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ability. He had shed his school-boy slough; and he had moreover adopted the Underwoods, and for the first time learnt what an appreciative woman could be.
His poem of this year was so good, that Lance and Robin thought Felix shockingly blind because he refused to put it bodily into the Pursuivant, though allowing that it was much better than anything that would appear instead; and short pieces that the lad was continually striking off were only too good for the poet's corner, where, however, they gave an infinity of pleasure and satisfaction to two households at least. The poet-March Hare, as he signed himself was an odd mixture of his father's scholarly tastes with his mother's harum-scarum forgetfulness; and the consequence was such abstraction at one moment, such slap-dash action at another, that he was a continual good-natured laughing-stock. To talk and read to Cherry seemed to be one of his great objects in life. He began it with Robina; but gradually Cherry, partly as critic and sub-editor of the Pursuivant, partly on her own merits, became the recipient of ten thousand visions, reflections, aspirations, that were crowding upon the young spirit, while she tried to follow, understand, and answer, with a sense that her powers were being stretched, and her eyes opened into new regions.
And then, if a stranger appeared, he sank into the red-headed lout; or if he had a message or commission, he treated it senselessly. Lance used to send Bernard up—as he said, to see him into the right train; and in the home party in the evening, his wit and drollery were the cause of inexhaustible mirth-Willie, as Robin and Angela agreed, was better fun than all the weddings, and even all the sights that London could give. Sometimes they were weary with laughing at him, sometimes with the lift he gave their minds; for even Angel understood and followed, and was more susceptible than her elders gave her credit for; and certainly she had never been so good as she was this summer, though it was still a flighty odd sort of goodness.
And all this time there was not a word between him and Robin of that evening walk. Whether he thought of it or not she knew not; but with her the recollection had a strength that the moment had not had. It seemed to be growing up with her. It was a memory that went deeper-far deeper than was good for her, poor
child, since there was no surface chatter to carry it off; but the maidenliness of fifteen shrank with a sort of horror and dismay from the bare consciousness that she had allowed herself to think that those words of his could be serious, even while they had formed in her a fixed purpose of striving for him; and every mark of kindness or of preference assumed a value unspeakable and beyond her years, while her whole self was so entirely the good, plodding, sensible, simple child, that no one detected the romance beneath. Did the object of it, himself?
Meantime Wilmet had found Alda much gratified by her reception at the Rectory, though confessing that she was glad that it was not in her immediate neighbourhood. Lady Mary Murray belonged to a severe school of religious opinions, and was antagonistic to gaiety and ornament, both secular and ecclesiastic. What effect they and Clement might have mutually had upon each other was not proved, for he had found a pupil, and was far away; but as Alda herself owned, Wilmet would have been the daughterin-law to suit them.
Wilmet and Marilda were very congenial in their housewifely tastes and absence of romance, and above all, in a warm and resolutely blind love for Alda, never discussing the past, and occupied upon the trousseau, without an arrière pensée.
Sir Adrian was civil to Wilmet, but he never would acknowledge the resemblance between the twin-sisters; and as Wilmet wore no earrings, and kept her hair in the simple style that John Harewood had once pronounced perfect, he had only once been confused between them, and then was so annoyed, that Edgar said he was like a virtuoso, who having secured some unique specimen, finds the charm of possession injured by the existence of a duplicate.
Even in the Murray family there might be those who questioned whether the beauty were equal. Either the smooth folds and plaits of the rich brown hair pleased a homely taste better than fanciful varieties, or housewifery and early hours were better preservatives than London seasons; or maybe the stately sweetness of the original mould was better and more congenially maintained in the life of the true 'loaf-giver or lady' of the laborious thrifty home than in the luxurious dependence of the alien house, and the schemes, disappointments, and successes of the late campaign.
At any rate, at three-and-twenty the twins were less alike than of old; and if Alda had the advantage in the graces of art and society, Wilmet had a purity of bloom and nobleness of countenance that she could not equal. If Wilmet were silent, and by no means so entertaining as Geraldine, her little companion thoroughly compensated for any deficiencies. Every one was taken by surprise by Stella's beauty, after the three intermediate sisters, who had little pretensions to anything remarkable in that line. The child was of the same small delicate frame as Cherry and Lance; in fact, much what Cherry might have been with more health and less genius to change those delicately-moulded features and countenance. The colouring of the blue eyes and silken hair was rather deeper than the prevailing tint, and the complexion was of the most exquisite rosy fairness and delicacy, giving a sense of the most delicate porcelain the movements and gestures perfectly graceful, and the innocent chatter delightful, from its eagerness and simplicity. She was in every one's eyes an extraordinarily lovely and engaging child; and she could have reigned supreme over the whole house if she had ever perceived her power, or emancipated herself from her loyal submission to 'Sister.'
