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   Chapter 7 WAITNG FOR ROSE

The Clever Woman of the Family By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 63159

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Not envy, sure! for if you gave me

Leave to take or to refuse

In earnest, do you think I'd choose

That sort of new love to enslave me?"-R. BROWNING.

So, instead of going to Belfast, here was Colonel Keith actually taking a lodging and settling himself into it; nay, even going over to Avoncester on a horse-buying expedition, not merely for the Temples, but for himself.

This time Rachel did think herself sure of Miss Williams' ear in peace, and came down on her with two fat manuscripts upon Human Reeds and Military Society, preluding, however, by bitter complaints of the "Traveller" for never having vouchsafed her an answer, nor having even restored "Curatocult," though she had written three times, and sent a directed envelope and stamps for the purpose. The paper must be ruined by so discourteous an editor, indeed she had not been nearly so much interested as usual by the last few numbers. If only she could get her paper back, she should try the "Englishwoman's Hobby-horse," or some other paper of more progress than that "Traveller." "Is it not very hard to feel one's self shut out from the main stream of the work of the world when one's heart is burning?"

"I think you overrate the satisfaction."

"You can't tell! You are contented with that sort of home peaceful sunshine that I know suffices many. Even intellectual as you are, you can't tell what it is to feel power within, to strain at the leash, and see others in the race."

"I was thinking whether you could not make an acceptable paper on the lace system, which you really know so thoroughly."

"The fact is," said Rachel, "it is much more difficult to describe from one's own observation than from other sources."

"But rather more original," said Ermine, quite overcome by the naivete of the confession.

"I don't see that," said Rachel. "It is abstract reasoning from given facts that I aim at, as you will understand when you have heard my 'Human Reeds,' and my other-dear me, there's your door bell. I thought that Colonel was gone for the day."

"There are other people in the world besides the Colonel," Ermine began to say, though she hardly felt as if there were, and at any rate a sense of rescue crossed her. The persons admitted took them equally by surprise, being Conrade Temple and Mr. Keith.

"I thought," said Rachel, as she gave her unwilling hand to the latter, "that you would have been at Avoncester to-day."

"I always get out of the way of horse-dealing. I know no greater bore," he answered.

"Mamma sent me down," Conrade was explaining; "Mr. Keith's uncle found out that he knew Miss Williams-no, that's not it, Miss Williams' uncle found out that Mr. Keith preached a sermon, or something of that sort, so mamma sent me down to show him the way to call upon her; but I need not stay now, need I?"

"After that elegant introduction, and lucid explanation, I think you may be excused," returned Alick Keith.

The boy shook Ermine's hand with his soldierly grace, but rather spoilt the effect thereof by his aside, "I wanted to see the toad and the pictures our Miss Williams told me about, but I'll come another time;" and the wink of his black eyes, and significant shrug of his shoulders at Rachel, were irresistible. They all laughed, even Rachel herself, as Ermine, seeing it would be worse to ignore the demonstration, said, "The elements of aunt and boy do not always work together."

"No," said Rachel; "I have never been forgiven for being the first person who tried to keep those boys in order."

"And now," said Ermine, turning to her other visitor, "perhaps I may discover which of us, or of our uncles, preached a sermon."

"Mine, I suspect," returned Mr. Keith. "Your sister and I made out at luncheon that you had known my uncle, Mr. Clare, of Bishopsworthy."

"Mr. Clare! Oh yes," cried Ermine eagerly, "he took the duty for one of our curates once for a long vacation. Did you ever hear him speak of Beauchamp?"

"Yes, often; and of Dr. Williams. He will be very much interested to hear of you."

"It was a time I well remember," said Ermine. "He was an Oxford tutor then, and I was about fourteen, just old enough to be delighted to hear clever talk. And his sermons were memorable; they were the first I ever listened to."

"There are few sermons that it is not an infliction to listen to," began Rachel, but she was not heard or noticed.

"I assure you they are even more striking now in his blindness."

"Blindness! Indeed, I had not heard of that."

