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How my cheek burned! What right had she to discuss the private affairs of my family with a stranger? But what right had I to listen. It was very mean, though I had done so unintentionally ; but I would hear no more. I coughedthey took no notice; I coughed louder, and spoke to myself, but still they did not observe me. I had hoped that when they found some one was in the conservatory, they would go away, and carry on their conversation elsewhere ; but as they were still unconscious of my presence, I determined to get down gently, and slip out through the door leading into the garden, if it chanced to be unfastened. This was more easily resolved on than done; and while I was descending slowly and carefully, I could not close my ears to the next few observations. "Who is the next heir !" Lady Grace inquired. "A very distant cousin, I believe.” " It seems hard,” pursued her compassionate ladyship, refectively, “that wealth should thus go to far-away kindred because the family name and dignity must be kept up. Having myself suffered from that custom, I can feel for others, However, young Trevor is not dead yet." "But there is not a chance of his recovery, dear Lady Grace,” said Mrs. Clinford, gravely, but without even an affectation of concern ;
“and now, do give me your advicefor I am in a very unpleasant dilemma. I offered to take that Edith till Mrs. Trevor should return, making sure, from what I had been told of the boy's condition, that all must have been over long ago. The General insisted on having her here, and he will have his own way sometimes, though, had I known the length of time that I should have her on my hands, I would not
have yielded to his wish on any account. We shall soon be going to town, and I suppose that she expects to go with us, taking it for granted, I dare say, that I shall bring her out, and play chaperone. If she anticipates anything of the sort, she is greatly mistaken, I can tell her ;" and in her excitement Mrs. Clinford forgot to modulate her voice, and round her phrases in the manner customary with her, and which she considered particularly elegant.
“And, considering all things, my dear, that anticipation is not so very unreasonable," returned Lady Grace, innocently. ** The late Mr. Trevor's father brought you up, did he not ? so it is natural that the child of his only son should expect some kindness in return.' It was a thoughtless speech for one woman of the world to make to another, and Lady Grace must have become suddenly reminiscent of its impropriety, for she hastily checked herself, as her companion interrupted her by exclaiming, sharply: “ Indeed, Lady Grace, I do not quite understand you. It is true, that as the old Mr. Trevor was my guardian, I, having no near relations, resided in his family. He was trustee, you know, under my father's will; but I cannot really perceive why that should give his grandchild any claim upon me.”
I felt rather grateful to my advocate for excusing my supposed presumption, though her apology was founded on the worst possible reason, that this would be an opportunity to show a grateful sense of kindness exercised towards my hostess, by my grandfather, years ago ; for, however she might speak of Mr. Trevor being a trustee, the office must have been decidedly a sinecure, as she was a portionless heiress, whom, having then, and for many years after, no child of his own, he adopted, in her infancy, because she was the daughter of one who in early life had been his friend.
“I thought there was some relationship between your young visitor and the Clinfords," observed Lady Grace.
“There certainly is a kind of cousinship, a hundred times removed, though, I believe; but the connexion, whatever it may be, is on the General's side of the house, not on mine," was Mrs. Clinford's response, in a tone that expressed how gladly she would have repudiated altogether the tie which our remote consanguinity seemed to impose on her.
Meantime, I was endeavouring to unfasten the garden door, but it was so shaded by orange-trees, that I could not see how it was secured, and my hands shook so from impatience and mortification, that I could not feel the fastenings. There was no escape then. It was impossible longer to play eaves-dropper, so I must go forward and face Mrs. Clinford, after all that I had heard,
-all that she would feel sure that I had heard, and had listened to; and what would she think of one who had acted, however unwillingly, so mean a part ? Whether I should have had courage to do so, must ever remain uncertain ; for at this moment I tried, despairingly, to force back a bolt, which, in my trepidation, I had before passed over, and in so doing, threw over, with my elbow, a garden syringe, which had been left, probably by mistake, on a ledge close by. It fell on the pavement with a great noise, while I stood horror-struck. What Mrs. Clinford fancied it might be, I do not know; but when Lady Grace uttered a cry of fear, she said, quietly, for she piqued herself on never being discomposed, “Pray do not frighten yourself, there cannot be the slightest cause for alarm. But this twilight is very mysterious, the shadows of the plants look so ghostlike, it is enough to make one nervous. I will send a servant to discover what has occasioned this extraor. dinary sound,-and as you are a connoisseur in jewellery, I must show you a porte-bouquet, that has only been sent to me from town to-day. It is really a very pretty little thing."
So they rose and went into the drawing-room, dropping after them the curtain that hung across the conservatory door. I crept stealthily to where they had been sitting, and, through an opening in the hangings, watched them cross the saloon and hall; when they were out of sight, I drew aside the drapery, and, stepping out, closed it again, and passing out by a side-door, flew up some back stairs, that I had never, until now, ascended, nearly annihilating Henriette, Miss Clinford's maid, who had been despatched by her mistress to ascertain the reason for my delay.
“ Whatever is the matter with you, Edith ?" inquired the young lady, with much irritation of manner, as, flushed and breathless, I ran into her room, and found her sitting, ready dressed, before her mirror, waiting only for the luckless flower which I still held in my hand.
“Is that poor withered thing all you could find?” she asked impatiently, as I held it out to her. And, sure enough, I had crushed it terribly, and broken some of the long, graceful, tendril-like stems.
“ What is the use of bringing me this ?” she exclaimed again, petulantly; " of course, I cannot wear it.”
