disparaging manner,” replied the curate: “but the best and most charitable among us do not always carry out our good intentions in the best way. I dare say Lady Theobald would consider Miss Octavia Bassett too readily influenced and too lavish.”

“She is as generous with her money as with her diamonds perhaps,” said Barold. “Possibly the quality is peculiar to Nevada. We part here, Mr. Poppleton, I believe. Good-morning.”

CHAPTER XXI.

LORD LANSDOWNE.

One morning in the following week Mrs. Burnham attired herself in her second-best black silk, and, leaving the Misses Burnham practising diligently, turned her steps toward Oldclough Hall. Arriving there, she was ushered into the blue drawing-room by Dobson, in his character of footman; and in a few minutes Lucia appeared.

When Mrs. Burnham saw her, she assumed a slight air of surprise.

“Why, my dear,” she said, as she shook hands, “I should scarcely have known you.”

And, though this was something of an exaggeration, there was some excuse for the exclamation. Lucia was looking very charming, and several changes might be noted in her attire and appearance. The ugly twist had disappeared from her delicate head; and in its place were soft, loose waves and light puffs; she had even ventured on allowing a few ringed locks to stray on to her forehead; her white morning-dress no longer wore the trade-mark of Miss Chickie, but had been remodelled by some one of more taste.

“What a pretty gown, my dear!” said Mrs. Burnham, glancing at it curiously. “A Watteau plait down the back–isn’t it a Watteau plait?–and little ruffles down the front, and pale pink bows. It is quite like some of Miss Octavia Bassett’s dresses, only not so over-trimmed.”

“I do not think Octavia’s dresses would seem over-trimmed if she wore them in London or Paris,” said Lucia bravely. “It is only because we are so very quiet, and dress so little in Slowbridge, that they seem so.”

“And your hair!” remarked Mrs. Burnham. “You drew your idea of that from some style of hers, I suppose. Very becoming, indeed. Well, well! And how does Lady Theobald like all this, my dear?”

“I am not sure that”–Lucia was beginning, when her ladyship interrupted her by entering.

“My dear Lady Theobald,” cried her visitor, rising, “I hope you are well. I have just been complimenting Lucia upon her pretty dress, and her new style of dressing her hair. Miss Octavia Bassett has been giving her the benefit of her experience, it appears. We have not been doing her justice. Who would have believed that she had come from Nevada to improve us?”

“Miss Octavia Bassett,” said my lady sonorously, “has come from Nevada to teach our young people a great many things,–new fashions in duty, and demeanor, and respect for their elders. Let us hope they will be benefited.”

“If you will excuse me, grandmamma,” said Lucia, speaking in a soft, steady voice, “I will go and write the letters you wished written.”

“Go,” said my lady with majesty; and, having bidden Mrs. Burnham good-morning, Lucia went.

If Mrs. Burnham had expected any explanation of her ladyship’s evident displeasure, she was doomed to disappointment. That excellent and rigorous gentlewoman had a stern sense of dignity, which forbade her condescending to the confidential weakness of mere ordinary mortals. Instead of referring to Lucia, she broached a more commonplace topic.

“I hope your rheumatism does not threaten you again, Mrs. Burnham,” she remarked.

“I am very well, thank you, my dear,” said Mrs. Burnham; “so well, that I am thinking quite seriously of taking the dear girls to the garden-party, when it comes off.”

“To the garden-party!” repeated her ladyship. “May I ask who thinks of giving a garden-party in Slowbridge?”

“It is no one in Slowbridge,” replied this lady cheerfully. “Some one who lives a little out of Slowbridge,–Mr. Burmistone, my dear Lady Theobald, at his new place.”

“Mr. Burmistone!”

“Yes, my dear; and a most charming affair it is to be, if we are to believe all we hear. Surely you have heard something of it from Mr. Barold.”

“Mr. Barold has not been to Oldclough for several days.”

“Then, he will tell you when he comes; for I suppose he has as much to do with it as Mr. Burmistone.”

“I have heard before,” announced my lady, “of men of Mr. Burmistone’s class securing the services of persons of established position in society when they wished to spend their money upon entertainments; but I should scarcely have imagined that Francis Barold would have allowed himself to be made a party to such a transaction.”

“But,” put in Mrs. Burnham rather eagerly, “it appears that Mr. Burmistone is not such an obscure person, after all. He is an Oxford man, and came off with honors: he is quite a well-born man, and gives this entertainment in honor of his friend and relation, Lord Lansdowne.”

“Lord Lansdowne!” echoed her ladyship, sternly.

“Son of the Marquis of Lauderdale, whose wife was Lady Honora Erroll.”

“Did Mr. Burmistone give you this information?” asked Lady Theobald with ironic calmness.

Mrs. Burnham colored never so faintly.

“I–that is to say–there is a sort of acquaintance between one of my maids and the butler at the Burmistone place; and, when the girl was doing Lydia’s hair, she told her the story. Lord Lansdowne and his father are quite fond of Mr. Burmistone, it is said.”

“It seems rather singular to my mind that we should not have known of this before.”

“But how should we learn? We none of us know Lord Lansdowne, or even the marquis. I think he is only a second or third cousin. We are a little–just a little _set_ in Slowbridge, you know, my dear: at least, I have thought so sometimes lately.”

“I must confess,” remarked my lady, “that _I_ have not regarded the matter in that light.”

“That is because you have a better right to–to be a little set than the rest of us,” was the amiable response.

Lady Theobald did not disclaim the privilege. She felt the sentiment an extremely correct one. But she was not very warm in her manner during the remainder of the call; and, incongruous as such a statement may appear, it must be confessed that she felt that Miss Octavia Bassett must have something to do with, these defections on all sides, and that garden-parties, and all such swervings from established Slowbridge custom, were the natural result of Nevada frivolity and freedom of manners. It may be that she felt remotely that even Lord Lansdowne and the Marquis of Lauderdale were to be referred to the same reprehensible cause, and that, but for Octavia Bassett, Mr. Burmistone would not have been educated at Oxford and have come off with honors, and have turned out to be related to respectable people, but would have remained in appropriate obscurity.

“I suppose,” she said afterward to Lucia, “that your friend Miss Octavia Bassett is in Mr. Burmistone’s confidence, if no one else has been permitted to have that honor. I have no doubt _she_ has known of this approaching entertainment for some weeks.”