Even Rachel listened with interest as the young officer explained that his uncle, whom both he and Miss Williams talked of as a man of note, of whom every one must have heard, had for the last four years been totally blind, but continued to be an active parish priest, visiting regularly, preaching, and taking a share in the service, which he knew by heart. He had, of course, a curate, who lived with him, and took very good care of him.

"No one else?" said Rachel. "I thought your sister lived at Bishopsworthy."

"No, my sister lives, or has lived, at Little Worthy, the next parish, and as unlike it as possible. It has a railroad in it, and the cockneys have come down on it and 'villafied' it. My aunt, Mrs. Lacy Clare, has lived there ever since my sister has been with her; but now her last daughter is to be married, she wishes to give up housekeeping."

"And your sister is coming to Lady Temple," said Rachel, in her peculiar affirmative way of asking questions. "She will find it very dull here."

"With all the advantages of Avoncester at hand?" inquired Alick, with a certain gleam under his flaxen eyelashes that convinced Ermine that he said it in mischief. But Rachel drew herself up gravely, and answered-

"In Lady Temple's situation any such thing would be most inconsistent with good feeling."

"Such as the cathedral?" calmly, not to say sleepily, inquired Alick, to the excessive diversion of Ermine, who saw that Rachel had never been laughed at in her life, and was utterly at a loss what to make of it.

"If you meant the cathedral," she said, a little uncertainly, recollecting the tone in which Mr. Clare had just been spoken of, and thinking that perhaps Miss Keith might be a curatolatress, "I am afraid it is not of much benefit to people living at this distance, and there is not much to be said for the imitation here."

"You will see what my sister says to it. She only wants training to be the main strength of the Bishopsworthy choir, and perhaps she may find it here."

Rachel was evidently undecided whether chants or marches were Miss Keith's passion, and, perhaps, which propensity would render the young lady the most distasteful to herself. Ermine thought it merciful to divert the attack by mentioning Mr. Clare's love of music, and hoping his curate could gratify it. "No," Mr. Keith said, "it was very unlucky that Mr. Lifford did not know one note from another; so that his vicar could not delude himself into hoping that his playing on his violin was anything but a nuisance to his companion, and in spite of all the curate's persuasions, he only indulged himself therewith on rare occasions." But as Ermine showed surprise at the retention of a companion devoid of this sixth sense, so valuable to the blind, he added-"No one would suit him so well. Mr. Lifford has been with him ever since his sight began to fail, and understands all his ways."

"Yes, that makes a great difference."

"And," pursued the young man, coming to something like life as he talked of his uncle, "though he is not quite all that a companion might be, my uncle says there would be no keeping the living without him, and I do not believe there would, unless my uncle would have me instead."

Ermine laughed and looked interested, not quite knowing what other answer to make. Rachel lifted up her eyebrows in amazement.

"Another advantage," added Alick, who somehow seemed to accept Ermine as one of the family, "is, that he is no impediment to Bessie's living there, for, poor man, he has a wife, but insane."

"Then your sister will live there?" said Rachel. "What an enviable position, to have the control of means of doing good that always falls to the women of a clerical family."

"Tell her so," said the brother, with his odd, suppressed smile.

"What, she does not think so?"

"Now," said Mr. Keith, leaning back, "on my answer depends whether Bessie enters this place with a character for chanting, croquet, or crochet. Which should you like worst, Miss Curtis?"

"I like evasions worst of all," said Rachel, with a flash of something like playful spirit, though there was too much asperity in it.

"But you see, unfortunately, I don't know," said Alick Keith, slowly. "I have never been able to find out, nor she either. I don't know what may be the effect of example," he added. Ermine wondered whether he were in mischief or earnest, and suspected a little of both.

"I shall be very happy to show Miss Keith any of my ways," said Rachel, with no doubts at all; "but she will find me terribly impeded here. When does she come?"

"Not for a month or six weeks, when the wedding will be over. It is high time she saw something of her respected guardian."

"The Colonel?"

"Yes," then to Ermine, "Every one turns to him with reliance and confidence. I believe no one in the army received so many last charges as he has done, or executes them more fully."

