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Courcy Castle was very full. In the first place, there was a great
gathering there of all the Courcy family. The earl was there,--and
the countess, of course. At this period of the year Lady de Courcy
was always at home; but the presence of the earl himself had
heretofore been by no means so certain. He was a man who had been
much given to royal visitings and attendances, to parties in the
Highlands, to,--no doubt necessary,--prolongations of the London
season, to sojournings at certain German watering-places, convenient,
probably, in order that he might study the ways and ceremonies of
German Courts,--and to various other absences from home, occasioned
by a close pursuit of his own special aims in life; for the Earl
de Courcy had been a great courtier. But of late gout, lumbago,
and perhaps also some diminution in his powers of making himself
generally agreeable, had reconciled him to domestic duties, and the
earl spent much of his time at home. The countess, in former days,
had been heard to complain of her lord's frequent absence. But it is
hard to please some women,--and now she would not always be satisfied
with his presence.
And all the sons and daughters were there,--excepting Lord Porlock,
the eldest, who never met his father. The earl and Lord Porlock were
not on terms, and indeed hated each other as only such fathers and
such sons can hate. The Honourable George de Courcy was there with
his bride, he having lately performed a manifest duty, in having
married a young woman with money. Very young she was not,--having
reached some years of her life in advance of thirty; but then,
neither was the Honourable George very young; and in this respect
the two were not ill-sorted. The lady's money had not been very
much,--perhaps thirty thousand pounds or so. But then the Honourable
George's money had been absolutely none. Now he had an income on
which he could live, and therefore his father and mother had forgiven
him all his sins, and taken him again to their bosom. And the
marriage was matter of great moment, for the elder scion of the house
had not yet taken to himself a wife, and the de Courcy family might
have to look to this union for an heir. The lady herself was not
beautiful, or clever, or of imposing manners,--nor was she of high
birth. But neither was she ugly, nor unbearably stupid. Her manners
were, at any rate, innocent; and as to her birth,--seeing that, from
the first, she was not supposed to have had any,--no disappointment
was felt. Her father had been a coal-merchant. She was always called
Mrs George, and the effort made respecting her by everybody in and
about the family was to treat her as though she were a figure of
a woman, a large well-dressed resemblance of a being, whom it was
necessary for certain purposes that the de Courcys should carry in
their train. Of the Honourable George we may further observe, that,
having been a spendthrift all his life, he had now become strictly
parsimonious. Having reached the discreet age of forty, he had at
last learned that beggary was objectionable; and he, therefore,
devoted every energy of his mind to saving shillings and pence
wherever pence and shillings might be saved. When first this turn
came upon him both his father and mother were delighted to observe
it; but, although it had hardly yet lasted over twelve months, some
evil results were beginning to appear. Though possessed of an income,
he would take no steps towards possessing himself of a house. He
hung by the paternal mansion, either in town or country; drank the
paternal wines, rode the paternal horses, and had even contrived
to obtain his wife's dresses from the maternal milliner. In the
completion of which little last success, however, some slight family
dissent had showed itself.
The Honourable John, the third son, was also at Courcy. He had as yet
taken to himself no wife, and as he had not hitherto made himself
conspicuously useful in any special walk of life his family were
beginning to regard him as a burden. Having no income of his own to
save, he had not copied his brother's virtue of parsimony; and, to
tell the truth plainly, had made himself so generally troublesome to
his father, that he had been on more than one occasion threatened
with expulsion from the family roof. But it is not easy to expel a
son. Human fledglings cannot be driven out of the nest like young
birds. An Honourable John turned adrift into absolute poverty will
make himself heard of in the world,--if in no other way, by his
ugliness as he starves. A thorough-going ne'er-do-well in the upper
classes has eminent advantages on his side in the battle which he
fights against respectability. He can't be sent to Australia against
his will. He can't be sent to the poorhouse without the knowledge
of all the world. He can't be kept out of tradesmen's shops; nor,
without terrible scandal, can he be kept away from the paternal
properties. The earl had threatened, and snarled, and shown his
teeth; he was an angry man, and a man who could look very angry; with
eyes which could almost become red, and a brow that wrinkled itself
in perpendicular wrinkles, sometimes very terrible to behold. But
he was an inconsistent man, and the Honourable John had learned to
measure his father, and in an accurate balance.