“I do not know, grandmamma,” replied Lucia, putting her letters together, and gaining color as she bent over them. She was wondering, with inward trepidation, what her ladyship would say if she knew the whole truth,–if she knew that it was her granddaughter, and not Octavia Bassett, who enjoyed Mr. Burmistone’s confidence.

“Ah!” she thought, “how could I ever dare to tell her?”

The same day Francis Barold sauntered up to pay them a visit; and then, as Mrs. Burnham had prophesied, Lady Theobald heard all she wished to hear, and, indeed, a great deal more.

“What is this I am told of Mr. Burmistone, Francis?” she inquired. “That he intends to give a garden-party, and that Lord Lansdowne is to be one of the guests, and that he has caused it to be circulated that they are cousins.”

“That Lansdowne has caused it to be circulated–or Burmistone?”

“It is scarcely likely that Lord Lansdowne”–

“Beg pardon,” he interrupted, fixing his single glass dexterously in his right eye, and gazing at her ladyship through it. “Can’t see why Lansdowne should object. Fact is, he is a great deal fonder of Burmistone than relations usually are of each other. Now, I often find that kind of thing a bore; but Lansdowne doesn’t seem to. They were at school together, it seems, and at Oxford too; and Burmistone is supposed to have behaved pretty well towards Lansdowne at one time, when he was rather a wild fellow–so the father and mother say. As to Burmistone ‘causing it to be circulated,’ that sort of thing is rather absurd. The man isn’t a cad, you know.”

“Pray don’t say ‘you know,’ Francis,” said her ladyship. “I know very little but what I have chanced to see, and I must confess I have not been prepossessed in Mr. Burmistone’s favor. Why did he not choose to inform us”–

“That he was Lord Lansdowne’s second cousin, and knew the Marquis of Lauderdale, grandmamma?” broke in Lucia, with very pretty spirit. “Would that have prepossessed you in his favor? Would you have forgiven him for building the mills, on Lord Lansdowne’s account? I–I wish I was related to a marquis,” which was very bold indeed.

“May I ask,” said her ladyship, in her most monumental manner, “when _you_ became Mr. Burmistone’s champion?”

CHAPTER XXII.

“YOU HAVE MADE IT LIVELIER.”

When she had become Mr. Burmistone’s champion, indeed! She could scarcely have told when, unless, perhaps, she had fixed the date at the first time she had heard his name introduced at a high tea, with every politely opprobrious epithet affixed. She had defended him in her own mind then, and felt sure that he deserved very little that was said against him, and very likely nothing at all. And, the first time she had seen and spoken to him, she had been convinced that she had not made a mistake, and that he had been treated with cruel injustice. How kind he was, how manly, how clever, and how well he bore himself under the popular adverse criticism! She only wondered that anybody could be so blind and stupid and wilful as to assail him.

And if this had been the case in those early days, imagine what she felt now, when–ah, well!–when her friendship had had time and opportunity to become a much deeper sentiment. Must it be confessed that she had seen Mr. Burmistone even oftener than Octavia and Miss Belinda knew of? Of course it had all been quite accidental; but it had happened that now and then, when she had been taking a quiet walk in the lanes about Oldclough, she had encountered a gentleman, who had dismounted, and led his horse by the bridle, as he sauntered by her side. She had always been very timid at such times, and had felt rather like a criminal; but Mr. Burmistone had not been timid at all, and would, indeed, as soon have met Lady Theobald as not, for which courage his companion admired him more than ever. It was not very long before to be with this hero re-assured her, and made her feel stronger and more self-reliant. She was never afraid to open her soft little heart to him, and show him innocently all its goodness, and ignorance of worldliness. She warmed and brightened under his kindly influence, and was often surprised in secret at her own simple readiness of wit and speech.

“It is odd that I am such a different girl when–when I am with you,” she said to him one day. “I even make little jokes. I never should think of making even the tiniest joke before grandmamma. Somehow, she never seems quite to understand jokes. She never laughs at them. You always laugh, and I am sure it is very kind of you to encourage me so; but you must not encourage me too much, or I might forget, and make a little joke at dinner, and I think, if I did, she would choke over her soup.”

Perhaps, when she dressed her hair, and adorned herself with pale pink bows and like appurtenances, this artful young person had privately in mind other beholders than Mrs. Burnham, and other commendation than that to be bestowed by that most excellent matron.

“Do you mind my telling you that you have put on an enchanted garment?” said Mr. Burmistone, the first time they met when she wore one of the old-new gowns. “I thought I knew before how”–

“I don’t mind it at all,” said Lucia, blushing brilliantly. “I rather like it. It rewards me for my industry. My hair is dressed in a new way. I hope you like that too. Grandmamma does not.”

It had been Lady Theobald’s habit to treat Lucia severely from a sense of duty. Her manner toward her had always rather the tone of implying that she was naturally at fault, and yet her ladyship could not have told wherein she wished the girl changed. In the good old school in which my lady had been trained, it was customary to regard young people as weak, foolish, and, if left to their own desires, frequently sinful. Lucia had not been left to her own desires. She had been taught to view herself as rather a bad case, and to feel that she was far from being what her relatives had a right to expect. To be thrown with a person who did not find her silly or dull or commonplace, was a new experience.

“If I had been clever,” Lucia said once to Mr. Burmistone,–“if I had been clever, perhaps grandmamma would have been more satisfied with me. I have often wished I had been clever.”

“If you had been a boy,” replied Mr. Burmistone rather grimly, “and had squandered her money, and run into debt, and bullied her, you would have been her idol, and she would have pinched and starved herself to supply your highness’s extravagance.”

When the garden-party rumor began to take definite form, and there was no doubt as to Mr. Burmistone’s intentions, a discussion arose at once, and went on in every genteel parlor. Would Lady Theobald allow Lucia to go? and, if she did not allow her, would not such a course appear very pointed indeed? It was universally decided that it would appear pointed, but that Lady Theobald would not mind that in the least, and perhaps would rather enjoy it than otherwise; and it was thought Lucia would not go. And it is very likely that Lucia would have remained at home, if it had not been for the influence of Mr. Francis Barold.

Making a call at Oldclough, he found his august relative in a very majestic mood, and she applied to him again for information.

“Perhaps,” she said, “you may be able to tell me whether it is true that Belinda Bassett–_Belinda Bassett_,” with emphasis, “has been invited by Mr. Burmistone to assist him to receive his guests.”

“Yes, it is true,” was the reply: “I think I advised it myself. Burmistone is fond of her. They are great friends. Man needs a woman at such times.”