“ Of course not! Oh, Dora, I am so sorry; it was so beautiful. But there is plenty more, only I cannot go for it, for your mother would see me.'
Dora panted like a thwarted child, and twisted the flowers in her fingers.
“ Just look in the glass,” I said, taking them from her, and arranging them in her hair, “are they not light and pretty?”
Really, they would suit me very well,” she answered, half smiling as she looked up at the reflection of her pretty little self. « Where do they grow Henriette, just run and see if mamma is dressed; for if she is not down yet, you may as well bring me some more, Edith. But, my dear creature, you are not dressed; do you know how late it is ?"
“ I do not mean to go down this evening, I answered,” colouring deeply.
“ Why not? What nonsense !-you must. It will seem so strange, if you don't. Mamma will wonder what whim possesses you; and Lady Grace will bore me with a thousand questions on the subject.”
Now that was not at all what I wished for; so I said, with truth, that I had a headache, and would rest for a little while ; but as I was so important an individual, I would appear for a short time by-and-by ; therefore, in answer to all anxious inquiries, she might say that I was coming.
“ Very well, I have no time to lose ; however, I wish Hen
riette would make haste—here she is. Well, is mamma ready?"
“Oui, Mademoiselle ; Madame est dans son boudoir avec Miladi Grace Lyall.”
“ Mamma in her dressing-room with Lady Grace! What can they be closeted together for? Her little ladyship is my respected parent's oracle on all matters of etiquette ; I should like to know what subtle point they are settling in this tête-àtête.'
I thought there was a lurking consciousness in Dora's manner, that proved how little enlightenment she needed concerning the affair ; but suspicion might have been groundless.
Well, Dora, what about your flowers? Would it not be as well to send word to one of the gardeners what you want."
“But I don't know the thing's name; do you?” “No; but let him have this spray.”
“ That will do. There, Henriette, a piece like that. Quick -wait for it; but be quick : comprenez-vous ?”
And, with a sign of intelligence, the waiting-maid left the room; and, to avoid being cross-questioned, i followed her, and went into my own chamber, in spite of Dora's entreaties that I would wait with her.
I wanted so much to be alone, that I might consider what was to be done; for I had already determined to go away immediately. But whither to go, was a query hard to answer. Far from home-my desolate home-I had no friends near, no acquaintances even, except Miss Gordon. Before leaving Clinford Court, she had asked me to visit her, at Stoneleigh, and though I had thanked her for the invitation, I had never dreamed of accepting it. But now-should I ask her if she could and would receive me? If I could but write first to my mother—no, I could not lose so much time; I must act for myself, and that promptly. The necessity gave me self-reliance; I would write to Miss Gordon. I sat down by the table, drew my desk towards me, and opened it. What should I say? Pressing my hand against my forehead, I thought and thought again, but to no purpose. I looked vacantly round the room, but the needful inspiration came not. I arranged my writing materials, and went so far as to trace the words,
My dear Miss Gordon ;" then stopped short, blotted the paper, and scrawled on it ; took another sheet, and began again, but procceded no farther. By chance, my eye fell on a letter of my mother's, which was lying in my desk. I instinctively took it up, opened it, and glanced over the pages. It was dated about a fortnight before, from Pau. In a postscript were the words—the cheering words now, though I had read hem with different feelings a few days ago—"We have found
a truly kird friend in Mrs. Aylmer, your godmother, dearest. She will return to England in three weeks or a month, and then she is determined, she says, to do her duty towards her godchild, by having you with her till something shall be definitely arranged about your coming to us, or our going home. You will love her dearly, my child ; and I shall rejoice to think you are in such good hands ; besides, we have already trespassed too long on the kindness of the Clinfords. You shall hear from me again before Mrs. Aylmer leaves here."
Now the doubt arose whether I ought not to wait for this promised letter. But I could not meet Mrs. Clinford again, without having taken some step towards ridding her of the burden which she found so troublesome. I was left so dependent on myself, that surely I might do whatever seemed to me to be right. But what would that be: There was but one course to pursue—to tell Miss Gordon candidly that I believed the Clinfords were tired of me, and that that alone induced me to remind her of her kindness in offering me a home for a few days, at Stoneleigh ; that as soon as a friend of my mother's, who would shortly return from abroad, should be settled in her own house, I would no longer intrude on her.
This was the substance of my note, which was straightforwardly expressed, without any attempt to gloss over the truth; for I felt that Miss Gordon would see through and despise polite conventionalities. One thing I could honestly say, that I looked forward with real pleasure to see her again.
This critical epistle having been written, sealed, and delivered to a servant, with strict injunctions to have it sent by the earliest post in the morning, I dressed hurriedly, and ran down stairs with such a feeling of relief, that I longed to tell Mrs. Clinford or Dora what I had done. The drawing-room door was open, and light figures passed and repassed, in a giddy waltz, keeping time to the lively airs of Strauss; so I stole in unperceived, and sat down by Lady Grace, who, lounging in an easy chair, beat time with her foot to the music.
Mrs. Clinford came up in a few minutes, and in passing, said, coolly, and with, I fancied, a glance of keen scrutiny,
Dora told me that you had a headache, I trust it is better now, Miss Trevor?”
"Much better, thank you," and I blushed guiltily; and, before I had recovered my composure, Lady Grace actually told me, with many embellishments, the story of her fright in the conservatory, omitting, however, to mention the result of the investigation. Then she said, looking at Miss Clinford, who wore a wreath of the same flowers as those I had chosen,
What good taste Dora has in ornaments ! the flowers in her hair are very elegant," and there seemed to be a little pecu