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'Don't defend me! I had so much rather back.' go 'Of course; but you need not be a little goose. You did not come here for pleasure, but business. And is this great genius to be stifled because Alda talks a little unjustifiable nonsense?' 'Do you think Felix and Wilmet would tell me to stay?' 'Wilmet certainly would. Felix might be tempted to take his baby home to rock; but even he has sense enough to tell you that the only way to deal with such things is to brazen them out.'
'I haven't got any brass.' 'Then you must get some. Seriously, Cherry, it would be very silly to go flying home, throwing up all your opportunities, and the very thing to give some vraisemblance to Alda's accusation. If I had only been here yesterday, I'd have choked it in the throat of her, and hindered you from caring a straw; but I didn't want to meet Travis in his exies.'
'I wish you would really tell me about him-poor dear Fernan !' 'Take care! That looks suspicious. Well, poor fellow! the Mexican is strong in him. Grattez lui ever so slightly. Well for Mynheer that he is not out with him on a prairie, with a revolver! But, whereas Audley and Felix caught him in time to make a spoon out of a bowie-knife, I don't expect much to happen, beyond my distraction from his acting caged panther in my room till two o'clock that night !'
'He came here and saw her yesterday. Have you seen him since ?'
No; Edgar had kept out of the way, and would not talk of him; but stood over his sister, wishing to soothe and relieve the little thing, for whom he cared more than for all the lovers put together, and whose wan exhausted looks, visible suffering, and nervous shudders he could not bear to see. 'I wish you weren't too big for rocking, Baby,' he said. And then he sat down to the piano, playing and singing a low soft lullaby, which at last brought quiet sleep to the refreshment of the harassed mind and weary frame.
The hum of conversation in an undertone at length gradually roused her.
'The long and short of it is, that she was tired of it.'
'But she wouldn't have invented such a story.'
'I never said she invented it! She's not so stupid but that she
can put a gloss on a thing; and you know she hates to have a civil word said to any one but herself-particularly to that poor little dear.'
'Then it wasn't right to let him be always running after her.'
'Stuff! They'd been cronies ever since he was first caught; in fact, she was one of the tame elephants that licked him into shape, long before he set eyes on either of you. No stuff about it at all; they are just like brother and sister. The poor child would no more be capable of such a thing than that lay figure of hers— hasn't it in her; and for you to go and bully her !'
'Well,' in a half-puzzled, half-angered tone, that's what Alda says. She declares she only told me, and never meant me to speak to her about the cause.'
'She wanted to play off the injured heroine; and you—not being up to such delicate subtilties, walked off to speak your mind. Eh!'
'I thought I ought.'
'You put your great thumb on a poor little May-fly, just as if it had been a tortoise !'
'I'm sure I had no notion she would be so unhappy; all girls do such things; and most are proud of it. I was only disappointed to find her like the rest; but I'd no notion she would cry herself ill.'
Here Geraldine's senses became sufficiently clear to make her aware that she was the topic, and ought to rouse herself, no longer to let the discussion mingle with her dreams. With some effort she opened her eyes, and saw Edgar astride on the music-stool, and Marilda leaning on the mantel-shelf.
'I'm awake,' she drowsily said.
'To the battle over your prostrate body,' said Edgar. 'Go to sleep again, little one. Polly is very sorry, and won't do so no more.'
'She didn't say so, Edgar,' said Cherry; and if I had really done so, she ought to have been a great deal more angry with me.'
'Well, Geraldine,' said Marilda, 'I believe, whatever you did, you didn't know it; and I know I was hard on you. My father and mother don't know anything about it-only that it is off
And that they rightly ascribe to Alda's good sense,' said Edgar.
This much relieved Cherry, who had thought it impossible to remain where she was, viewed as a traitor to her own sister. It wounded her, indeed, that Marilda should merely condone the offence, instead of acquitting her; but when she recollected the probability that Marilda had suffered the like treatment from Alda, who was nevertheless loved so heartily, it began to dawn upon her that there was a disposition to view the offence as common, natural, and light, rather than not excuse the offender. She despised her cousin for lowering the standard to suit a favourite, and was sure she should never be comfortable again till she got home; but she was reasonable enough to perceive the force of what Edgar had shown her as to the folly of forsaking her studies, and abandoning the advantages offered to her; and his kindness had much cheered her; so she said no more about going home, and resumed her former habits, though feeling that Marilda's patronizing cordiality was gone, and that Alda was simply cold and indifferent.