“And he chose Belinda Bassett?”

“In the first place, he is on friendly terms with her, as I said before,” replied Barold; “in the second, she’s just what he wants–well-bred, kind-hearted, not likely to make rows, _et caetera_.” There was a slight pause before he finished, adding quietly, “He’s not the man to submit to being refused–Burmistone.”

Lady Theobald did not reply, or raise her eyes from her work: she knew he was looking at her with calm fixedness, through the glass he held in its place so cleverly; and she detested this more than any thing else, perhaps because she was invariably quelled by it, and found she had nothing to say.

He did not address her again immediately, but turned to Lucia, dropping the eyeglass, and resuming his normal condition.

“You will go, of course?” he said.

Lucia glanced across at my lady.

“I–do not know. Grandmamma”–

“Oh!” interposed Barold, “you must go. There is no reason for your refusing the invitation, unless you wish to imply something unpleasant–which is, of course, out of the question.”

“But there may be reasons”–began her ladyship.

“Burmistone is my friend,” put in Barold, in his coolest tone; “and I am your relative, which would make my position in his house a delicate one, if he has offended you.”

When Lucia saw Octavia again, she was able to tell her that they had received invitations to the _fete_, and that Lady Theobald had accepted them.

“She has not spoken a word to me about it, but she has accepted them,” said Lucia. “I don’t quite understand her lately, Octavia. She must be very fond of Francis Barold. He never gives way to her in the least, and she always seems to submit to him. I know she would not have let me go, if he had not insisted on it, in that taking-it-for-granted way of his.”

Naturally Mr. Burmistone’s _fete_ caused great excitement. Miss Chickie was never so busy in her life, and there were rumors that her feelings had been outraged by the discovery that Mrs. Burnham had sent to Harriford for costumes for her daughters.

“Slowbridge is changing, mem,” said Miss Chickie. with brilliant sarcasm. “Our ladies is led in their fashions by a Nevada young person. We’re improving most rapid–more rapid than I’d ever have dared to hope. Do you prefer a frill, or a flounce, mem?”

Octavia was in great good spirits at the prospect of the gayeties in question. She had been in remarkably good spirits for some weeks. She had received letters from Nevada, containing good news she said. Shares had gone up again; and her father had almost settled his affairs, and it would not be long before he would come to England. She looked so exhilarated over the matter, that Lucia felt a little aggrieved. “Will you be so glad to leave us, Octavia?” she asked. “We shall not be so glad to let you go. We have grown very fond of you.”

“I shall be sorry to leave you, and aunt Belinda is going with us. You don’t expect me to be very fond of Slowbridge, do you, and to be sorry I can’t take Mrs. Burnham–and the rest?”

Barold was present when she made this speech, and it rather rankled.

“Am I one of ‘the rest’?” he inquired, the first time he found himself alone with her. He was sufficiently piqued to forget his usual _hauteur_ and discretion.

“Would you like to be?” she said.

“Oh! Very much–very much–naturally,” he replied severely.

They were standing near a rose-bush in the garden; and she plucked a rose, and regarded it with deep interest.

“Well,” she said, next, “I must say I think I shouldn’t have had such a good time if you hadn’t been here. You have made it livelier.”

“Tha-anks,” he remarked. “You are most kind.”

“Oh!” she answered, “it’s true. If it wasn’t, I shouldn’t say it. You and Mr. Burmistone and Mr. Poppleton have certainly made it livelier.”

He went home in such a bad humor that his host, who was rather happier than usual, commented upon his grave aspect at dinner.

“You look as if you had heard ill news, old fellow,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing!” he was answered sardonically; “nothing whatever–unless that I have been rather snubbed by a young lady from Nevada.”

“Ah!” with great seriousness: “that’s rather cool, isn’t it?”

“It’s her little way,” said Barold. “It seems to be one of the customs of Nevada.”

In fact, he was very savage indeed. He felt that he had condescended a good deal lately. He seldom bestowed his time on women; and when he did so, at rare intervals, he chose those who would do the most honor to his taste at the least cost of trouble. And he was obliged to confess to himself that he had broken his rule in this case. Upon analyzing his motives and necessities, he found, that, after all, he must have extended his visit simply because he chose to see more of this young woman from Nevada, and that really, upon the whole, he had borne a good deal from her. Sometimes he had been much pleased with her, and very well entertained; but often enough–in fact, rather too often–she had made him exceedingly uncomfortable. Her manners were not what he was accustomed to: she did not consider that all men were not to be regarded from the same point of view. Perhaps he did not put into definite words the noble and patriotic sentiment that an Englishman was not to be regarded from the same point of view as an American, and that, though all this sort of thing might do with fellows in New York, it was scarcely what an Englishman would stand. Perhaps, as I say, he had not put this sentiment into words; but it is quite certain that it had been uppermost in his mind upon more occasions than one. As he thought their acquaintance over, this evening, he was rather severe upon Octavia. He even was roused so far as to condescend to talk her over with Burmistone.

“If she had been well brought up,” he said, “she would have been a different creature.”

“Very different, I have no doubt,” said Burmistone thoughtfully. “When you say well brought up, by the way, do you mean brought up like your cousin, Miss Gaston?”

“There is a medium,” said Barold loftily. “I regret to say Lady Theobald has not hit upon it.”

“Well, as you say,” commented Mr. Burmistone, “I suppose there is a medium.”

“A charming wife she would make, for a man with a position to maintain,” remarked Barold, with a short and somewhat savage laugh.

“Octavia Bassett?” queried Burmistone. “That’s true. But I am afraid she wouldn’t enjoy it–if you are supposing the man to be an Englishman, brought up in the regulation groove.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Barold impatiently: “I was not looking at it from her point of view, but from his.”

Mr. Burmistone slipped his hands in his pockets, and jingled his keys slightly, as he did once before in an earlier part of this narrative.

“Ah! from his,” he repeated. “Not from hers. His point of view would differ from hers–naturally.”

Barold flashed a little, and took his cigar from his mouth to knock off the ashes.

“A man is not necessarily a snob,” he said, “because he is cool enough not to lose his head where a woman is concerned. You can’t marry a woman who will make mistakes, and attract universal attention by her conduct.”

“Has it struck you that Octavia Bassett would?” inquired Burmistone.

“She would do as she chose,” said Barold petulantly. “She would do things which were unusual; but I was not referring to her in particular. Why should I?”