"And," said Ermine, feeling pleasure colour her cheek more deeply than was convenient, "you are relations."

"So far away that only a Scotsman would acknowledge the cousinship."

"But do not you call yourself Scotch?" said Ermine, who had for years thought it glorious to do so.

"My great grandfather came from Gowan-brae," said Alick, "but our branch of the family has lived and died in the -th Highlanders for so many generations that we don't know what a home is out of it. Our birthplaces-yes, and our graves-are in all parts of the world."

"Were you ever in Scotland?"

"Never; and I dread nothing so much as being quartered there. Just imagine the trouble it would be to go over the pedigree of every Keith I met, and to dine with them all upon haggis and sheeps' head!"

"There's no place I want to sea as much as Scotland," said Rachel.

"Oh, yes! young ladies always do."

"It is not for a young lady reason," said Rachel, bluntly. "I want to understand the principle of diffused education, as there practised. The only other places I should really care to see are the Grand Reformatory for the Destitute in Holland, and the Hospital for Cretins in Switzerland."

"Scotch pedants, Dutch thieves, Swiss goitres-I will bear your tastes in mind," said Mr. Keith, rising to take leave.

"Really," said Rachel, when he was gone, "if he had not that silly military tone of joking, there might be something tolerable about him if he got into good hands. He seems to have some good notions about his sister. She must be just out of the school-room, at the very turn of life, and I will try to get her into my training and show her a little of the real beauty and usefulness of the career she has before her. How late he has stayed! I am afraid there is no time for the manuscripts."

And though Ermine was too honest to say she was sorry, Rachel did not miss the regret.

Colonel Keith came the next day, and under his arm was a parcel, which was laid in little Rose's arms, and, when unrolled, proved to contain a magnificent wax doll, no doubt long the object of unrequited attachment to many a little Avoncestrian, a creature of beauteous and unmeaning face, limpid eyes, hair that could be brushed, and all her members waxen, as far as could be seen below the provisional habiliment of pink paper that enveloped her. Little Rose's complexion became crimson, and she did not utter a word, while her aunt, colouring almost as much, laughed and asked where were her thanks.

"Oh!" with a long gasp, "it can't be for me!"

"Do you think it is for your aunt?" said the Colonel.

"Oh, thank you! But such a beautiful creature for me!" said Rose, with another gasp, quite oppressed. "Aunt Ermine, how shall I ever make her clothes nice enough?"

"We will see about that, my dear. Now take her into the verandah and introduce her to Violetta."

"Yes;" then pausing and looking into the fixed eyes, "Aunt Ermine, I never saw such a beauty, except that one the little girl left behind on the bench on the esplanade, when Aunt Ailie said I should he coveting if I went on wishing Violetta was like her."

"I remember," said Ermine, "I have heard enough of that 'ne plus ultra' of doll! Indeed, Colin, you have given a great deal of pleasure, where the materials of pleasure are few. No one can guess the delight a doll is to a solitary imaginative child."

"Thank you," he said, smiling.

"I believe I shall enjoy it as much as Rose," added Ermine, "both for play and as a study. Please turn my chair a little this way, I want to see the introduction to Violetta. Here comes the beauty, in Rose's own cloak."

Colonel Keith leant over the back of her chair and silently watched, but the scene was not quite what they expected. Violetta was sitting in her "slantingdicular" position on her chair placed on a bench, and her little mistress knelt down before her, took her in her arms, and began to hug her.

"Violetta, darling, you need not be afraid! There is a new beautiful creature come, and I shall call her Colinette, and we must be very kind to her, because Colonel Keith is so good, and knows your grandpapa; and to tell you a great secret, Violetta, that you must not tell Colinette or anybody, I think he is Aunt Ermine's own true knight."

"Hush!" whispered the Colonel, over Ermine's head, as he perceived her about to speak.

"So you must be very good to her, Violetta, and you shall help me make her clothes; but you need not be afraid I ever could love any one half or one quarter as much as you, my own dear child, not if she were ten times as beautiful, and so come and show her to Augustus. She'll never be like you, dear old darling."