I have mentioned the sons first, because it is to be presumed that
they were the elder, seeing that their names were mentioned before
those of their sisters in all the peerages. But there were four
daughters,--the Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, and Alexandrina.
They, we may say, were the flowers of the family, having so lived
that they had created none of those family feuds which had been so
frequent between their father and their brothers. They were discreet,
high-bred women, thinking, perhaps, a little too much of their own
position in the world, and somewhat apt to put a wrong value on
those advantages which they possessed, and on those which they did
not possess. The Lady Amelia was already married, having made a
substantial if not a brilliant match with Mr Mortimer Gazebee, a
flourishing solicitor, belonging to a firm which had for many years
acted as agents to the de Courcy property. Mortimer Gazebee was now
member of Parliament for Barchester, partly through the influence
of his father-in-law. That this should be so was a matter of great
disgust to the Honourable George, who thought that the seat should
have belonged to him. But as Mr Gazebee had paid the very heavy
expenses of the election out of his own pocket, and as George de
Courcy certainly could not have paid them, the justice of his claim
may be questionable. Lady Amelia Gazebee was now the happy mother of
many babies, whom she was wont to carry with her on her visits to
Courcy Castle, and had become an excellent partner to her husband.
He would perhaps have liked it better if she had not spoken so
frequently to him of her own high position as the daughter of an
earl, or so frequently to others of her low position as the wife of
an attorney. But, on the whole, they did very well together, and Mr
Gazebee had gotten from his marriage quite as much as he expected
when he made it.
The Lady Rosina was very religious; and I do not know that she was
conspicuous in any other way, unless it might be that she somewhat
resembled her father in her temper. It was of the Lady Rosina that
the servants were afraid, especially with reference to that so-called
day of rest which, under her dominion, had become to many of them
a day of restless torment. It had not always been so with the Lady
Rosina; but her eyes had been opened by the wife of a great church
dignitary in the neighbourhood, and she had undergone regeneration.
How great may be the misery inflicted by an energetic, unmarried,
healthy woman in that condition,--a woman with no husband, or
children, or duties, to distract her from her work,--I pray that my
readers may never know.
The Lady Margaretta was her mother's favourite, and she was like her
mother in all things,--except that her mother had been a beauty. The
world called her proud, disdainful, and even insolent; but the world
was not aware that in all that she did she was acting in accordance
with a principle which had called for much self-abnegation. She had
considered it her duty to be a de Courcy and an earl's daughter at
all times; and consequently she had sacrificed to her idea of duty
all popularity, adulation, and such admiration as would have been
awarded to her as a well-dressed, tall, fashionable, and by no means
stupid young woman. To be at all times in something higher than they
who were manifestly below her in rank,--that was the effort that she
was ever making. But she had been a good daughter, assisting her
mother, as best she might, in all family troubles, and never repining
at the cold, colourless, unlovely life which had been vouchsafed to
Alexandrina was the beauty of the family, and was in truth the
youngest. But even she was not very young, and was beginning to make
her friends uneasy lest she, too, should let the precious season of
hay-harvest run by without due use of her summer's sun. She had,
perhaps, counted too much on her beauty, which had been beauty
according to law rather than beauty according to taste, and had
looked, probably, for too bounteous a harvest. That her forehead, and
nose, and cheeks, and chin were well-formed, no man could deny. Her
hair was soft and plentiful. Her teeth were good, and her eyes were
long and oval. But the fault of her face was this,--that when you
left her you could not remember it. After a first acquaintance you
could meet her again and not know her. After many meetings you would
fail to carry away with you any portrait of her features. But such
as she had been at twenty, such was she now at thirty. Years had not
robbed her face of its regularity, or ruffled the smoothness of her
too even forehead. Rumour had declared that on more than one, or
perhaps more than two occasions, Lady Alexandrina had been already
induced to plight her troth in return for proffered love; but we all
know that Rumour, when she takes to such topics, exaggerates the
truth, and sets down much in malice. The lady was once engaged, the
engagement lasting for two years, and the engagement had been broken
off, owing to some money difficulties between the gentlemen of the
families. Since that she had become somewhat querulous, and was
supposed to be uneasy on that subject of her haymaking. Her glass and
her maid assured her that her sun shone still as brightly as ever;
but her spirit was becoming weary with waiting, and she dreaded lest
she should become a terror to all, as was her sister Rosina, or
an object of interest to none, as was Margaretta. It was from her
especially that this message had been sent to our friend Crosbie;
for, during the last spring in London, she and Crosbie had known
each other well. Yes, my gentle readers; it is true, as your heart
suggests to you. Under such circumstances Mr Crosbie should not have
gone to Courcy Castle.
