The Small House at Allington/Chapter 17
Courcy Castle was very full. In the first place, there was a great gathering there of all the Courcy family. The earl was there,—and the countess, of course. At this period of the year Lady De Courcy was always at home; but the presence of the earl himself had heretofore been by no means so certain. He was a man who had been much given to royal visitings and attendances, to parties in the Highlands, to—no doubt necessary—prolongations of the London season, to sojournings at certain German watering-places, convenient, probably, in order that he might study the ways and ceremonies of German Courts,—and to various other absences from home, occasioned by a close pursuit of his own special aims in life; for the Earl De Courcy had been a great courtier. But of late gout, lumbago, and perhaps also some diminution in his powers of making himself generally agreeable, had reconciled him to domestic duties, and the earl spent much of his time at home. The countess, in former days, had been heard to complain of her lord's frequent absence. But it is hard to please some women,—and now she would not always be satisfied with his presence.
And all the sons and daughters were there,—excepting Lord Porlock, the eldest, who never met his father. The earl and Lord Porlock were not on terms, and indeed hated each other as only such fathers and such sons can hate. The Honourable George De Courcy was there with his bride, he having lately performed a manifest duty, in having married a young woman with money. Very young she was not,—having reached some years of her life in advance of thirty; but then, neither was the Honourable George very young; and in this respect the two were not ill-sorted. The lady's money had not been very much,—perhaps thirty thousand pounds or so. But then the Honourable George's money had been absolutely none. Now he had an income on which he could live, and therefore his father and mother had forgiven him all his sins, and taken him again to their bosom. And the marriage was matter of great moment, for the elder scion of the house had not yet taken to himself a wife, and the De Courcy family might have to look to this union for an heir. The lady herself was not beautiful, or clever, or of imposing manners—nor was she of high birth. But neither was she ugly, nor unbearably stupid. Her manners were, at any rate, innocent; and as to her birth,—seeing that, from the first, she was not supposed to have had any,—no disappointment was felt. Her father had been a coal-merchant. She was always called Mrs. George, and the effort made respecting her by everybody in and about the family was to treat her as though she were a figure of a woman, a large well-dressed resemblance of a being, whom it was necessary for certain purposes that the De Courcys should carry in their train. Of the Honourable George we may further observe, that, having been a spendthrift all his life, he had now become strictly parsimonious. Having reached the discreet age of forty, he had at last learned that beggary was objectionable; and he, therefore, devoted every energy of his mind to saving shillings and pence wherever pence and shillings might be saved. When first this turn came upon him both his father and mother were delighted to observe it; but, although it had hardly yet lasted over twelve months, some evil results were beginning to appear. Though possessed of an income, he would take no steps towards possessing himself of a house. He hung by the paternal mansion, either in town or country; drank the paternal wines, rode the paternal horses, and had even contrived to obtain his wife's dresses from the maternal milliner. In the completion of which little last success, however, some slight family dissent had showed itself.
The Honourable John, the third son, was also at Courcy. He had as yet taken to himself no wife, and as he had not hitherto made himself conspicuously useful in any special walk of life his family were beginning to regard him as a burden. Having no income of his own to save, he had not copied his brother's virtue of parsimony; and, to tell the truth plainly, had made himself so generally troublesome to his father, that he had been on more than one occasion threatened with expulsion from the family roof. But it is not easy to expel a son. Human fledglings cannot be driven out of the nest like young birds. An Honourable John turned adrift into absolute poverty will make himself heard of in the world,—if in no other way, by his ugliness as he starves. A thorough-going ne'er-do-well in the upper classes has eminent advantages on his side in the battle which he fights against respectability. He can't be sent to Australia against his will. He can't be sent to the poor-house without the knowledge of all the world. He can't be kept out of tradesmen's shops; nor, without terrible scandal, can he be kept away from the paternal properties. The earl had threatened, and snarled, and shown his teeth; he was an angry man, and a man who could look very angry; with eyes which could almost become red, and a brow that wrinkled itself in perpendicular wrinkles, sometimes very terrible to behold. But he was an inconstant man, and the Honourable John had learned to measure his father, and in an accurate balance.