“Ah!” said Burmistone. “I only thought of her because it did not strike me that one would ever feel she had exactly blundered. She is not easily embarrassed. There is a _sang-froid_ about her which carries things off.”

“Ah!” deigned Barold: “she has _sang-froid_ enough and to spare.”

He was silent for some time afterward, and sat smoking later than usual. When he was about to leave the room for the night, he made an announcement for which his host was not altogether prepared.

“When the _fete_ is over, my dear fellow,” he said, “I must go back to London, and I shall be deucedly sorry to do it.”

“Look here!” said Burmistone, “that’s a new idea, isn’t it?”

“No, an old one; but I have been putting the thing off from day to day. By Jove! I did not think it likely that I should put it off, the day I landed here.”

And he laughed rather uneasily.

CHAPTER XXIII.

“MAY I GO?”

The very day after this, Octavia opened the fourth trunk. She had had it brought down from the garret, when there came a summons on the door, and Lucia Gaston appeared.

Lucia was very pale; and her large, soft eyes wore a decidedly frightened look. She seemed to have walked fast, and was out of breath. Evidently something had happened.

“Octavia,” she said, “Mr. Dugald Binnie is at Oldclough.”

“Who is he?”

“He is my grand-uncle,” explained Lucia tremulously. “He has a great deal of money. Grandmamma”–She stopped short, and colored, and drew her slight figure up. “I do not quite understand grandmamma, Octavia,” she said. “Last night she came to my room to talk to me; and this morning she came again, and–oh!” she broke out indignantly, “how could she speak to me in such a manner!”

“What did she say?” inquired Octavia.

“She said a great many things,” with great spirit. “It took her a long time to say them, and I do not wonder at it. It would have taken me a hundred years, if I had been in her place. I–I was wrong to say I did not understand her: I did–before she had finished.”

“What did you understand?”

“She was afraid to tell me in plain words.–I never saw her afraid before, but she was afraid. She has been arranging my future for me, and it does not occur to her that I dare object. That is because she knows I am a coward, and despises me for it–and it is what I deserve. If I make the marriage she chooses, she thinks Mr. Binnie will leave me his money. I am to run after a man who does not care for me, and make myself attractive, in the hope that he will condescend to marry me because Mr. Binnie may leave me his money. Do you wonder that it took even Lady Theobald a long time to say that?”

“Well,” remarked Octavia, “you won’t do it, I suppose. I wouldn’t worry. She wants you to marry Mr. Barold, I suppose.”

Lucia started.

“How did you guess?” she exclaimed.

“Oh! I always knew it. I didn’t guess.” And she smiled ever so faintly. “That is one of the reasons why she loathes me so,” she added.

Lucia thought deeply for a moment: she recognized, all at once, several things she had been mystified by before.

“Oh, it is! It is!” she said. “And she has thought of it all the time, when I never suspected her.”

Octavia smiled a little again. Lucia sat thinking, her hands clasped tightly.

“I am glad I came here,” she said, at length. “I _am_ angry now, and I see things more clearly. If she had only thought of it because Mr. Binnie came, I could have forgiven her more easily; but she has been making coarse plans all the time, and treating me with contempt. Octavia,” she added, turning upon her, with flushing cheeks and sparkling eyes, “I think that, for the first time in my life, I am in a passion,–a real passion. I think I shall never be afraid of her any more.” Her delicate nostrils were dilated, she held her head up, her breath came fast. There was a hint of exultation in her tone. “Yes,” she said, “I am in a passion. And I am not afraid of her at all. I will go home and tell her what I think.”

And it is quite probable that she would have done so, but for a trifling incident which occurred before she reached her ladyship.

She walked very fast, after she left the house. She wanted to reach Oldclough before one whit of her anger cooled down; though, somehow, she felt quite sure, that, even when her anger died out, her courage would not take flight with it. Mr. Dugald Binnie had not proved to be a very fascinating person. He was an acrid, dictatorial old man: he contradicted Lady Theobald flatly every five minutes, and bullied his man-servant. But it was not against him that Lucia’s indignation was aroused. She felt that Lady Theobald was quite capable of suggesting to him that Francis Barold would be a good match for her; and, if she had done so, it was scarcely his fault if he had accepted the idea. She understood now why she had been allowed to visit Octavia, and why divers other things had happened. She had been sent to walk with Francis Barold; he had been almost reproached when he had not called; perhaps her ladyship had been good enough to suggest to him that it was his duty to further her plans. She was as capable of that as of any thing else which would assist her to gain her point. The girl’s cheeks grew hotter and hotter, her eyes brighter, at every step, because every step brought some new thought: her hands trembled, and her heart beat.

“I shall never be afraid of her again,” she said, as she turned the corner into the road. “Never! never!”

And at that very moment a gentleman stepped out of the wood at her right, and stopped before her.

She started back, with a cry.

“Mr. Burmistone!” she said: “Mr. Burmistone!”

She wondered if he had heard her last words: she fancied he had. He took hold of her shaking little hand, and looked down at her excited face.

“I am glad I waited for you,” he said, in the quietest possible tone. “Something is the matter.”

She knew there would be no use in trying to conceal the truth, and she was not in the mood to make the effort. She scarcely knew herself.

She gave quite a fierce little laugh.

“I am angry!” she said. “You have never seen me angry before. I am on my way to my–to Lady Theobald.”

He held her hand as calmly as before. He understood a great deal more than she could have imagined.

“What are you going to say to her?” he asked. She laughed again.

“I am going to ask her what she means. I am going to tell her she has made a mistake. I am going to prove to her that I am not such a coward, after all. I am going to tell her that I dare disobey her,–_that_ is what I am going to say to her,” she concluded decisively.

He held her hand rather closer.

“Let us take a stroll in the copse, and talk it over,” he said. “It is deliciously cool there.”

“I don’t want to be cool,” she said. But he drew her gently with him; and a few steps took them into the shade of the young oaks and pines, and there he paused.

“She has made you very angry?” he said.

And then, almost before she knew what she was doing, she was pouring forth the whole of her story, even more of it than she had told Octavia. She had not at all intended to do it; but she did it, nevertheless.