Such was the family circle of the de Courcys. Among their present
guests I need not enumerate many. First and foremost in all respects
was Lady Dumbello, of whose parentage and position a few words were
said in the last chapter. She was a lady still very young, having as
yet been little more than two years married. But in those two years
her triumphs had been many;--so many, that in the great world her
standing already equalled that of her celebrated mother-in-law, the
Marchioness of Hartletop, who, for twenty years, had owned no greater
potentate than herself in the realms of fashion. But Lady Dumbello
was every inch as great as she; and men said, and women also, that
the daughter-in-law would soon be the greater.
"I'll be hanged if I can understand how she does it," a certain noble
peer had once said to Crosbie, standing at the door of Sebright's,
during the latter days of the last season. "She never says anything
to any one. She won't speak ten words a whole night through."
"I don't think she has an idea in her head," said Crosbie.
"Let me tell you that she must be a very clever woman," continued the
noble peer. "No fool could do as she does. Remember, she's only a
parson's daughter; and as for beauty--"
"I don't admire her for one," said Crosbie.
"I don't want to run away with her, if you mean that," said the peer;
"but she is handsome, no doubt. I wonder whether Dumbello likes it."
Dumbello did like it. It satisfied his ambition to be led about as
the senior lacquey in his wife's train. He believed himself to be
a great man because the world fought for his wife's presence; and
considered himself to be distinguished even among the eldest sons
of marquises, by the greatness reflected from the parson's daughter
whom he had married. He had now been brought to Courcy Castle, and
felt himself proud of his situation because Lady Dumbello had made
considerable difficulty in according this week to the Countess de
And Lady Julia De Guest was already there, the sister of the other
old earl, who lived in the next county. She had only arrived on the
day before, but had been quick in spreading the news as to Crosbie's
engagement. "Engaged to one of the Dales, is he?" said the countess,
with a pretty little smile, which showed plainly that the matter was
one of no interest to herself. "Has she got any money?"
"Not a shilling, I should think," said the Lady Julia.
"Pretty, I suppose?" suggested the countess.
"Why, yes; she is pretty,--and a nice girl. I don't know whether her
mother and uncle were very wise in encouraging Mr Crosbie. I don't
hear that he has anything special to recommend him,--in the way of
money I mean."
"I dare say it will come to nothing," said the countess, who liked to
hear of girls being engaged and then losing their promised husbands.
She did not know that she liked it, but she did; and already had
pleasure in anticipating poor Lily's discomfiture. But not the less
was she angry with Crosbie, feeling that he was making his way into
her house under false pretences.
And Alexandrina also was angry when Lady Julia repeated the same
tidings in her hearing. "I really don't think we care very much about
it, Lady Julia," said she, with a little toss of her head. "That's
three times we've been told of Miss Dale's good fortune."
"The Dales are related to you, I think?" said Margaretta.
"Not at all," said Lady Julia, bristling up. "The lady whom Mr
Crosbie proposes to marry is in no way connected with us. Her cousin,
who is the heir to the Allington property, is my nephew by his
mother." And then the subject was dropped.