I have mentioned the sons first, because it is to be presumed that they were the elder, seeing that their names were mentioned before those of their sisters in all the peerages. But there were four daughters,—the Ladies Amelia, Rosina, Margaretta, and Alexandrina. They, we may say, were the flowers of the family, having so lived that they had created none of those family feuds which had been so frequent between their father and their brothers. They were discreet, high-bred women, thinking, perhaps, a little too much of their own position in the world, and somewhat apt to put a wrong value on those advantages which they possessed, and on those which they did not possess. The Lady Amelia was already married, having made a substantial if not a brilliant match with Mr. Mortimer Gazebee, a flourishing solicitor, belonging to a firm which had for many years acted as agents to the De Courcy property. Mortimer Gazebee was now member of Parliament for Barchester, partly through the influence of his father-in-law. That this should be so was a matter of great disgust to the Honourable George, who thought that the seat should have belonged to him. But as Mr. Gazebee had paid the very heavy expenses of the election out of his own pocket, and as George De Courcy certainly could not have paid them, the justice of his claim may be questionable. Mrs. Gazebee was now the happy mother of many babies, whom she was wont to carry with her on her visits to Courcy Castle, and had become an excellent partner to her husband. He would perhaps have liked it better if she had not spoken so frequently to him of her own high position as the daughter of an earl, or so frequently to others of her low position as the wife of an attorney. But, on the whole, they did very well together, and Mr. Gazebee had gotten from his marriage quite as much as he expected when he made it.
The Lady Rosina was very religious; and I do not know that she was conspicuous in any other way, unless it might be that she somewhat resembled her father in her temper. It was of the Lady Rosina that the servants were afraid, especially with reference to that so-called day of rest which, under her dominion, had become to many of them a day of restless torment. It had not always been so with the Lady Rosina; but her eyes had been opened by the wife of a great church dignitary in the neighbourhood, and she had undergone regeneration. How great may be the misery inflicted by an energetic, unmarried, healthy woman in that condition,—a woman with no husband, or children, or duties, to distract her from her work—I pray that my readers may never know.
The Lady Margaretta was her mother's favourite, and she was like her mother in all things,—except that her mother had been a beauty. The world called her proud, disdainful, and even insolent; but the world was not aware that in all that she did she was acting in accordance with a principle which had called for much self-abnegation. She had considered it her duty to be a De Courcy and an earl's daughter at all times; and consequently she had sacrificed to her idea of duty all popularity, adulation, and such admiration as would have been awarded to her as a well-dressed, tall, fashionable, and by no means stupid young woman. To be at all times in something higher than they who were manifestly below her in rank,—that was the effort that she was ever making. But she had been a good daughter, assisting her mother, as best she might, in all family troubles, and never repining at the cold, colourless, unlovely life which had been vouchsafed to her.
Alexandrina was the beauty of the family, and was in truth the youngest. But even she was not very young, and was beginning to make her friends uneasy lest she, too, should let the precious season of hay-harvest run by without due use of her summer's sun. She had, perhaps, counted too much on her beauty, which had been beauty according to law rather than beauty according to taste, and had looked, probably, for too bounteous a harvest. That her forehead, and nose, and cheeks, and chin were well-formed, no man could deny. Her hair was soft and plentiful. Her teeth were good, and her eyes were long and oval. But the fault of her face was this,—that when you left her you could not remember it. After a first acquaintance you could meet her again and not know her. After many meetings you would fail to carry away with you any portrait of her features. But such as she had been at twenty, such was she now at thirty. Years had not robbed her face of its regularity, or ruffled the smoothness of her too even forehead. Rumour had declared that on more than one, or perhaps more than two occasions, Lady Alexandrina had been already induced to plight her troth in return for proffered love; but we all know that Rumour, when she takes to such topics, exaggerates the truth, and sets down much in malice. The lady was once engaged, the engagement lasting for two years, and the engagement had been broken off, owing to some money difficulties between the gentlemen of the families. Since that she had become somewhat querulous, and was supposed to be uneasy on that subject of her haymaking. Her glass and her maid assured her that her sun shone still as brightly as ever; but her spirit was becoming weary with waiting, and she dreaded lest she should become a terror to all, as was her sister Rosina, or an object of interest to none, as was Margaretta. It was from her especially that this message had been sent to our friend Crosbie; for, during the last spring in London, she and Crosbie had known each other well. Yes, my gentle readers; it is true, as your heart suggests to you. Under such circumstances Mr. Crosbie should not have gone to Courcy Castle.