She felt especially unwilling to face the two little girls, who seemed to have acted as false witnesses against her; but an imploring note from Robina besought her to call; and on arriving in the parlour, where interviews were allowed, she was greeted with, 'O Cherry, is it true? and was that why Alda came here ?' Then she found that they had heard from home of the rupture of the engagement; and that they had immediately connected it with Alda's extraordinary visit of the week previous.
'She came to bring us a cake,' said Robin; 'but as she never did so before, I thought something was at the bottom of it, and that she just wanted to hear more about Ferdinand and his lodgings.'
'And,' added Angel, who, if less sensible, was far before Robina in a certain irregular precocity, 'I thought I'd get a rise out of her, and chaff her a little. She used to be so savage last year, whenever Fernan treated you with common humanity.'
O Angel, how could you !'
'You don't mean that it did the harm! Bobbie said so; but I didn't think Alda could be so silly as to think it in earnest, Cherry.'
Angel, you have been playing with edge-tools.'
Cherry, tell me what you mean!' Angela pounced on both her arms, as if to shake it out of her.
'Never do such a thing again, Angel. You cannot tell what you may be doing.'
'Well, if any one could be so stupid! So dense, as not to see it was fun! Now, Robin-'
'I think,' said the practical Robin, that all you can do, is to write down a full confession that you meant to teaze Alda.'
'Yes, yes, yes,' cried Angela, with less shame than Cherry would have thought possible, 'I will! I will! and then they'll make it up. Who would have thought Alda could have been so easily taken in ? But how shall I do it unknownst to the harpies ?'
Cherry offered a pencil, and a bit of her drawing-block. She made no suggestion, thinking that the more characteristic the confession was, the more it would prove its authenticity. Angela retired into a window, and wrote, in her queer unformed hand:
I, Angela Margaret Underwood, hereby confess that whatever I told Alda, my sister, about Geraldine and F. T., was all cram ; and if I did it too well, I'm very sorry for it. F. T. didn't take a bit more notice of Cherry than of Robin and me; and of course he cannot marry the three of us and of course it was all right, for Clement was there. Ask him.
Witness my hand,
ANGELA MARGARET UNDerwood.
Then she called, 'Come and witness it, Robin.’
Nonsense,' said Robina; and coming to look, she exclaimed, ‘you have made it simply ridiculous.
This will do no good !—See,
But Cherry would not have it altered, and merely bade Robina write her testimony.
This took much longer, though the produce was much briefer. It was only
My dear Alda,
Angela was only talking nonsense the other day. If I had not thought so, I would have told you.
Your affectionate sister,
ROBINA B. UNDERWOOD.
'You've made a letter of it!' exclaimed Angela. 'I thought it was to be a last will and-no, a dying speech and confession; which is it? Well, if that does not set it all straight, I can't tell what will !'
Cherry was a good deal perplexed by the testimony now she had obtained it. She thought the matter over on her return, and ended by seeking Marilda; and with much excuse for Angela, putting it into her hands to show to Alda. She felt it due to herself to make sure that Marilda saw it, such as it was.
Marilda undertook that Alda should see it. Geraldine watched and waited. There was no apology to herself. At that she did not wonder. Was there any note of recall sounded to Ferdinand ? Was Alda proud? or was she in very truth indifferent, and unwilling to give up her excuse for a quarrel? or had she really relented, and apologized in secret ?
It was strange to know so little, and venture so much less with her own sister than could Marilda, whom, in their present stiff reserve, Cherry durst not question.
ONE morning, after a private interview with Alda, Mr. Underwood entered the drawing-room, hilariously announcing that Alda was a lucky girl this time, for now she had a man in no fear of his relations.
Geraldine was glad of the need of getting into the carriage directly, and that her transit to Mr. Renville's was too brief for any answer to be needed to her companion's warm satisfaction. Affairs of this sort had come so thickly upon the family in the course of the last eighteen months, that she did not feel the excitement of novelty; and she wished so little to dwell on the present, that at the museum, the absorbing interest of her life-study drove out the immediate recollection of the stranger life-study she had left.
There could be no question as to the veritable cause of Alda's conduct to Ferdinand; but Cherry was too much ashamed of it to