“I am to marry Mr. Francis Barold, if he will take me,” she said, with a bitter little smile,–“Mr. Francis Barold, who is so much in love with me, as you know. His mother approves of the match, and sent him here to make love to me, which he has done, as you have seen. I have no money of my own; but, if I make a marriage which pleases him, Dugald Binnie will probably leave me his–which it is thought will be an inducement to my cousin, who needs one. If I marry him, or rather he marries me, Lady Theobald thinks Mr. Binnie will be pleased. It does not even matter whether Francis is pleased or not, and of course I am out of the question; but it is hoped that it will please Mr. Binnie. The two ladies have talked it over, and decided the matter. I dare say they have offered me to Francis, who has very likely refused me, though perhaps he may be persuaded to relent in time,–if I am very humble, and he is shown the advantage of having Mr. Binnie’s money added to his own,–but I have no doubt I shall have to be very humble indeed. That is what I learned from Lady Theobald last night, and it is what I am going to talk to her about. Is it enough to make one angry, do you think? Is it enough?”

He did not tell her whether he thought it enough, or not. He looked at her with steady eyes.

“Lucia,” he said, “I wish you would let me go and talk with Lady Theobald.”

“You?” she said with a little start.

“Yes,” he answered. “Let me go to her. Let me tell her, that, instead of marrying Francis Barold, you will marry _me_. If you will say yes to that, I think I can promise that you need never be afraid of her any more.” The fierce color died out of her cheeks, and the tears rushed to her eyes. She raised her face with a pathetic look.

“Oh!” she whispered, “you must be very sorry for me. I think you have been sorry for me from the first.”

“I am desperately in love with you,” he answered, in his quietest way. “I have been desperately in love with you from the first. May I go?”

She looked at him for a moment, incredulously. Then she faltered,–

“Yes.”

She still looked up at him; and then, in spite of her happiness, or perhaps because of it, she suddenly began to cry softly, and forgot she had been angry at all, as he took her into his strong, kind arms.

CHAPTER XXIV.

THE GARDEN-PARTY.

The morning of the garden-party arose bright and clear, and Slowbridge awakened in a great state of excitement. Miss Chickie, having worked until midnight that all her orders might be completed, was so overpowered by her labors as to have to take her tea and toast in bed.

At Oldclough varied sentiments prevailed. Lady Theobald’s manner was chiefly distinguished by an implacable rigidity. She had chosen, as an appropriate festal costume, a funereal-black _moire antique_, enlivened by massive fringes and ornaments of jet; her jewelry being chains and manacles of the latter, which rattled as she moved, with a sound somewhat suggestive of bones.

Mr. Dugald Binnie, who had received an invitation, had as yet amiably forborne to say whether he would accept it, or not. He had been out when Mr. Burmistone called, and had not seen him.

When Lady Theobald descended to breakfast, she found him growling over his newspaper; and he glanced up at her with a polite scowl.

“Going to a funeral?” he demanded.

“I accompany my granddaughter to this–this entertainment,” her ladyship responded. “It is scarcely a joyous occasion, to my mind.”

“No need to dress yourself like that, if it isn’t,” ejaculated Mr. Binnie. “Why don’t you stay at home, if you don’t want to go? Man’s all right, isn’t he? Once knew a man by the name of Burmistone, myself. One of the few decent fellows I’ve met. If I were sure this was the same man, I’d go myself. When I find a fellow who’s neither knave nor fool, I stick to him. Believe I’ll send to find out. Where’s Lucia?”

What his opinion of Lucia was, it was difficult to discover. He had an agreeable habit of staring at her over the top of his paper, and over his dinner. The only time he had made any comment upon her, was the first time he saw her in the dress she had copied from Octavia’s. “Nice gown that,” he blurted out: “didn’t get it here, I’ll wager.”

“It’s an old dress I remodelled,” answered Lucia somewhat alarmed. “I made it myself.”

“Doesn’t look like it,” he said gruffly.

Lucia had touched up another dress, and was very happy in the prospect of wearing it at the garden-party.

“Don’t call on grandmamma until after Wednesday,” she had said to Mr. Burmistone: “perhaps she wouldn’t let me go. She will be very angry, I am sure.”

“And you are not afraid?”

“No,” she answered: “I am not afraid at all. I shall not be afraid again.”

In fact, she had perfectly confounded her ladyship by her demeanor. She bore her fiercest glance without quailing in the least, or making any effort to evade it: under her most scathing comments she was composed and unmoved. On the first occasion of my lady’s referring to her plans for her future, she received a blow which fairly stunned her. The girl rose from her chair, and looked her straight in the face unflinchingly, and with a suggestion of _hauteur_ not easy to confront.

“I beg you will not speak to me of that again,” she said: “I will not listen.” And turning about, she walked out of the room.

“This,” her ladyship had said in sepulchral tones, when she recovered her breath, “this is one of the results of Miss Octavia Bassett.” And nothing more had been said on the subject since.

No one in Slowbridge was in more brilliant spirits than Octavia herself on the morning of the _fete_. Before breakfast Miss Belinda was startled by the arrival of another telegram, which ran as follows:–

“Arrived to-day, per ‘Russia.’ Be with you tomorrow evening. Friend with me.

“MARTIN BASSETT.”

On reading this communication, Miss Belinda burst into floods of delighted tears.

“Dear, dear Martin,” she wept; “to think that we should meet again! _Why_ didn’t he let us know he was on the way? I should have been so anxious that I should not have slept at all.”

“Well,” remarked Octavia, “I suppose that would have been an advantage.”

Suddenly she approached Miss Belinda, kissed her, and disappeared out of the room as if by magic, not returning for a quarter of an hour, looking rather soft and moist and brilliant about the eyes when she did return.

Octavia was a marked figure upon the grounds at that garden-party.

“Another dress, my dear,” remarked Mrs. Burnham. “And what a charming color she has, I declare! She is usually paler. Perhaps we owe this to Lord Lansdowne.”

“Her dress is becoming, at all events,” privately remarked Miss Lydia Burnham, whose tastes had not been consulted about her own.

“It is she who is becoming,” said her sister: “it is not the dress so much, though her clothes always have a _look_, some way. She’s prettier than ever to-day, and is enjoying herself.”

She was enjoying herself. Mr. Francis Barold observed it rather gloomily as he stood apart. She was enjoying herself so much, that she did not seem to notice that he had avoided her, instead of going up to claim her attention. Half a dozen men were standing about her, and making themselves agreeable; and she was apparently quite equal to the emergencies of the occasion. The young men from Broadoaks had at once attached themselves to her train.

“I say, Barold,” they had said to him, “why didn’t you tell us about this? Jolly good fellow you are, to come mooning here for a couple of months, and keep it all to yourself.”