Such was the family circle of the De Courcys. Among their present guests I need not enumerate many. First and foremost in all respects was Lady Dumbello, of whose parentage and position a few words were said in the last chapter. She was a lady still very young, having as yet been little more than two years married. But in those two years her triumphs had been many;—so many, that in the great world her standing already equalled that of her celebrated mother-in-law, the Marchioness of Hartletop, who, for twenty years, had owned no greater potentate than herself in the realms of fashion. But Lady Dumbello was every inch as great as she; and men said, and women also, that the daughter-in-law would soon be the greater.
"I'll be hanged if I can understand how she does it," a certain noble peer had once said to Crosbie, standing at the door of Sebright's, during the latter days of the last season. "She never says anything to any one. She won't speak ten words a whole night through."
"I don't think she has an idea in her head," said Crosbie.
"Let me tell you that she must be a very clever woman," continued the noble peer. "No fool could do as she does. Remember, she's only a parson's daughter; and as for beauty——"
"I don't admire her for one," said Crosbie.
"I don't want to run away with her, if you mean that," said the peer; "but she is handsome, no doubt. I wonder whether Dumbello likes it."
Dumbello did like it. It satisfied his ambition to be led about as the senior lacquey in his wife's train. He believed himself to be a great man because the world fought for his wife's presence; and considered himself to be distinguished even among the eldest sons of marquises, by the greatness reflected from the parson's daughter whom he had married. He had now been brought to Courcy Castle, and felt himself proud of his situation because Lady Dumbello had made considerable difficulty in according this week to the Countess De Courcy.
And Lady Julia De Guest was already there, the sister of the other old earl who lived in the next county. She had only arrived on the day before, but had been quick in spreading the news as to Crosbie's engagement. "Engaged to one of the Dales, is he?" said the countess, with a pretty little smile, which showed plainly that the matter was one of no interest to herself. "Has she got any money?"
"Not a shilling, I should think," said the Lady Julia.
"Pretty, I suppose?" suggested the countess.
"Why, yes; she is pretty—and a nice girl. I don't know whether her mother and uncle were very wise in encouraging Mr. Crosbie. I don't hear that he has anything special to recommend him,—in the way of money I mean."
"I dare say it will come to nothing," said the countess, who liked to hear of girls being engaged and then losing their promised husbands. She did not know that she liked it, but she did; and already had pleasure in anticipating poor Lily's discomfiture. But not the less was she angry with Crosbie, feeling that he was making his way into her house under false pretences.
And Alexandrina also was angry when Lady Julia repeated the same tidings in her hearing. "I really don't think we care very much about it, Lady Julia," said she, with a little toss of her head. "That's three times we've been told of Miss Dale's good fortune."
"The Dales are related to you, I think?" said Margaretta.
"Not at all," said Lady Julia, bristling up. "The lady whom Mr. Crosbie proposes to marry is in no way connected with us. Her cousin, who is the heir to the Allington property, is my nephew by his mother." And then the subject was dropped.
