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'I shouldn't like to be ugly,' said Stella; 'not so ugly that I couldn't bear to look at myself.
off being kind to me at home.'
But if I was, they wouldn't leave
'Nor abroad either,' said Edgar, kissing her. 'You've got the tongue that is nearly equal to the eyes, my Stella.'
Stella's simplicity might soon have been put in the way of further trials, for there was a serious proposal of adopting her in Alda's room, and promises of excellent education and an ample provision: and when Felix's decided though grateful refusal arrived, Mr. and Mrs. Underwood spoke angrily of his folly, as selfish, and almost undutiful to his father, who had freely trusted them with the two elders; but Edgar cut this short. 'No, no, my dear good governor. That won't do; Felix knows that if my father could have seen the results, he would ten times rather have let us fight it out in the Irish cabin at home.'
'I am sure,' exclaimed Mrs. Underwood, 'we have done everything for you, Edgar! It is enough to cure one of offering to do anything for any one!'
'Just what I say,' was Edgar's grave response; but he added, with his natural sweetness,' Not but that I believe, in the common herd, we should have been, if anything, worse than we are now. We brought the bad drop with us. You did not infuse it.' 'Speak for yourself, Edgar,' said Marilda, rushing to the defence, as usual.
So the family was only represented by two sisters and one brother at the wedding, which was solemnized by Mr. Murray at the parish church, and was a regular common-place smart affair, with carriages, favours, and crowds of spectators in much excitement to catch a sight of the beautiful bride.
Murrays mustered in force, and Mrs. Underwood's felicity was complete; for the titled uncle was so glad to see his Sister Mary happy about her son, that he came in full state, and made a very gratifying speech all about nothing. While Wilmet thought of her own soldier on the Neilgherry hills, and felt how widely her path and that of her twin-sister must diverge. And Mr. Underwood enjoyed the compliments to the 'more than father,' and congratulated himself on having truly done well by poor Edward's child.
'I only wish he were here to see her!' he cried with an effusion of almost tearful delight, as he handed Lady Vanderkist to her carriage.
THREE months later there was another family gathering, but it was for Thomas Underwood's funeral.
It had come very suddenly. Spa had been given up in favour of Brighton; and there what had seemed a slight casual ailment had been followed by a recurrence of the disease, and a stroke came on which terminated life in a few hours.
Mrs. Underwood was prostrated; but Marilda managed everything, with the help of Spooner, the confidential clerk. She wrote to Felix that he was joint executor with herself, and that as her father had wished to be buried at Centry, he should give orders. Edgar had gone abroad, and no one knew where to write to him.
The chosen burial-place was quite in accordance with poor Mr. Underwood's desire to restore the family. Every year he had made an effort to reside there, and been as regularly frustrated by his wife's predilection for German baths, and dislike to the Bexley neighbourhood. Hers had been the dominion of a noisy tongue, and of ready tears and reclamations, but, poor woman, she was quite passive between the two stronger spirits of her mother and her daughter, who brought her down to Centry the day before the funeral. Mrs. Kedge led her away at once to her room; but Marilda stood in the hall, excited, yet business-like, discussing arrangements with Felix, in that prompt, lucid, all-considering manner that sometimes springs out of the pressure of a great affliction, settling every detail with eager peremptoriness-as, for instance, finding that Felix had intended his brothers only to meet the procession in the grave-yard, she vehemently stipulated that
CHA". they should come to the house, and be transported in carriages like the rest. Her mother would not go, and would be left with Mrs. Kedge; but she herself was resolved on being present, with Felix for her supporter.
'You will like to have Wilmet with you?' he asked.
'I thought Wilmet would have been here now,' she said, as if disappointed.
Alda is coming by the five o'clock train; and she thought you had rather be together.'
'But you will stay?' she earnestly entreated.
Alda arrived, weeping so much that she had to be taken upstairs at once. The occupation and excitement were perhaps good for Marilda, who was in a restless tearless state, only eager to be doing something for some one. She sat at the head of the dinnertable, Mr. Spooner at the foot; but the conversation was chiefly due to the instinctive habits of good breeding belonging to Sir Adrian, whose 'go through with it' air was not unlike what he had worn at his wedding.
