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“Do you know, Jack,” said she again, “ he is most amusing ?” “Very probably."
“And has such a perfect accent; that sort of purring French one only hears from a Parisian."
“I am charmed to hear it."
" It charmed me to hear it, I assure you. One does so long for the sounds that recall bright scenes and pleasant people ; one has such a zest for the most commonplace things that bring back the memory of very happy days."
“What a lucky Frenchman to do all this !”
George had been several times over to inquire after him, and out of gratitude Count Pracontal,— I'm not sure that he is count though, but it is of no moment,—made it a point to come here the first day he was able to drive out. Mr. Longworth drove him over in his pony carriage, and George was so pleased with them both that he asked them to tea last evening, and they dine here to-day.”
“ Hence these decorations ?”. “ Precisely."
“What a brilliant neighbourhood we have! And there are people will tell you that this is all barbarism here.”
“Come over this evening, Jack, and hear M. Pracontal sing,—he has a delicious tenor voice,-and you'll never believe in that story of barbarism again. We had quite a little salon last night.”
“I must take your word for his attractive qualities," said Jack, as his brow contracted and his face grew darker. “I thought your brother rather stood aloof from Mr. Longworth. I was scarcely prepared to hear of his inviting him here."
“So he did ; but he found him so different from what he expected, so quiet, so well-bred, that George, who always is in a hurry to make an amend when he thinks he has wronged any one, actually rushed into acquaintance with him at once.'
“ And his sister Julia," asked Jack, with a look of impertinent irony, “was she too as impulsive in her friendship?"
“I think pretty much the same.”
“I flatter myself it was. They stayed till midnight; and M. Pracontal declared he'd break his other leg to-morrow if it would ensure him another such evening in his convalescence."
“Fulsome rascal ! I protest it lowers my opinion of women altogether when I think these are the fellows that always meet their favour."
“Women would be very ungrateful if they did not like the people who try to please them. Now certainly, as a rule, Jack, you will admit foreigners are somewhat more eager about this than you gentlemen of England.”.
6. Have you
“ I have heard about as much of this as I am likely to bear well from my distinguished stepmother," said he roughly, “ so don't push my patience further."
“ What do you say to our little salon now?” said she. ever seen ferns and variegated ivy disposed more tastefully ?”
“ I wish–I wish"-stammered he out, and then seemed unable to go on. " And what do you wish ? ”
suppose I must not say it. You might feel offended besides." “ Not a bit, Jack. I am sure it never could be your intention to offend me, and a mere blunder could not do so."
“ Well, I'll go round and tell you what it is I wish,” and with this he entered the house and passed on into the drawing-room, and taking his place at one side of the fire, while she stood at the other, said seriously, “I was wishing, Julia, that you were less of a coquette.”
“ You don't mean that ?" said she roguishly, dropping her long eyelashes, as she looked down immediately after.
“I mean it very gravely, Julia. It is your one fault; but it is an immense one."
“My dear Jack,” said she, very gravely, “you men are such churls that you are never grateful for any attempts to please you except they be limited strictly to yourselves. You would never have dared to call any little devices, by which I sought to amuse or interest you, coquetry, so long as they were only employed on your own behalf. My real offence is that I thought the world consisted of you and some others.”
“I am not your match in these sort of subtle discussions,” said he, bluntly, “but I know what I say is fact.”
“ That I'm a coquette ? " said she, with so much feigned horror that Jack could scarcely keep down the temptation to laugh.
“ Just so; for the mere pleasure of displaying some grace or some attraction, you'd half kill a fellow with jealousy, or drive him clean mad with uncertainty. You insist on admiration—or what you call · homage,' which I trust is only a French name for it,—and what's the end of it all ? You get plenty of this same homage ; but—but-never mind. I suppose I'm a fool to talk this way. You're laughing at me, besides, all this while. I see it I see it in your eyes.”
“I wasn't laughing, Jack, I assure you. I was simply thinking that this discovery-I mean of my coquetry-wasn't yours at all. Come, be frank and own it. Who told you I was a coquette, Jack ? ”
“ You regard me as too dull-witted to have found it out, do you ? "
“No, Jack. Too honest-hearted—too unsuspecting, too generous, to put an ill-construction where a better one would do as well.”
“If you mean that there are others who agree with me, you're quite right."
“ And who may they be ?” asked she, with a quiet smile. • Come, I have a right to know.” “I don't see the right.”
Certainly I have. It would be very ungenerous and very unjust to let me continue to exercise all those pleasing devices you have just stigmatized for the delectation of people who condemn them.”
“Oh, you couldn't help that. You'd do it just to amuse yourself, as I'm sure was the case yesterday, when you put forth all your captivations for that stupid old viscount.”
6. Did I?"
“I have, Jack. I have courage for even more, for I will ask you, was it not Marion said this? Was it not Marion who was so severe on all my little gracefulnesses ? Well, you need not answer if you don't like. I'll not press my question ; but own, it is not fair for Marion, with every advantage, her beauty, and her surroundings
" Her what?"
“ Well, I would not use a French word; but I meant to say, those accessories which are represented by dress, and toilette,'—not mean things in female estimation. With all these, why not have a little mercy for the poor curate's sister, reduced to enter the lists with very uncouth Weapons ?'
“ You won't deny that Ellen loves you ? " said he, suddenly.
“ I'd be sorry, very sorry, to doubt it; but she never said I was a coquette ?"
“ I'm sure she knows you are,” said he, doggedly.
“Oh, Jack, I hope this is not the way you try people on courtmartial ?"
“ It's the fairest way ever a fellow was tried ; and if one doesn't feel him guilty he'd never condemn him.”