Crosbie, on his arrival, was shown up into his room, told the hour of dinner, and left to his devices. He had been at the castle before, and knew the ways of the house. So he sat himself down to his table, and began a letter to Lily. But he had not proceeded far, not having as yet indeed made up his mind as to the form in which he would commence it, but was sitting idly with the pen in his hand, thinking of Lily, and thinking also how such houses as this in which he now found himself would be soon closed against him, when there came a rap at his door, and before he could answer the Honourable John entered the room.
"Well, old fellow," said the Honourable John, "how are you?"
Crosbie had been intimate with John De Courcy, but never felt for him either friendship or liking. Crosbie did not like such men as John De Courcy; but nevertheless, they called each other old fellow, poked each other's ribs, and were very intimate.
"Heard you were here," continued the Honourable John; "so I thought I would come up and look after you. Going to be married, ain't you?"
"Not that I know of," said Crosbie.
"Come, we know better than that. The women have been talking about it for the last three days. I had her name quite pat yesterday, but I've forgot it now. Hasn't got a tanner; has she?" And the Honourable John had now seated himself upon the table.
"You seem to know a great deal more about it than I do."
"It is that old woman from Guestwick who told us, then. The women will be at you at once, you'll find. If there's nothing in it, it's what I call a d—— shame. Why should they always pull a fellow to pieces in that way? They were going to marry me the other day!"
"Were they indeed, though?"
"To Harriet Twistleton. You know Harriet Twistleton? An uncommon fine girl, you know. But I wasn't going to be caught like that. I'm very fond of Harriet,—in my way, you know; but they don't catch an old bird like me with chaff."
"I condole with Miss Twistleton for what she has lost."
"I don't know about condoling. But upon my word that getting married is a very slow thing. Have you seen George's wife?"
Crosbie declared that he had not as yet had that pleasure.
"She's here now, you know. I wouldn't have taken her, not if she'd had ten times thirty thousand pounds. By Jove, no. But he likes it well enough. Would you believe it now?—he cares for nothing on earth except money. You never saw such a fellow. But I'll tell you what, his nose will be out of joint yet, for Porlock is going to marry. I heard it from Colepepper, who almost lives with Porlock. As soon as Porlock heard that she was in the familyway he immediately made up his mind to cut him out."
"That was a great sign of brotherly love," said Crosbie.
"I knew he'd do it," said John; "and so I told George before he got himself spliced. But he would go on. If he'd remained as he was for four or five years longer there would have been no danger;—for Porlock, you know, is leading the deuce of a life. I shouldn't wonder if he didn't reform now, and take to singing psalms or something of that sort."
"There's no knowing what a man may come to in this world."
"By George, no. But I'll tell you what, they'll find no change in me. If I marry it will not be with the intention of giving up life. I say, old fellow, have you got a cigar here?"
"What, to smoke up here, do you mean?"
"Yes; why not? we're ever so far from the women."
"Not whilst I am occupier of this room. Besides, it's time to dress for dinner."
"Is it? So it is, by George! But I mean to have a smoke first, I can tell you. So it's all a lie about your being engaged; eh?"
"As far as I know, it is," said Crosbie. And then his friend left him.
What was he to do at once, now, this very day, as to his engagement? He had felt sure that the report of it would be carried to Courcy by Lady Julia De Guest, but he had not settled down upon any resolution as to what he would do in consequence. It had not occurred to him that he would immediately be charged with the offence, and called upon to plead guilty or not guilty. He had never for a moment meditated any plea of not guilty, but he was aware of an aversion on his part to declare himself as engaged to Lilian Dale. It seemed that by doing so he would cut himself off at once from all pleasure at such houses as Courcy Castle; and, as he argued to himself, why should he not enjoy the little remnant of his bachelor life? As to his denying his engagement to John De Courcy,—that was nothing. Any one would understand that he would be justified in concealing a fact concerning himself from such a one as he. The denial repeated from John's mouth would amount to nothing,—even among John's own sisters. But now it was necessary that Crosbie should make up his mind as to what he would say when questioned by the ladies of the house. If he were to deny the fact to them the denial would be very serious. And, indeed, was it possible that he should make such denial with Lady Julia opposite to him?