Crosbie, on his arrival, was shown up into his room, told the hour of
dinner, and left to his devices. He had been at the castle before,
and knew the ways of the house. So he sat himself down to his table,
and began a letter to Lily. But he had not proceeded far, not having
as yet indeed made up his mind as to the form in which he would
commence it, but was sitting idly with the pen in his hand, thinking
of Lily, and thinking also how such houses as this in which he now
found himself would be soon closed against him, when there came a rap
at his door, and before he could answer the Honourable John entered
"Well, old fellow," said the Honourable John, "how are you?"
Crosbie had been intimate with John de Courcy, but never felt for him
either friendship or liking. Crosbie did not like such men as John de
Courcy; but nevertheless, they called each other old fellow, poked
each other's ribs, and were very intimate.
"Heard you were here," continued the Honourable John; "so I thought I
would come up and look after you. Going to be married, ain't you?"
"Not that I know of," said Crosbie.
"Come, we know better than that. The women have been talking about it
for the last three days. I had her name quite pat yesterday, but I've
forgot it now. Hasn't got a tanner; has she?" And the Honourable John
had now seated himself upon the table.
"You seem to know a great deal more about it than I do."
"It is that old woman from Guestwick who told us, then. The women
will be at you at once, you'll find. If there's nothing in it, it's
what I call a d---- shame. Why should they always pull a fellow to
pieces in that way? They were going to marry me the other day!"
"Were they indeed, though?"
"To Harriet Twistleton. You know Harriet Twistleton? An uncommon fine
girl, you know. But I wasn't going to be caught like that. I'm very
fond of Harriet,--in my way, you know; but they don't catch an old
bird like me with chaff."
"I condole with Miss Twistleton for what she has lost."
"I don't know about condoling. But upon my word that getting married
is a very slow thing. Have you seen George's wife?"
Crosbie declared that he had not as yet had that pleasure.
"She's here now, you know. I wouldn't have taken her, not if she'd
had ten times thirty thousand pounds. By Jove, no. But he likes it
well enough. Would you believe it now?--he cares for nothing on earth
except money. You never saw such a fellow. But I'll tell you what,
his nose will be out of joint yet, for Porlock is going to marry. I
heard it from Colepepper, who almost lives with Porlock. As soon as
Porlock heard that she was in the family way he immediately made up
his mind to cut him out."
"That was a great sign of brotherly love," said Crosbie.
"I knew he'd do it," said John; "and so I told George before he got
himself spliced. But he would go on. If he'd remained as he was for
four or five years longer there would have been no danger;--for
Porlock, you know, is leading the deuce of a life. I shouldn't wonder
if he didn't reform now, and take to singing psalms or something of
"There's no knowing what a man may come to in this world."
"By George, no. But I'll tell you what, they'll find no change in me.
If I marry it will not be with the intention of giving up life. I
say, old fellow, have you got a cigar here?"
"What, to smoke up here, do you mean?"
"Yes; why not? we're ever so far from the women."
"Not whilst I am occupier of this room. Besides, it's time to dress
"Is it? So it is, by George! But I mean to have a smoke first, I can
tell you. So it's all a lie about your being engaged; eh?"
"As far as I know, it is," said Crosbie. And then his friend left
What was he to do at once, now, this very day, as to his engagement?
He had felt sure that the report of it would be carried to Courcy by
Lady Julia De Guest, but he had not settled down upon any resolution
as to what he would do in consequence. It had not occurred to him
that he would immediately be charged with the offence, and called
upon to plead guilty or not guilty. He had never for a moment
meditated any plea of not guilty, but he was aware of an aversion
on his part to declare himself as engaged to Lilian Dale. It seemed
that by doing so he would cut himself off at once from all pleasure
at such houses as Courcy Castle; and, as he argued to himself, why
should he not enjoy the little remnant of his bachelor life? As to
his denying his engagement to John de Courcy,--that was nothing. Any
one would understand that he would be justified in concealing a fact
concerning himself from such a one as he. The denial repeated from
John's mouth would amount to nothing,--even among John's own sisters.