Many a time did Wilmet's restrictions vex her hosts, and call forth Edgar's epithets of dragon and Medusa. Luckily the child was of the faithful spirit that honestly trusts its lawful authorities, fears forbidden sweets, and feels full compensation in the pleasure of obedience. One day, when a refusal to take her to the theatre had caused great indignation, Sir Adrian, who was by no means insensible to her charms, enlivened an idle moment by trying to excite her to rebel.
'I would not stand it, Stella—not I! Tell her stars have no business to be hidden.'
'It's no use,' said Stella. Sister says when once she says No, it is for always.'
• How very dreadful! She must be cured as soon as possible!' Stella looked greatly perplexed; and Edgar, the only other person present, looked on in great amusement.
'Let us organise a combination,' continued Sir Adrian. 'What should we come to, if women were allowed to keep to a single No?' 'Which would be the greatest sufferers?' muttered Edgar.
'It would be very nasty if Sister didn't,' said Stella, understanding him verbally more nearly than he had expected.
'Indeed!' said Sir Adrian.
'Yes. One would never know when to make up one's mind.' 'One's mind! You little china fairy, have you got the mind of a midge ?'
'Yes, I have!' said Stella, with an emphasis that Edgar at least understood as an allusion to the difference between herself and Theodore; and a little in fear of what might come next, he said, 'Mind enough to assert her woman's privilege, though how she may come to like to be bound by it is another thing.'
'Look here, little one,' continued Sir Adrian, we'll not let Sister alone till she comes round, and then I'll put you in my pocket and take you.'
Come, now; I'd give something to know where, in her secret soul, this little thing would like to send all the sisters that know best?'
To the Neilgherry Hills,' said Stella, with surprising promptness; that's where Captain Jack is!'
A capital location!' cried the baronet, laughing triumphantly. 'Well done, little one! Send her off-and then we'll have pineapple ice, and smart frocks, and go to as many plays as we please! You know what it means to have the cat away.'
'That was what Bernard said when Wilmet was away, and Alda at home,' said Stella; but it was very miserable. It was the very horridest portion in the whole course of our lives!'
'Long may it so continue, Stella,' said Edgar. 'You'll get no change out of her, Vanderkist.'
'It's an odd little piece of goods. I can't make out if it is a child at all,' said Sir Adrian. 'I can't believe it is more than drilling. -Now, my little beauty-no one will tell-walls can't hearhonour bright--which are you for in your heart of hearts-Sister Wilmet and propriety, or Alda and—liberty ?'
Edgar listened curiously; but Stella had that good genius of tact and courtesy that sometimes inspires children; and she made
answer, 'Wilmet is my own dear sister, and I am very glad it is Alda that you have got.'
'Well said, you little ingenious morsel !' cried Edgar, laughing with delight, and catching her up in his arms. 'What does nature design this little being for, Adrian? To marry a great diplomate?'
'To do execution of some sort, I should say,' returned Sir Adrian; 'unless such alarming discretion cancels the effect of those eyes. Never saw a pair more meant to make hearts ache,' and he sauntered out of the room.
'Why, what now, you star of courtesy? has he kindled the spark of vanity at last, that you are craning over to the big pier-glass— eh?' said Edgar, with his little sister still in his arms.
'I only want to see what he means that is so horrid in my eyes,' said Stella; 'please show me, Edgar. How can they hurt people so?'
'It's a way they have, Stella,' he gravely answered, 'when they are clear, and blue, and big-pupilled, and have great long black lashes.' And he looked with proud pleasure at the reflection of the sweet little puzzled face beside his own brown beard.
፡ But your eyes are just like that, Edgar; and so are everybody's, aren't they? Why do you laugh, Edgar? I wish I could go home, for I don't understand any of you.'
'So much the better, Sister would say. I declare, I must risk it, and see the effect. I say, Stella, don't you know that you're a little beauty, that they are all raving about? There !'
'Oh yes,' said Stella composedly; 'I know people always do like things for being little, and young, and pretty. And then they don't see Tedo, and he is so much prettier than me, you know.'
'You impracticable child! What! have you no shade of a notion that it is a fine thing to have such a phiz as that one? Did you never thank your stars that you weren't as ugly as Martha ?'
'Do you worship the stars, Edgar? For I heard Clem say you were very little better than a heathen; and I suppose worshipping the stars is better than worshipping idols.'
Is that malice, or simplicity-eh? Never mind my creed. You are my sister at this moment, and are to answer me truly. Do you know that you are a beauty? and are you glad of it?'