Make such a denial! And was it the fact that he could wish to do so,—that he should think of such falsehood, and even meditate on the perpetration of such cowardice? He had held that young girl to his heart on that very morning. He had sworn to her, and had also sworn to himself, that she should have no reason for distrusting him. He had acknowledged most solemnly to himself that, whether for good or for ill, he was bound to her; and could it be that he was already calculating as to the practicability of disowning her? In doing so must he not have told himself that he was a villain? But in truth he made no such calculation. His object was to banish the subject, if it were possible to do so; to think of some answer by which he might create a doubt. It did not occur to him to tell the countess boldly that there was no truth whatever in the report, and that Miss Dale was nothing to him. But might he not skilfully laugh off the subject, even in the presence of Lady Julia? Men who were engaged did so usually, and why should not he? It was generally thought that solicitude for the lady's feelings should prevent a man from talking openly of his own engagement. Then he remembered the easy freedom with which his position had been discussed throughout the whole neighbourhood of Allington, and felt for the first time that the Dale family had been almost indelicate in their want of reticence. "I suppose it was done to tie me the faster," he said to himself, as he pulled out the ends of his cravat. "What a fool I was to come here, or indeed to go anywhere, after settling myself as I have done." And then he went down into the drawing-room.
It was almost a relief to him when he found that he was not charged with his sin at once. He himself had been so full of the subject that he had expected to be attacked at the moment of his entrance. He was, however, greeted without any allusion to the matter. The countess, in her own quiet way, shook hands with him as though she had seen him only the day before. The earl, who was seated in his arm-chair, asked some one, out loud, who the stranger was, and then, with two fingers put forth, muttered some apology for a welcome. But Crosbie was quite up to that kind of thing. "How do, my lord?" he said, turning his face away to some one else as he spoke; and then he took no further notice of the master of the house. "Not know him, indeed!" Crippled though he was by his matrimonial bond, Crosbie felt that, at any rate as yet, he was the earl's equal in social importance. After that, he found himself in the back part of the drawing-room, away from the elder people, standing with Lady Alexandrina, with Miss Gresham, a cousin of the De Courcys, and sundry other of the younger portion of the assembled community.
"So you have Lady Dumbello here?" said Crosbie.
"Oh, yes; the dear creature!" said Lady Margaretta. "It was so good of her to come, you know."
"She positively refused the Duchess of St. Bungay," said Alexandrina. "I hope you perceive how good we've been to you in getting you to meet her. People have actually asked to come."
"I am grateful; but, in truth, my gratitude has more to do with Courcy Castle and its habitual inmates, than with Lady Dumbello. Is he here?"
"Oh, yes! he's in the room somewhere. There he is, standing up by Lady Clandidlem. He always stands in that way before dinner. In the evening he sits down much after the same fashion."
Crosbie had seen him on first entering the room, and had seen every individual in it. He knew better than to omit the duty of that scrutinizing glance; but it sounded well in his line not to have observed Lord Dumbello.
"And her ladyship is not down?" said he.
"She is generally last," said Lady Margaretta.
"And yet she has always three women to dress her," said Alexandrina.
"But when finished, what a success it is!" said Crosbie.
"Indeed it is!" said Margaretta, with energy. Then the door was opened, and Lady Dumbello entered the room.
There was immediately a commotion among them all. Even the gouty old lord shuffled up out of his chair, and tried, with a grin, to look sweet and pleasant. The countess came forward, looking very sweet and pleasant, making little complimentary speeches, to which the viscountess answered simply by a gracious smile. Lady Clandidlem, though she was very fat and heavy, left the viscount, and got up to join the group. Baron Potsneuf, a diplomatic German of great celebrity, crossed his hands upon his breast and made a low bow. The Honourable George, who had stood silent for the last quarter of an hour, suggested to her ladyship that she must have found the air rather cold; and the Ladies Margaretta and Alexandrina fluttered up with little complimentary speeches to their dear Lady Dumbello, hoping this and beseeching that, as though the "Woman in White" before them had been the dearest friend of their infancy.