But now it was necessary that Crosbie should make up his mind as to
what he would say when questioned by the ladies of the house. If he
were to deny the fact to them the denial would be very serious. And,
indeed, was it possible that he should make such denial with Lady
Julia opposite to him?
Make such a denial! And was it the fact that he could wish to do
so,--that he should think of such falsehood, and even meditate on the
perpetration of such cowardice? He had held that young girl to his
heart on that very morning. He had sworn to her, and had also sworn
to himself, that she should have no reason for distrusting him. He
had acknowledged most solemnly to himself that, whether for good or
for ill, he was bound to her; and could it be that he was already
calculating as to the practicability of disowning her? In doing so
must he not have told himself that he was a villain? But in truth he
made no such calculation. His object was to banish the subject, if
it were possible to do so; to think of some answer by which he might
create a doubt. It did not occur to him to tell the countess boldly
that there was no truth whatever in the report, and that Miss Dale
was nothing to him. But might he not skilfully laugh off the subject,
even in the presence of Lady Julia? Men who were engaged did so
usually, and why should not he? It was generally thought that
solicitude for the lady's feelings should prevent a man from talking
openly of his own engagement. Then he remembered the easy freedom
with which his position had been discussed throughout the whole
neighbourhood of Allington, and felt for the first time that the Dale
family had been almost indelicate in their want of reticence. "I
suppose it was done to tie me the faster," he said to himself, as he
pulled out the ends of his cravat. "What a fool I was to come here,
or indeed to go anywhere, after settling myself as I have done." And
then he went down into the drawing-room.
It was almost a relief to him when he found that he was not charged
with his sin at once. He himself had been so full of the subject that
he had expected to be attacked at the moment of his entrance. He was,
however, greeted without any allusion to the matter. The countess, in
her own quiet way, shook hands with him as though she had seen him
only the day before. The earl, who was seated in his arm-chair, asked
some one, out loud, who the stranger was, and then, with two fingers
put forth, muttered some apology for a welcome. But Crosbie was quite
up to that kind of thing. "How do, my lord?" he said, turning his
face away to some one else as he spoke; and then he took no further
notice of the master of the house. "Not know him, indeed!" Crippled
though he was by his matrimonial bond, Crosbie felt that, at any rate
as yet, he was the earl's equal in social importance. After that, he
found himself in the back part of the drawing-room, away from the
elder people, standing with Lady Alexandrina, with Miss Gresham, a
cousin of the de Courcys, and sundry other of the younger portion of
the assembled community.
"So you have Lady Dumbello here?" said Crosbie.
"Oh, yes; the dear creature!" said Lady Margaretta. "It was so good
of her to come, you know."
"She positively refused the Duchess of St Bungay," said Alexandrina.
"I hope you perceive how good we've been to you in getting you to
meet her. People have actually asked to come."
"I am grateful; but, in truth, my gratitude has more to do with
Courcy Castle and its habitual inmates, than with Lady Dumbello. Is
"Oh, yes! he's in the room somewhere. There he is, standing up by
Lady Clandidlem. He always stands in that way before dinner. In the
evening he sits down much after the same fashion."
Crosbie had seen him on first entering the room, and had seen every
individual in it. He knew better than to omit the duty of that
scrutinising glance; but it sounded well in his line not to have
observed Lord Dumbello.
"And her ladyship is not down?" said he.
"She is generally last," said Lady Margaretta.
"And yet she has always three women to dress her," said Alexandrina.
"But when finished, what a success it is!" said Crosbie.
"Indeed it is!" said Margaretta, with energy. Then the door was
opened, and Lady Dumbello entered the room.
There was immediately a commotion among them all. Even the gouty old
lord shuffled up out of his chair, and tried, with a grin, to look
sweet and pleasant. The countess came forward, looking very sweet
and pleasant, making little complimentary speeches, to which the
viscountess answered simply by a gracious smile. Lady Clandidlem,
though she was very fat and heavy, left the viscount, and got up
to join the group. Baron Potsneuf, a diplomatic German of great
celebrity, crossed his hands upon his breast, and made a low bow.