When the ladies went away, he inquired what was known about the will; but Felix knew nothing, and if Mr. Spooner knew, he would not say. Thereupon Sir Adrian became silent, and asked the way to the smoking-room, whither Mr. Spooner deemed it needful to follow, while Felix repaired to the drawing-room.
He thought it empty; but Alda's head looked round the tall back of an easy-chair.
'Felix, is it you? I was nearly asleep.'
'Are you tired?'
Yes, rather. It is such a shock-and my poor aunt's grief! It is so frightful to see a large person give way; it makes me quite ill. Where's Adrian ?-smoking?'
'That's man's way of getting out of trouble. If poor Marilda
'She will be calmer when the bustle is over.'
"Of the complication of business of which I have no experience, and that must be thoroughly looked into.'
Now, for my part,' said Lady Vanderkist, 'I should have expected you to be gratified at such a mark of confidence.'
'So I am, Alda. It is not want of gratitude; it is only that I wish I were better qualified.'
'You understand business.'
• Understanding my own business shows me how little I know of other people's.'
'It would not be other people's, if you take this as it is meant. There can be no doubt that he meant to pave the way. Don't look so senseless and uncompromising, Felix; you must have heard Edgar say so!'
The colour glowed into Felix's face as he answered, ‘You have not been so silly as to take Edgar's nonsense in earnest ?'
'It is absurd in you to pretend simplicity,' said Alda, sitting upright, and looking at him earnestly. Here is such an opportunity as you may never have again. This arrangement must have been made on purpose to remove all scruples.'
Nay, Alda,' interrupted Felix, in a tone of regret and shame at the subject and the time. If there were no objection, this arrangement would be the greatest in itself,' and as she looked at him incredulously, don't you see that he has set me to do a brother's part to her? anything to interfere with that would be both unfair and cruel.'
'She knows nothing of such ridiculous refinements as you work yourselves up to. Besides no one wishes you to do anything at once; only you ought to have it in your mind, and might be making way all the time.—Felix,' as she saw his face and gesture, 'you don't mean that you are so absurdly fastidious. I call that quite wrong-in your position, too-and when she is the dearest besthearted girl in the world!' added Alda, with more genuine feeling.
True, Alda; I esteem her goodness and generosity too highly to treat her with the disrespect and insincerity such a course would imply.'
'Nonsense! as if it would not be the greatest kindness to save her from fortune-hunters !'
Felix smiled. 'What should I be myself?' he said. 'I must speak plainly, to put this out of your head. Nothing else would lead me to this, and in me it would be especially abominable, because I am the only man in the family able to be of any use to her; and besides, I am not only poor, and in a lower grade, but I have so many dependent upon me.-Don't you see?'
'I only see that you are obstinate and unreasonable, throwing away all my pains to guard her for you!'
Felix could not but laugh a little ironically as he said, 'Thank you.'
'You think it mere fancy,' said Lady Vanderkist, nettled into proving her words by an exposure of herself; but she would have had that young Travis two years ago, if I had not managed to give him a hint before he got involved.'
'Alda !' He started up, and stood over her, speaking low, but with pain and horror inconceivable. Alda, if you had not told me
this, I should not have believed it. I do not believe you now.' Alda had the grace to colour violently under the force of his indignation. 'Well, well,' she said, ' of course it was not only that. No one out of a novel would be so disinterested without a little bit of infatuation besides; but it is of no use recollecting these things now, when they are gone by.'
This was so incontrovertible that Felix made no answer, and was glad that Marilda returned, trying to work off her restlessness by ringing all the possibilities of Edgar's seeing the announcement in the 'Times,' and coming home.
Felix was still too much stunned to reply freely, and took his leave as soon as possible. He walked home, finding no solace for his dismay at the usage of Ferdinand, save in plans which his better sense knew to be impracticable for bringing Ferdinand and Marilda together; but the match which might have been easily accomplished as a veritable mariage de convenance, could not be contemplated by an almost penniless clerk. Moreover, the heart had been given away, and Felix could not believe that it would be possible to turn to Marilda from one of his own graceful sisters. Even though the essential vulgarity of Alda's nature had been so painfully evident, the delicate contour of her face, her refined intonation and pronunciation, and elegance of appearance and