She was a woman in white, being dressed in white silk, with white lace over it, and with no other jewels upon her person than diamonds. Very beautifully she was dressed; doing infinite credit, no doubt, to those three artists who had, between them, succeeded in turning her out of hand. And her face, also, was beautiful, with a certain cold, inexpressive beauty. She walked up the room very slowly, smiling here and smiling there; but still with very faint smiles, and took the place which her hostess indicated to her. One word she said to the countess and two to the earl. Beyond that she did not open her lips. All the homage paid to her she received as though it were clearly her due. She was not in the least embarrassed, nor did she show herself to be in the slightest degree ashamed of her own silence. She did not look like a fool, nor was she even taken for a fool; but she contributed nothing to society but her cold, hard beauty, her gait, and her dress. We may say that she contributed enough, for society acknowledged itself to be deeply indebted to her.
The only person in the room who did not move at Lady Dumbello's entrance was her husband. But he remained unmoved from no want of enthusiasm. A spark of pleasure actually beamed in his eye as he saw the triumphant entrance of his wife. He felt that he had made a match that was becoming to him as a great nobleman, and that the world was acknowledging that he had done his duty. And yet Lady Dumbello had been simply the daughter of a country parson, of a clergyman who had reached no higher rank than that of an archdeacon. "How wonderfully well that woman has educated her," the countess said that evening in her dressing-room, to Margaretta. The woman alluded to was Mrs. Grantly, the wife of the parson and mother of Lady Dumbello.
The old earl was very cross because destiny and the table of precedence required him to take out Lady Clandidlem to dinner. He almost insulted her, as she kindly endeavoured to assist him in his infirm step rather than to lean upon him.
"Ugh!" he said, "it's a bad arrangement that makes two old people like you and me be sent out together to help each other."
"Speak for yourself," said her ladyship, with a laugh. "I, at any rate, can get about without any assistance,"—which, indeed, was true enough.
"It's well for you!" growled the earl, as he got himself into his seat.
And after that he endeavoured to solace his pain by a flirtation with Lady Dumbello on his left. The earl's smiles and the earl's teeth, when he whispered naughty little nothings to pretty young women, were phenomena at which men might marvel. Whatever those naughty nothings were on the present occasion, Lady Dumbello took them all with placidity, smiling graciously, but speaking hardly more than monosyllables.
Lady Alexandrina fell to Crosbie's lot, and he felt gratified that it was so. It might be necessary for him, as a married man, to give up such acquaintances as the De Courcys, but he should like, if possible, to maintain a friendship with Lady Alexandrina. What a friend Lady Alexandrina would be for Lily, if any such friendship were only possible! What an advantage would such an alliance confer upon that dear little girl;—for, after all, though the dear little girl's attractions were very great, he could not but admit to himself that she wanted a something,—a way of holding herself and of speaking, which some people call style. Lily might certainly learn a great deal from Lady Alexandrina; and it was this conviction, no doubt, which made him so sedulous in pleasing that lady on the present occasion.
And she, as it seemed, was well inclined to be pleased. She said no word to him during dinner about Lily; and yet she spoke about the Dales, and about Allington, showing that she knew in what quarters he had been staying, and then she alluded to their last parties in London,—those occasions on which, as Crosbie now remembered, the intercourse between them had almost been tender. It was manifest to him that at any rate she did not wish to quarrel with him. It was manifest, also, that she had some little hesitation in speaking to him about his engagement. He did not for the moment doubt that she was aware of it. And in this way matters went on between them till the ladies left the room.
"So you're going to be married, too," said the Honourable George, by whose side Crosbie found himself seated when the ladies were gone. Crosbie was employing himself upon a walnut, and did not find it necessary to make any answer.