The Honourable George, who had stood silent for the last quarter of
an hour, suggested to her ladyship that she must have found the air
rather cold; and the Ladies Margaretta and Alexandrina fluttered
up with little complimentary speeches to their dear Lady Dumbello,
hoping this and beseeching that, as though the "Woman in White"
before them had been the dearest friend of their infancy.
She was a woman in white, being dressed in white silk, with white
lace over it, and with no other jewels upon her person than diamonds.
Very beautifully she was dressed; doing infinite credit, no doubt, to
those three artists who had, between them, succeeded in turning her
out of hand. And her face, also, was beautiful, with a certain cold,
inexpressive beauty. She walked up the room very slowly, smiling here
and smiling there; but still with very faint smiles, and took the
place which her hostess indicated to her. One word she said to the
countess and two to the earl. Beyond that she did not open her lips.
All the homage paid to her she received as though it were clearly her
due. She was not in the least embarrassed, nor did she show herself
to be in the slightest degree ashamed of her own silence. She did
not look like a fool, nor was she even taken for a fool; but she
contributed nothing to society but her cold, hard beauty, her gait,
and her dress. We may say that she contributed enough, for society
acknowledged itself to be deeply indebted to her.
The only person in the room who did not move at Lady Dumbello's
entrance was her husband. But he remained unmoved from no want of
enthusiasm. A spark of pleasure actually beamed in his eye as he saw
the triumphant entrance of his wife. He felt that he had made a match
that was becoming to him as a great nobleman, and that the world was
acknowledging that he had done his duty. And yet Lady Dumbello had
been simply the daughter of a country parson, of a clergyman who had
reached no higher rank than that of an archdeacon. "How wonderfully
well that woman has educated her," the countess said that evening
in her dressing-room, to Margaretta. The woman alluded to was Mrs
Grantly, the wife of the parson and mother of Lady Dumbello.
The old earl was very cross because destiny and the table of
precedence required him to take out Lady Clandidlem to dinner. He
almost insulted her, as she kindly endeavoured to assist him in his
infirm step rather than to lean upon him.
"Ugh!" he said, "it's a bad arrangement that makes two old people
like you and me be sent out together to help each other."
"Speak for yourself," said her ladyship, with a laugh. "I, at any
rate, can get about without any assistance,"--which, indeed, was true
"It's well for you!" growled the earl, as he got himself into his
And after that he endeavoured to solace his pain by a flirtation with
Lady Dumbello on his left. The earl's smiles and the earl's teeth,
when he whispered naughty little nothings to pretty young women,
were phenomena at which men might marvel. Whatever those naughty
nothings were on the present occasion, Lady Dumbello took them all
with placidity, smiling graciously, but speaking hardly more than
Lady Alexandrina fell to Crosbie's lot, and he felt gratified that
it was so. It might be necessary for him, as a married man, to give
up such acquaintances as the de Courcys, but he should like, if
possible, to maintain a friendship with Lady Alexandrina. What a
friend Lady Alexandrina would be for Lily, if any such friendship
were only possible! What an advantage would such an alliance confer
upon that dear little girl;--for, after all, though the dear little
girl's attractions were very great, he could not but admit to himself
that she wanted a something,--a way of holding herself and of
speaking, which some people call style. Lily might certainly learn
a great deal from Lady Alexandrina; and it was this conviction,
no doubt, which made him so sedulous in pleasing that lady on the
And she, as it seemed, was well inclined to be pleased. She said no
word to him during dinner about Lily; and yet she spoke about the
Dales, and about Allington, showing that she knew in what quarters
he had been staying, and then she alluded to their last parties in
London,--those occasions on which, as Crosbie now remembered, the
intercourse between them had almost been tender. It was manifest to
him that at any rate she did not wish to quarrel with him. It was
manifest, also, that she had some little hesitation in speaking to
him about his engagement. He did not for a moment doubt that she was
aware of it. And in this way matters went on between them till the
ladies left the room.
"So you're going to be married, too," said the Honourable George, by
whose side Crosbie found himself seated when the ladies were gone.
