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-if it should be so—to the opinion of those who care for you, you acquire a new right to their affection, and a stronger title to their love."

Nelly threw her arm round Julia's neck and kissed her again and again.

Yes, darling, these dear words will sink into his heart, and he will not refuse our prayer."

CHAPTER XXV.

MARION'S AMBITIONS.

COLONEL BRAMLEIGH's malady took a strange form, and one which much puzzled his physicians : his feverish symptoms gradually disappeared, and to his paroxysms of passion and excitement there now succeeded a sort of dreary apathy, in which he scarcely uttered a word, nor was it easy to say whether he heard or heeded the remarks around him. This state was accompanied by a daily increasing debility, as though the powers of life were being gradually exhausted, and that, having no more to strive for or desire, he cared no more to live.

The whole interest of his existence now seemed to centre around the hour when the post arrived. He had ordered that the letter-bag should be opened in his presence, and as the letters were shown him one by one, he locked them, unopened and unread, in a despatch-box, so far strictly obedient to the dictates of the doctor, who had forbidden him all species of excitement. His family had been too long accustomed to the reserve and distance he observed towards them to feel surprised that none were in this critical hour admitted to his confidence, and that it was in presence of his valet, Dorose, the letters were sorted and separated, and such as had no bearing on matters of business sent down to be read by the family.

It was while he continued in this extraordinary state, intermediate as it seemed between sleeping and waking, a telegram came from Sedley to Augustus, saying,—“ Highly important to see your father. Could he confer with me if I go over ? Reply at once.” The answer was,-• Unlikely that you can see him ; but come on the chance."

Before sending off this reply, Augustus had taken the telegram up to Marion's room, to ask her advice in the matter. “ You are quite right, Gusty,” said she, "for if Sedley cannot see papa, he can certainly see Lord Culduff.”

“Lord Culduff,” cried he, in amazement. “Why, what could Lord Culduff possibly know about my father's affairs? How could he be qualified to give an opinion upon them ? "

“Simply on the grounds of his great discrimination, his great acuteness, joined to a general knowledge of life, in which he has admittedly few rivals."

" Grant all that; but here are special questions, here are matters essentially personal ; and with all his lordship's tact and readiness, yet he is not one of us."

“He may be, though, and very soon too,” replied she, promptly. " What do you mean ? ” asked he, in a voice of almost dismay.

“ Just what I say, Augustus ; and I am not aware it is a speech that need excite either the amazement or the terror I see in your face at this moment.”

“I am amazed ; and if I understand you aright, I have grounds to be shocked besides."

“Upon my word," said she, in a voice that trembled with passion, “I have reason to congratulate myself on the score of brotherly affection. Almost the last words Jack spoke to me at parting were, ' For God's sake, shake off that old scamp;' and now you—that hold a very different position amongst us-you, who will one day be the head of the family, deliberately tell me you are shocked at the prospect of my being allied one of the first names in the peerage."

“My dear Marion," said he, tenderly," it is not the name, it is not the rank, I object to.”

“ Is it his fortune, then? I'm sure it can't be his abilities."

" It is neither. It is simply that the man might be your grandfather."

" Well, sir,” said she, drawing herself up, and assuming a manner of intense hauteur, “and if I–I conclude I am the person most to be consulted—if I do not regard this disparity of years as an insurmountable obstacle, by what right can one of my family presume to call it such ?”

“My dear sister," said he, “can you not imagine the right of a brother to consult for your happiness?"

Happiness is a very large word. If it were for Nelly that you were interesting yourself, I've no doubt your advice and counsel ought to have great weight; but I am not one of your love-in-a-cottage young ladies, Gusty. I am, I must own it, excessively worldly. Whatever happiness I could propose to myself in life is essentially united to a certain ambition. We have as many of the advantages of mere wealth as most people : as fino equipage, as many footmen, as good a cook, and as costly silver; and what do they do for us? They permit us simply to enter the lists with a set of people who have high-stepping horses and powdered lacqueys like ourselves, but who are no more the world, no more society, than one of papa's Indiamen is a ship of the Royal Navy. Why do I say this to you, who were at Oxford, who saw it all,—ay, and felt it all,—in those fresh years of youth when these are sharp sufferings? You know well--you told me your griefs at the time—that you were in a set without being of it;' that the stamp of inequality was as indelibly fixed upon you as though you were a corporal and wore coarse cloth. Now, these things are hard to bear for a man, for a woman they are intolerable. She has not the hundred and one careers in life in which individual distinction can obliterate the claims of station. She has but one stage—the salon ; but, to her, this narrow

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world, soft-carpeted and damask-curtained, is a very universe, and without the recognized stamp of a certain rank in it, she is absolutely nothing."

“And may not all these things be bought too dearly, Marion ? " “I don't know the price I'd call too high for them.”

“ What! Not your daily happiness ? not your self-esteem ? not the want of the love of one who would have your whole heart in his kecping ? "

“ So he may, if he can give me the rank I care for."

Oh, Marion ! I cannot think this of you,” cried he, bitterly. « That is to that

you want me to deceive you with false assurances of unbought affection and the like ; and you are angry because I will not play the hypocrite. Lord Culduff has made me an offer of his hand, and I have accepted it. You are aware that I am my own mistress. Whatever I possess, it is absolutely my own; and though I intend to speak with my father, and, if it may be, obtain his sanction, I will not say that his refusal would induce me to break off my engagement.”'

At all events, you are not yet this man's wife, Marion,” said he, with more determination than he had yet shown ; " and I forbid you positively to impart to Lord Culduff anything regarding this telegram.”

"I make no promises."