And then had come Lord Lansdowne, who, in crossing the lawn to shake hands with his host, had been observed to keep his eye fixed upon one particular point.

“Burmistone,” he said, after having spoken his first words, “who is that tall girl in white?”

And in ten minutes Lady Theobald, Mrs. Burnham, Mr. Barold, and divers others too numerous to mention, saw him standing at Octavia’s side, evidently with no intention of leaving it.

Not long after this Francis Barold found his way to Miss Belinda, who was very busy and rather nervous.

“Your niece is evidently enjoying herself,” he remarked.

“Octavia is most happy to-day,” answered Miss Belinda. “Her father will reach Slowbridge this evening. She has been looking forward to his coming with great anxiety.”

“Ah!” commented Barold.

“Very few people understand Octavia,” said Miss Belinda. “I’m not sure that I follow all her moods myself. She is more affectionate than people fancy. She–she has very pretty ways. I am very fond of her. She is not as frivolous as she appears to those who don’t know her well.”

Barold stood gnawing his mustache, and made no reply. He was not very comfortable. He felt himself ill-used by Fate, and rather wished he had returned to London from Broadoaks, instead of loitering in Slowbridge. He had amused himself at first, but in time he had been surprised to find his amusement lose something of its zest. He glowered across the lawn at the group under a certain beech-tree; and, as he did so, Octavia turned her face a little and saw him. She stood waving her fan slowly, and smiling at him in a calm way, which reminded him very much of the time he had first caught sight of her at Lady Theobald’s high tea.

He condescended to saunter over the grass to where she stood. Once there, he proceeded to make himself as disagreeable as possible, in a silent and lofty way. He felt it only due to himself that he should. He did not approve at all of the manner in which Lansdowne kept by her.

“It’s deucedly bad form on his part,” he said mentally. “What does he mean by it?”

Octavia, on the contrary, did not ask what he meant by it. She chose to seem rather well entertained, and did not notice that she was being frowned down. There was no reason why she should not find Lord Lansdowne entertaining: he was an agreeable young fellow, with an inexhaustible fund of good spirits, and no nonsense about him.

He was fond of all pleasant novelty, and Octavia was a pleasant novelty. He had been thinking of paying a visit to America; and he asked innumerable questions concerning that country, all of which Octavia answered.

“I know half a dozen fellows who have been there,” he said. “And they all enjoyed it tremendously.”

“If you go to Nevada, you must visit the mines at Bloody Gulch,” she said.

“Where?” he ejaculated. “I say, what a name! Don’t deride my youth and ignorance, Miss Bassett.”

“You can call it L’Argentville, if you would rather,” she replied.

“I would rather try the other, thank you,” he laughed. “It has a more hilarious sound. Will they despise me at Bloody Gulch, Miss Bassett? I never killed a man in my life.”

Barold turned, and walked away, angry, and more melancholy than he could have believed.

“It is time I went back to London,” he chose to put it. “The place begins to be deucedly dull.”

“Mr. Francis Barold seems rather out of spirits,” said Mrs. Burnham to Lady Theobald. “Lord Lansdowne interferes with his pleasure.”

“I had not observed it,” answered her ladyship. “And it is scarcely likely that Mr. Francis Barold would permit his pleasure to be interfered with, even by the son of the Marquis of Lauderdale.”

But she glared at Barold as he passed, and beckoned to him.

“Where is Lucia?” she demanded.–

“I saw her with Burmistone half an hour ago,” he answered coldly. “Have you any message for my mother? I shall return to London to-morrow, leaving here early.”

She turned quite pale. She had not counted upon this at all, and it was extremely inopportune.

“What has happened?” she asked rigidly.

He looked slightly surprised.

“Nothing whatever,” he replied. “I have remained here longer than I intended.”

She began to move the manacles on her right wrist. He made not the smallest profession of reluctance to go. She said, at last, “If you will find Lucia, you will oblige me.” She was almost uncivil to Miss Pilcher, who chanced to join her after he was gone. She had not the slightest intention of allowing her plans to be frustrated, and was only roused to fresh obstinacy by encountering indifference on one side and rebellion on the other. She had not brought Lucia up under her own eye for nothing. She had been disturbed of late, but by no means considered herself baffled. With the assistance of Mr. Dugald Binnie, she could certainly subdue Lucia, though Mr. Dugald Binnie had been of no great help so far. She would do her duty unflinchingly. In fact, she chose to persuade herself, that, if Lucia was brought to a proper frame of mind, there could be no real trouble with Francis Barold.

CHAPTER XXV.

“SOMEBODY ELSE.”

But Barold did not make any very ardent search for Lucia. He stopped to watch a game of lawn-tennis, in which Octavia and Lord Lansdowne had joined, and finally forgot Lady Theobald’s errand altogether.

For some time Octavia did not see him. She was playing with great spirit, and Lord Lansdowne was following her delightedly.

Finally a chance of the game bringing her to him, she turned suddenly, and found Barold’s eyes fixed upon her.

“How long have you been there?” she asked.

“Some time,” he answered. “When you are at liberty, I wish to speak to you.”

“Do you?” she said.

She seemed a little unprepared for the repressed energy of his manner, which, he strove to cover by a greater amount of coldness than usual.

“Well,” she said, after thinking a moment, “the game will soon be ended. I am going through the conservatories with Lord Lansdowne in course of time; but I dare say he can wait.”

She went back, and finished her game, apparently enjoying it as much as ever. When it was over, Barold made his way to her.

He had resented her remaining oblivious of his presence when he stood near her, and he had resented her enjoyment of her surroundings; and now, as he led her away, leaving Lord Lansdowne rather disconsolate, he resented the fact that she did not seem nervous, or at all impressed by his silence.

“What do you want to say to me?” she asked. “Let us go and sit down in one of the arbors. I believe I am a little tired–not that I mind it, though. I’ve been having a lovely time.”

Then she began to talk about Lord Lansdowne.

“I like him ever so much,” she said. “Do you think he will really go to America? I wish he would; but if he does, I hope it won’t be for a year or so–I mean, until we go back from Europe. Still, it’s rather uncertain when we _shall_ go back. Did I tell you I had persuaded aunt Belinda to travel with us? She’s horribly frightened, but I mean to make her go. She’ll get over being frightened after a little while.”

Suddenly she turned, and looked at him.

“Why don’t you say something?” she demanded. “What’s the matter?”