Crosbie was employing himself upon a walnut, and did not find it
necessary to make any answer.
"It's the best thing a fellow can do," continued George; "that is, if
he has been careful to look to the main chance,--if he hasn't been
caught napping, you know. It doesn't do for a man to go hanging on by
nothing till he finds himself an old man."
"You've feathered your own nest, at any rate."
"Yes; I've got something in the scramble, and I mean to keep it.
Where will John be when the governor goes off the hooks? Porlock
wouldn't give him a bit of bread and cheese and a glass of beer to
save his life;--that is to say, not if he wanted it."
"I'm told your elder brother is going to be married."
"You've heard that from John. He's spreading that about everywhere to
take a rise out of me. I don't believe a word of it. Porlock never
was a marrying man;--and, what's more, from all I hear, I don't think
he'll live long."
In this way Crosbie escaped from his own difficulty; and when he rose
from the dinner-table had not as yet been driven to confess anything
to his own discredit.
But the evening was not yet over. When he returned to the
drawing-room he endeavoured to avoid any conversation with the
countess herself, believing that the attack would more probably come
from her than from her daughter. He, therefore, got into conversation
first with one and then with another of the girls, till at last he
found himself again alone with Alexandrina.
"Mr Crosbie," she said, in a low voice, as they were standing
together over one of the distant tables, with their backs to the rest
of the company, "I want you to tell me something about Miss Lilian
"About Miss Lilian Dale!" he said, repeating her words.
"Is she very pretty?"
"Yes; she certainly is pretty."
"And very nice, and attractive, and clever,--and all that is
delightful? Is she perfect?"
"She is very attractive," said he; "but I don't think she's perfect."
"And what are her faults?"
"That question is hardly fair, is it? Suppose any one were to ask me
what were your faults, do you think I should answer the question?"
"I am quite sure you would, and make a very long list of them, too.
But as to Miss Dale, you ought to think her perfect. If a gentleman
were engaged to me, I should expect him to swear before all the world
that I was the very pink of perfection."
"But supposing the gentleman were not engaged to you?"
"That would be a different thing."
"I am not engaged to you," said Crosbie. "Such happiness and such
honour are, I fear, very far beyond my reach. But, nevertheless, I am
prepared to testify as to your perfection anywhere."
"And what would Miss Dale say?"
"Allow me to assure you that such opinions as I may choose to express
of my friends will be my own opinions, and not depend on those of any
"And you think, then, that you are not bound to be enslaved as yet?
How many more months of such freedom are you to enjoy?"
Crosbie remained silent for a minute before he answered, and then he
spoke in a serious voice. "Lady Alexandrina," said he, "I would beg
from you a great favour."
"What is the favour, Mr Crosbie?"
"I am quite in earnest. Will you be good enough, kind enough, enough
my friend, not to connect my name again with that of Miss Dale while
I am here?"
"Has there been a quarrel?"
"No; there has been no quarrel. I cannot explain to you now why I
make this request; but to you I will explain it before I go."
"Explain it to me!"
"I have regarded you as more than an acquaintance,--as a friend. In
days now past there were moments when I was almost rash enough to
hope that I might have said even more than that. I confess that I had
no warrant for such hopes, but I believe that I may still look on you
as a friend?"
"Oh, yes, certainly," said Alexandrina, in a very low voice, and with
a certain amount of tenderness in her tone. "I have always regarded
you as a friend."
"And therefore I venture to make the request. The subject is not one
on which I can speak openly, without regret, at the present moment.
But to you, at least, I promise that I will explain it all before I
He at any rate succeeded in mystifying Lady Alexandrina. "I don't
believe he is engaged a bit," she said to Lady Amelia Gazebee that
"Nonsense, my dear. Lady Julia wouldn't speak of it in that certain
way if she didn't know. Of course he doesn't wish to have it talked
"If ever he has been engaged to her, he has broken it off again,"
said Lady Alexandrina.
"I dare say he will, my dear, if you give him encouragement," said
the married sister, with great sisterly good-nature.
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