"It is a study," said the Colonel, as Rose moved off with a doll in either hand; "a moral that you should take home."

Ermine shook her head, but smiled, saying, "Tell me, does your young cousin know-"

"Alick Keith! Not from me, and Lady Temple is perfectly to be trusted; but I believe his father knew it was for no worse reason that I was made to exchange. But never mind, Ermine, he is a very good fellow, and what is the use of making a secret of what even Violetta knows?"

There was no debating the point, for her desire of secrecy was prompted by the resolution to leave him unbound, whereas his wish for publicity was with the purpose of binding himself, and Ermine was determined that discussion was above all to be avoided, and that she would, after the first explanation, keep the conversation upon other subjects. So she only answered with another reproving look and smile, and said, "And now I am going to make you useful. The editor of the 'Traveller' is travelling, and has left his work to me. I have been keeping some letters for him to answer in his own hand, because mine betrays womanhood; but I have just heard that he is to stay about six weeks more, and people must be put out of their misery before that. Will you copy a few for me? Here is some paper with the office stamp."

"What an important woman you are, Ermine."

"If you had been in England all this time, you would see how easy the step is into literary work; but you must not betray this for the 'Traveller's' sake or Ailie's."

"Your writing is not very womanish," said the colonel, as she gave him his task. "Or is this yours? It is not like that of those verses on Malvern hills that you copied out for me, the only thing you ever gave me."

"I hope it is more to the purpose than it was then, and it has had to learn to write in all sorts of attitudes."

"What's this?" as he went on with the paper; "your manuscript entitled 'Curatocult.' Is that the word? I had taken it for the produce of Miss Curtis's unassisted genius."

"Have you heard her use it!" said Ermine, disconcerted, having by no means intended to betray Rachel.

"Oh yes! I heard her declaiming on Sunday about what she knows no more about than Conrade! A detestable, pragmatical, domineering girl! I am thankful that I advised Lady Temple only to take the house for a year. It was right she should see her relations, but she must not be tyrannized over."

"I don't believe she dislikes it."

"She dislikes no one! She used to profess a liking for a huge Irishwoman, whose husband had risen from the ranks; the most tremendous woman I ever saw, except Miss Curtis."

"You know they were brought up together like sisters."

"All the worse, for she has the habit of passive submission. If it were the mother it would be all right, and I should be thankful to see her in good keeping, but the mother and sister go for nothing, and down comes this girl to battle every suggestion with principles picked up from every catchpenny periodical, things she does not half understand, and enunciates as if no one had even heard of them before."

"I believe she seldom meets any one who has. I mean to whom they are matters of thought. I really do like her vigour and earnestness."

"Don't say so, Ermine! One reason why she is so intolerable to me is that she is a grotesque caricature of what you used to be."

"You have hit it! I see why I always liked her, besides that it is pleasant to have any sort of visit, and a good scrimmage is refreshing; she is just what I should have been without papa and Edward to keep me down, and without the civilizing atmosphere at the park."

"Never."

"No, I was not her equal in energy and beneficence, and I was younger when you came. But I feel for her longing to be up and doing, and her puzzled chafing against constraint and conventionality, though it breaks out in very odd effervescences."

"Extremely generous of you when you must be bored to death with her interminable talk."

"You don't appreciate the pleasure of variety! Besides, she really interests me, she is so full of vigorous crudities. I believe all that is unpleasing in her arises from her being considered as the clever woman of the family; having no man nearly connected enough to keep her in check, and living in society that does not fairly meet her. I want you to talk to her, and take her in hand."

"Me! Thank you, Ermine! Why, I could not even stand her talking about you, though she has the one grace of valuing you."

"Then you ought, in common gratitude, for there is no little greatness of soul in patiently coming down to Mackarel Lane to be snubbed by one's cousin's governess's sister."

"If you will come up to Myrtlewood, you don't know what you may do."

"No, you are to set no more people upon me, though Lady Temple's eyes are very wistful."