“ I'd rather people would feel less, and think a little more, if I was to be the accused," said she, half pettishly.
“ You got that, Master Jack; that round shot was for you," said he, not without some irritation in his tone.
“Well,” said she good-humouredly, “I believe we are firing into each other this morning, and I declare I cannot see for what."
“ I'll tell you, Julia. You grew very cross with me, because I accused you of being a coquette, a charge you'd have thought pretty lightly of, if you hadn't known it was deserved.”
Might there not have been another reason for the crossness, supposing it to have existed ? ” said she quietly.
“I cannot imagine one ; at least, I can't imagine what reason you point at."
"Simply this," said she, half carelessly, “that it could have been no part of your duty to have told me so."
“ You mean that it was a great liberty on my part-an unwarrantable liberty ?”
"Something like it." “That the terms which existed between us "--and now he spoke with
a tremulous voice, and a look of much agitation—" could not have warranted my daring to point out a fault, even in your manner; for I am sure, after all, your nature had nothing to do with it ? ”
She nodded, and was silent.
“ That's pretty plain, anyhow," said he, moving towards the table, where he had placed his hat. “It's a sharp lesson to give a fellow though, all the more when he was unprepared for it.”
“ You forget that the first sharp lesson came from you."
“ All true ; there's no denying it.” He took up his hat as she spoke, and moved, half awkwardly, towards the window.
“ I had a message for you from the girls, if I could only remember it. Do you happen to guess what it was about?”
She shrugged her shoulders slightly as a negative, and was silent.
6 I'll be shot if I can think what it was," muttered he; “ the chances are, however, it was to ask you to do something or other, and as, in your present temper, that would be hopeless, it matters little that I have forgotten it."
She made no answer to this speech, but quietly occupied herself arranging a braid of her hair that had just fallen down.
“ Miss L'Estrange!” said he, in a haughty and somewhat bold tone.
“ Mr. Bramleigh,” replied she, turning and facing him with perfect gravity, though her tremulous lip and sparkling eye showed what the effort to seem serious cost her.
“ If you will condescend to be real, to be al, for about a minute and a half, it may save us, or at least one of us, a world of trouble and unhappiness."
“ It's not a very courteous supposition of yours that implies I am unreal or unnatural,” said she, calmly ; “ but no matter, go on; say what you desire to say, and you shall find me pretty attentive.”
• What I want to say is this, then,” said he, approaching where she stood, and leaning one arm on the chimney close to where her own arm was resting; “I wanted to tell—no, I wanted to ask you, if the old relations between us are to be considered as bygone ?—if I am to go away from this to-day, believing that all I have ever said to you, all that you heard -for you
did hear me, Julia ? “ Julia !” repeated she, in mock amazement. “What liberty is this, sir ?" and she almost laughed out as she spoke.
“I knew well how it would be," said he angrily. " There is a heartless levity in your nature that nothing represses. I asked you to he serious for one brief instant."
“ And you shall find that I can,” said she quickly. “ If I have not been more so hither it has been in
mercy to yourself.” “ In mercy to me? To me!
What do you mean ?”. Simply this. You came here to give me a lesson this morning. But it was at your sister's suggestion. It was her criticism that prompted you to the task. I read it all. I saw how ill-prepared you were. You have
mistaken some things, forgotten others; and, in fact, you showed me that you were far more anxious I should exculpate myself than that you yourself should be the victor. It was for this reason that I was really annoyedseriously annoyed, at what you said to me; and I called in what you are so polite as to style my levity' to help me through my difficulty. Now, however, you have made me serious enough; and it is in this mood I say, Don't charge yourself another time with such a mission. Reprove whatever you like, but let it come from yourself. Don't think lightheartedness -I'll not say levity—bad in morals, because it may be bad in taste. There's a lesson for you, sir.” And she held out her hand as if in reconciliation.
“But you haven't answered my question, Julia," said he, tremulously. - And what was your question ?”
“ I asked you if the past—if all that had taken place between us—was to be now forgotten ?”
“ I declare here is George,” said she, bounding towards the window and opening it. “What a splendid fish, George ! Did you take it yourself ?"
“Yes, and he cost me the top joint of my rod; and I'd have lost him after all if Lafferty had not waded out and landed him. I'm between two minds, Julia, whether I'll send him up to the Bramleighs.”
She put her finger to her lip to impose caution, and said, “The admiral”—the nickname by which Jack was known—" is here.”
“ All right,” replied L'Estrange. “We'll try and keep him for dinner, and eat the fish at home.” He entered as he spoke. “ Where's Jack? Didn't you say he was here?”
“ So he was when I spoke. He must have slipped away without my seeing it. He is really gone."
“I hear he is gazetted ; appointed to some ship on a foreign station. Did he tell you of it?”
“Not a word. Indeed, he had little time, for we did nothing but squabble since he came in."
“ It was Harding told me. He said that Jack did not seem overjoyed at his good luck; and declared that he was not quite sure he would accept it."
"Indeed," said she, thoughtfully.
“ That's not the only news. Colonel Bramleigh was summoned to town by a telegram this morning, but what about I didn't hear. If Harding knew-and I'm not sure that he did—he was too discreet to tell. But I'm not at the end of my tidings. It seems they have discovered coal on Lord Culduff's estate, and a great share company is going to be formed, and untold wealth to be distributed amongst the subscribers ?”
“I wonder why Jack did not tell me he was going away ?” said she.
Perhaps he does not intend to go; perhaps the colonel has gone up to try and get something better for him; perhaps"
“ Any perhaps will do, George," said she, like one willing to change the theme. “What do you say to my decorations ? Have you no compliments to make me on my exquisite taste ?”