You may have no regard for the interests of your family, but possibly you will care for some of your own,” said he, fiercely. “Now, I tell you distinctly, there are very grave perils hanging over us at this moment-perils of which I cannot measure the amount nor the consequences. I can only dimly perceive the direction from which they come ; and I warn you, for your

, own sake, make no confidences beyond the bounds of your own family.”

“You are superbly mysterious, Gusty ; and if I were impressionable on this kind of matter, I half suspect you might terrify me. Papa ought to have committed a forgery, at least, to justify your dark insinuations."

" There is no question of a forgery; but there may be that which, in the end, will lead to a ruin as complete as any forgery."

“I know what you mean," said she, in a careless, easy tone ; " the bank has made use of private securities and title-deeds, just as those other people did—I forget their names—a couple of years ago.'

" It is not even that; but I repeat the consequences may be to the full as disastrous."

“ You allude to this unhappy scrape of Jack's." "I do not. I was not then thinking of it.”

" Because as to that, Lord Culduff said there never yet grew a tree where there wasn't a branch or two might be lopped off with advantage. If Jack doesn't think his station in life worth preserving, all the teaching in the world won't persuade him to maintain it."

“Poor Jack !” said he, bitterly.

Yes, I say, poor Jack ! too. I think it's exactly the epithet to apply to one whose spirit is so much beneath his condition.”

“ You are terribly changed, Marion. I do not know if you are aware of it?"

“I hope I am. I trust that I look at the events around me from a higher level than I have been accustomed to hitherto."

“ And is my father in a state to be consulted on a matter of this importance ? ” asked he, half indignantly.

“Papa has already been spoken to about it; and it is by his own desire we are both to see him this evening."

“ Am I the only one here who knew nothing of all this?"

" You should have been told formally this morning, Augustus. Lord Culduff only waited for a telegram from Mr. Cutbill to announce to you his intentions and his—hopes." A slight hesitation delayed the word.

“ These things I can't help,” said he bitterly, and as if speaking to himself. “They have been done without my knowledge, and regardless of me in every way; but I do protest, strongly protest, against Lord Culduff being introduced into matters which are purely our own.”

“I never knew till now that we had family secrets,” said she, with an insolent air.

“ You may learn it later on, perhaps, and without pleasure."

“So, then, these are the grave perils you tried to terrify me with a while ago. You forget, Augustus, that I have secured my passage in another ship. Personally, at least, I am in no danger.”

“I did forget that. I did indeed forget how completely you could disassociate yourself from the troubles of your family."

“ But what is going to happen to us? They can't shoot Jack because he called his commanding officer an ugly name. They can't indite papa because he refused to be high-sheriff. And if the world is angry with you, Gusty, it is not certainly because you like the company of men of higher station than your own.”

He flushed at the sarcasm that her speech half revealed, and turned away to hide his irritation.

“Shall I tell you frankly, Gusty,” continued she, “that I believe nothing—absolutely nothing—of these impending calamities? There is no sword suspended over us; or if there be, it is by a good strong cord, which will last our time. There are always plenty of dark stories in the City. Shares fall and great houses tumble ; but papa told me scores of times that he never put all his eggs into one basket: and Bramleigh and Underwood will be good names for many a day to come.

Shall I tell you, my dear Augustus, what I suspect to be the greatest danger that now hangs over us? And I am quite ready to admit it is a heavy one."

" What is it?"

“The peril I mean is, that your sister Nelly will marry the curate. Oh, you may look shocked and incredulous, and cry impossible, if you like; but we girls are very shrewd detectives over each other, and what I tell you is only short of certainty."

"He has not a shilling in the world ; nor has she, independently of

my father.”

“ That's the reason. That's the reason! These are the troths that are never broken. There is nothing aids fidelity like beggary.”

“He has neither friends nor patrons; he told me himself he has not the vaguest hope of advancement.”

Exactly so; and just for that they will be married! Now it reminds me," said she, aloud, “ of what papa once said to me. The man who wants to build up a name and a family, ought to have few children. With a large household, some one or other will make an unhappy alliance, and one deserter disgraces the army."

“ A grave consideration for Lord Culduff at this moment," said he, with a humourous twinkle of the eye.

“We have talked it over already,” said she.

“Once for ah, Marion, no confidences about what I have been talking of.” And so saying he went his way.

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CHAPTER XXVI.

MR. CUTBILL ARRIVES AT CASTELLO. On the eve of that day on which the conversation in the last chapter occurred, Mr. Cutbill arrived at Castello. He came full of town news: he brought with him the latest scandals of society, and the last events in politics; he could tell of what was doing in Downing Street, and what was about to be done in the City. In fact, he had the sort of budget that was sure to amuse a country audience, and yet, to his astonishment, he found none to question, none even to listen to him. Colonel Bramleigh's illness had thrown a gloom over all. The girls relieved each other in watches beside their father, and Augustus and Temple dined together alone, as Lord Culduff's gout still detained him in his room. It was as the dinner drew to its close that Mr. Cutbill was announced. “It ain't serious, I hope? I mean, they

don't think the case dangerous ? " said he, as he arranged his napkin on his knee. Augustus only shook his head in silence.

Why, what age is he? not sixty ?"
Fifty-one-fifty-two in June."

“ That's not old ; that's the prime of life, especially when a man has taken nothing out of himself.”

“He was always temperate; most temperate."

Just so : even his own choice Mouton didn't tempt him into the second bottle. I remember that well. I said to myself, “Tom Cutbill, that green seal wouldn't fare so well in your keeping. I had such a bag of news for him! All the rogueries on 'Change, fresh and fresh. I suppose it is quite hopeless to think of telling him now?"

“Not to be thought of." VOL. XVI.NO. 96.

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