“It is not necessary for me to say any thing.”

She laughed.

“Do you mean because I am saying every thing myself? Well, I suppose I am. I am–awfully happy to-day, and can’t help talking. It seems to make the time go.”

Her face had lighted up curiously. There was a delighted excitement in her eyes, puzzling him.

“Are you so fond of your father as all that?”

She laughed again,–a clear, exultant laugh.

“Yes,” she answered, “of course I am as fond of him as all that. It’s quite natural, isn’t it?”

“I haven’t observed the same degree of enthusiasm in all the young ladies of my acquaintance,” he returned dryly.

He thought such rapture disproportionate to the cause, and regarded it grudgingly.

They turned into an arbor; and Octavia sat down, and leaned forward on the rustic table. Then she turned her face up to look at the vines covering the roof.

“It looks rather spidery, doesn’t it?” she remarked. “I hope it isn’t; don’t you?”

The light fell bewitchingly on her round little chin and white throat; and a bar of sunlight struck on her upturned eyes, and the blonde rings on her forehead.

“There is nothing I hate more than spiders,” she said, with a little shiver, “unless,” seriously, “it’s caterpillars–and caterpillars I loathe.”

Then she lowered her gaze, and gave her hat–a large white Rubens, all soft, curling feathers and satin bows–a charming tip over her eyes.

“The brim is broad,” she said. “If any thing drops, I hope it will drop on it, instead of on me. Now, what did you want to say?” He had not sat down, but stood leaning against the rustic wood-work. He looked pale, and was evidently trying to be cooler than usual.

“I brought you here to ask you a question.”

“Well,” she remarked, “I hope it’s an important one. You look serious enough.”

“It is important,–rather,” he responded, with a tone of sarcasm. “You will probably go away soon?”

“That isn’t exactly a question,” she commented, “and it’s not as important to you as to me.”

He paused a moment, annoyed because he found it difficult to go on; annoyed because she waited with such undisturbed serenity. But at length he managed to begin again.

“I do not think you are expecting the question I am going to ask,” he said. “I–do not think I expected to ask it myself,–until to-day. I do not know why–why I should ask it so awkwardly, and feel–at such a disadvantage. I brought you here to ask you–to marry me.”

He had scarcely spoken four words before all her airy manner had taken flight, and she had settled herself down to listen. He had noticed this, and had felt it quite natural. When he stopped, she was looking straight into his face. Her eyes were singularly large and bright and clear.

“You did not expect to ask me to marry you?” she said. “Why didn’t you?”

It was not at all what he had expected. He did not understand her manner at all.

“I–must confess,” he said stiffly, “that I felt at first that there were–obstacles in the way of my doing so.”

“What were the obstacles?”

He flushed, and drew himself up.

“I have been unfortunate in my mode of expressing myself,” he said. “I told you I was conscious of my own awkwardness.”

“Yes,” she said quietly: “you have been unfortunate. That is a good way of putting it.”

Then she let her eyes rest on the table a few seconds, and thought a little.

“After all,” she said, “I have the consolation of knowing that you must have been very much in love with me. If you had not been very much in love with me, you would never have asked me to marry you. You would have considered the obstacles.”

“I am very much in love with you,” he said vehemently, his feelings getting the better of his pride for once. “However badly I may have expressed myself, I am very much in love with you. I have been wretched for days.”

“Was it because you felt obliged to ask me to marry you?” she inquired.

The delicate touch of spirit in her tone and words fired him to fresh admiration, strange to say. It suggested to him possibilities he had not suspected hitherto. He drew nearer to her.

“Don’t be too severe on me,” he said–quite humbly, considering all things.

And he stretched out his hand, as if to take hers.

But she drew it back, smiling ever so faintly.

“Do you think I don’t know what the obstacles are?” she said. “I will tell you.”

“My affection was strong enough to sweep them away,” he said, “or I should not be here.”

She smiled slightly again.

“I know all about them, as well as you do,” she said. “I rather laughed at them at first, but I don’t now. I suppose I’m ‘impressed by their seriousness,’ as aunt Belinda says. I suppose they _are_ pretty serious–to you.”

“Nothing would be so serious to me as that you should let them interfere with my happiness,” he answered, thrown back upon himself, and bewildered by her logical manner. “Let us forget them. I was a fool to speak as I did. Won’t you answer my question?”

She paused a second, and then answered,–

“You didn’t expect to ask me to marry you,” she said. “And I didn’t expect you to”–

“But now”–he broke in impatiently.

“Now–I wish you hadn’t done it.”

“You wish”–

“You don’t want _me_,” she said. “You want somebody meeker,–somebody who would respect you very much, and obey you. I’m not used to obeying people.”

“Do you mean also that you would not respect me?” he inquired bitterly.

“Oh,” she replied, “you haven’t respected me much!”

“Excuse me”–he began, in his loftiest manner.

“You didn’t respect me enough to think me worth marrying,” she said. “I was not the kind of girl you would have chosen of your own will.”

“You are treating me unfairly!” he cried.

“You were going to give me a great deal, I suppose–looking at it in your way,” she went on; “but, if I _wasn’t_ exactly what you wanted, I had something to give too. I’m young enough to have a good many years to live; and I should have to live them with you, if I married you. That’s something, you know.”

He rose from his seat pale with wrath and wounded feeling.

“Does this mean that you refuse me?” he demanded, “that your answer is ‘no’?”

She rose, too–not exultant, not confused, neither pale nor flushed. He had never seen her prettier, more charming, or more natural.

“It would have been ‘no,’ even if there hadn’t been any obstacle,” she answered.

“Then,” he said, “I need say no more. I see that I have–humiliated myself in vain; and it is rather bitter, I must confess.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” she remarked.

He stepped back, with a haughty wave of the hand, signifying that she should pass out of the arbor before him.

She did so; but just as she reached the entrance, she turned, and stood for a second, framed in by the swinging vines and their blossoms.

“There’s another reason why it should be ‘no,'” she said. “I suppose I may as well tell you of it. I’m engaged to somebody else.”

CHAPTER XXVI.

“JACK.”

The first person they saw, when they reached the lawn, was Mr. Dugald Binnie, who had deigned to present himself, and was talking to Mr. Burmistone, Lucia, and Miss Belinda.

“I’ll go to them,” said Octavia. “Aunt Belinda will wonder where I have been.”

But, before they reached the group, they were intercepted by Lord Lansdowne; and Barold had the pleasure of surrendering his charge, and watching her, with some rather sharp pangs, as she was borne off to the conservatories.