"It's the best thing a fellow can do," continued George; "that is, if I he has been careful to look to the main chance,—if he hasn't been caught napping, you know. It doesn't do for a man to go hanging on by nothing till he finds himself an old man."
"You've feathered your own nest, at any rate."
"Yes; I've got something in the scramble, and I mean to keep it. Where will John be when the governor goes off the hooks? Porlock wouldn't give him a bit of bread and cheese and a glass of beer to save his life;—that is to say, not if he wanted it."
"I'm told your elder brother is going to be married."
"You've heard that from John. He's spreading that about everywhere to take a rise out of me. I don't believe a word of it. Porlock never was a marrying man;—and, what's more, from all I hear, I don't think he'll live long."
In this way Crosbie escaped from his own difficulty; and when he rose from the dinner-table had not as yet been driven to confess anything to his own discredit.
But the evening was not yet over. When he returned to the drawing-room he endeavoured to avoid any conversation with the countess herself, believing that the attack would more probably come from her than from her daughter. He, therefore, got into conversation first with one and then with another of the girls, till at last he found himself again alone with Alexandrina.
"Mr. Crosbie," she said, in a low voice, as they were standing together over one of the distant tables, with their backs to the rest of the company, "I want you to tell me something about Miss Lilian Dale."
"About Miss Lilian Dale!" he said, repeating her words.
"Is she very pretty?"
"Yes; she certainly is pretty."
"And very nice, and attractive, and clever,—and all that is delightful? Is she perfect?"
"She is very attractive," said he; "but I don't think she's perfect."
"And what are her faults?"
"That question is hardly fair, is it? Suppose any one were to ask me what were your faults, do you think I should answer the question?"
"I am quite sure you would, and make a very long list of them, too. But as to Miss Dale, you ought to think her perfect. If a gentleman were engaged to me, I should expect him to swear before all the world that I was the very pink of perfection."
"But supposing the gentleman were not engaged to you?"
"That would be a different thing."
"I am not engaged to you," said Crosbie. "Such happiness and such honour are, I fear, very far beyond my reach. But, nevertheless, I am prepared to testify as to your perfection anywhere."
"And what would Miss Dale say?"
"Allow me to assure you that such opinions as I may choose to express of my friends will be my own opinions, and not depend on those of any one else."
"And you think, then, that you are not bound to be enslaved as yet? How many more months of such freedom are you to enjoy?"
Crosbie remained silent for a minute before he answered, and then he spoke in a serious voice. "Lady Alexandrina," said he, "I would beg from you a great favour."
"What is the favour, Mr. Crosbie?"
"I am quite in earnest. Will you be good enough, kind enough, enough my friend, not to connect my name again with that of Miss Dale while I am here?"
"Has there been a quarrel?"
"No; there has been no quarrel. I cannot explain to you now why I make this request; but to you I will explain it before I go."
"Explain it to me!"
"I have regarded you as more than an acquaintance,—as a friend. In days now past there were moments when I was almost rash enough to hope that I might have said even more than that. I confess that I had no warrant for such hopes, but I believe that I may still look on you as a friend?"
"Oh, yes, certainly," said Alexandrina, in a very low voice, and with a certain amount of tenderness in her tone. "I have always regarded you as a friend."
"And therefore I venture to make the request. The subject is not one on which I can speak openly, without regret, at the present moment. But to you, at least, I promise that I will explain it all before I leave Courcy."
He at any rate succeeded in mystifying Lady Alexandrina. "I don't believe he is engaged a bit," she said to Lady Amelia Gazebee that night.
"Nonsense, my dear. Lady Julia wouldn't speak of it in that certain way if she didn't know. Of course he doesn't wish to have it talked about."
"If ever he has been engaged to her, he has broken it off again," said Lady Alexandrina.
"I dare say he will, my dear, if you give him encouragement," said the married sister, with great sisterly good-nature.