“What is the matter with Mr. Barold?” exclaimed Miss Pilcher. “Pray look at him.”

“He has been talking to Miss Octavia Bassett, in one of the arbors,” put in Miss Lydia Burnham. “Emily and I passed them a few minutes ago, and they were so absorbed that they did not see us. There is no knowing what has happened.”

“Lydia!” exclaimed Mrs. Burnham, in stern reproof of such flippancy.

But, the next moment, she exchanged a glance with Miss Pilcher.

“Do you think”–she suggested. “Is it possible”–

“It really looks very like it,” said Miss Pilcher; “though it is scarcely to be credited. See how pale and angry he looks.”

Mrs. Burnham glanced toward him, and then a slight smile illuminated her countenance.

“How furious,” she remarked cheerfully, “how furious Lady Theobald will be!”

Naturally, it was not very long before the attention of numerous other ladies was directed to Mr. Francis Barold. It was observed that he took no share in the festivities, that he did not regain his natural air of enviable indifference to his surroundings,–that he did not approach Octavia Bassett until all was over, and she was on the point of going home. What he said to her then, no one heard.

“I am going to London to-morrow. Good-by.”

“Good-by,” she answered, holding out her hand to him. Then she added quickly, in an under-tone, “You oughtn’t to think badly of me. You won’t, after a while.”

As they drove homeward, she was rather silent, and Miss Belinda remarked it.

“I am afraid you are tired, Octavia,” she said. “It is a pity that Martin should come, and find you tired.”

“Oh! I’m not tired. I was only–thinking. It has been a queer day.”

“A queer day, my dear!” ejaculated Miss Belinda. “I thought it a charming day.”

“So it has been,” said Octavia, which Miss Belinda thought rather inconsistent.

Both of them grew rather restless as they neared the house.

“To think,” said Miss Belinda, “of my seeing poor Martin again!”

“Suppose,” said Octavia nervously, as they drew up, “suppose they are here–already.”

“They?” exclaimed Miss Belinda. “Who”–but she got no farther. A cry burst from Octavia,–a queer, soft little cry. “They are here,” she said: “they are! Jack–Jack!”

And she was out of the carriage; and Miss Belinda, following her closely, was horrified to see her caught at once in the embrace of a tall, bronzed young man, who, a moment after, drew her into the little parlor, and shut the door.

Mr. Martin Bassett, who was big and sunburned, and prosperous-looking, stood in the passage, smiling triumphantly.

“M–M–Martin!” gasped Miss Belinda. “What–oh, what does this mean?”

Martin Bassett led her to a seat, and smiled more triumphantly still.

“Never mind, Belinda,” he said. “Don’t be frightened. It’s Jack Belasys, and he’s the finest fellow in the West. And she hasn’t seen him for two years.”

“Martin,” Miss Belinda fluttered, “it is not proper–it really isn’t.”

“Yes, it is,” answered Mr. Bassett; “for he’s going to marry her before we go abroad.”

It was an eventful day for all parties concerned. At its close Lady Theobald found herself in an utterly bewildered and thunderstruck condition. And to Mr. Dugald Binnie, more than to any one else, her demoralization was due. That gentleman got into the carriage, in rather a better humor than usual.

“Same man I used to know,” he remarked. “Glad to see him. I knew him as soon as I set eyes on him.”

“Do you allude to Mr. Burmistone?”

“Yes. Had a long talk with him. He’s coming to see you to-morrow. Told him he might come, myself. Appears he’s taken a fancy to Lucia. Wants to talk it over. Suits me exactly, and suppose it suits her. Looks as if it does. Glad she hasn’t taken a fancy to some haw-haw fellow, like that fool Barold. Girls generally do. Burmistone’s worth ten of him.”

Lucia, who had been looking steadily out of the carriage-window, turned, with an amazed expression. Lady Theobald had received a shock which made all her manacles rattle. She could scarcely support herself under it.

“Do I”–she said. “Am I to understand that Mr. Francis Barold does not meet with your approval?” Mr. Binnie struck his stick sharply upon the floor of the carriage.

“Yes, by George!” he said. “I’ll have nothing to do with chaps like that. If she’d taken up with him, she’d never have heard from _me_ again. Make sure of that.”

When they reached Oldclough, her ladyship followed Lucia to her room. She stood before her, arranging the manacles on her wrists nervously.

“I begin to understand now,” she said. “I find I was mistaken in my impressions of Mr. Dugald Binnie’s tastes–and in my impressions of _you_. You are to marry Mr. Burmistone. My rule is over. Permit me to congratulate you.”

The tears rose to Lucia’s eyes.

“Grandmamma,” she said, her voice soft and broken, “I think I should have been more frank, if–if you had been kinder sometimes.”

“I have done my duty by you,” said my lady.

Lucia looked at her pathetically.

“I have been ashamed to keep things from you,” she hesitated. “And I have often told myself that–that it was sly to do it–but I could not help it.”

“I trust,” said my lady, “that you will be more candid with Mr. Burmistone.”

Lucia blushed guiltily.

“I–think I shall, grandmamma,” she said.

It was the Rev. Alfred Poppleton who assisted the rector of St. James to marry Jack Belasys and Octavia Bassett; and it was observed that he was almost as pale as his surplice.

Slowbridge had never seen such a wedding, or such a bride as Octavia. It was even admitted that Jack Belasys was a singularly handsome fellow, and had a dashing, adventurous air, which carried all before it. There was a rumor that he owned silver-mines himself, and had even done something in diamonds, in Brazil, where he had spent the last two years. At all events, it was ascertained beyond doubt, that, being at last a married woman, and entitled to splendors of the kind, Octavia would not lack them. Her present to Lucia, who was one of her bridesmaids, dazzled all beholders. When she was borne away by the train, with her father and husband, and Miss Belinda, whose bonnet-strings were bedewed with tears, the Rev. Alfred Poppleton was the last man who shook hands with her. He held in his hand a large bouquet, which Octavia herself had given him out of her abundance. “Slowbridge will miss you, Miss–Mrs. Belasys,” he faltered. “I–I shall miss you. Perhaps we–may even meet again. I have thought that, perhaps, I should like to go to America.”

And, as the train puffed out of the station and disappeared, he stood motionless for several seconds; and a large and brilliant drop of moisture appeared on the calyx of the lily which formed the centre-piece of his bouquet.