"I did not think you would have held out against her."

"Not when I had against you? No, indeed, though I never did see anybody more winning than she is in that meek, submissive gentleness! Alison says she has cheered up and grown like another creature since your arrival."

"And Alexander Keith's. Yes, poor thing, we have brought something of her own old world, where she was a sort of little queen in her way. It is too much to ask me to have patience with these relations, Ermine. If you could see the change from the petted creature she was with her mother and husband, almost always the first lady in the place, and latterly with a colonial court of her own, and now, ordered about, advised, domineered over, made nobody of, and taking it as meekly and sweetly as if she were grateful for it! I verily believe she is! But she certainly ought to come away."

"I am not so sure of that. It seems to me rather a dangerous responsibility to take her away from her own relations, unless there were any with equal claims."

"They are her only relations, and her husband had none. Still to be under the constant yoke of an overpowering woman with unfixed opinions seems to be an unmitigated evil for her and her boys; and no one's feelings need be hurt by her fixing herself near some public school for her sons' education. However, she is settled for this year, and at the end we may decide."

With which words he again applied himself to Ermine's correspondence, and presently completed the letter, offering to direct the envelope, which she refused, as having one already directed by the author. He rather mischievously begged to see it that he might judge of the character of the writing, but this she resisted.

However, in four days' time there was a very comical twinkle in his eye, as he informed her that the new number of the "Traveller" was in no favour at the Homestead, "there was such a want of original thought in it." Ermine felt her imprudence in having risked the betrayal, but all she did was to look at him with her full, steady eyes, and a little twist in each corner of her mouth, as she said, "Indeed! Then we had better enliven it with the recollections of a military secretary," and he was both convinced of what he guessed, and also that she did not think it right to tell him; "But," he said, "there is something in that girl, I perceive, Ermine; she does think for herself, and if she were not so dreadfully earnest that she can't smile, she would be the best company of any of the party."

"I am so glad you think so! I shall be delighted if you will really talk to her, and help her to argue out some of her crudities. Indeed she is worth it. But I suppose you will hardly stay here long enough to do her any good."

"What, are you going to order me away?"

"I thought your brother wanted you at home."

"It is all very well to talk of an ancestral home, but when it consists of a tall, slim house, with blank walls and pepper-box turrets, set down on a bleak hill side, and every one gone that made it once a happy place, it is not attractive. Moreover, my only use there would be to be kept as a tame heir, the person whose interference would be most resented, and I don't recognise that duty."

"You are a gentleman at large, with no obvious duty," said Ermine, meditatively.

"What, none?" bending his head, and looking earnestly at her.

"Oh, if you come here out of duty-" she said archly, and with her merry laugh. "There, is not that a nice occasion for picking a quarrel? And seriously," she continued, "perhaps it might be good for you if we did. I am beginning to fear that I ought not to keep you lingering here without purpose or occupation."

"Fulfil my purpose, and I will find occupation."

"Don't say that."

"This once, Ermine. For one year I shall wait in the hope of convincing you. If you do not change, your mind in that time, I shall look for another staff appointment, to last till Rose is ready for me."

The gravity of this conclusion made Ermine laugh. "That's what you learnt of your chief," she said.

"There would be less difference in age," he said. "Though I own I should like my widow to be less helpless than poor little Lady Temple. So," he added, with the same face of ridiculous earnest, "if you continue to reject me yourself, you will at least rear her with an especial view to her efficiency in that capacity."

And as Rose at that critical moment looked in at the window, eager to be encouraged to come and show Colinette's successful toilette, he drew her to him with the smile that had won her whole heart, and listening to every little bit of honesty about "my work" and "Aunt Ermine's work," he told her that he knew she was a very managing domestic character, perfectly equal to the charge of both young ladies.

"Aunt Ermine says I must learn to manage, because some day I shall have to take care of papa."

"Yes," with his eyes on Ermine all the while, "learn to be a useful woman; who knows if we shan't all depend on you by-and-by?"

"Oh do let me be useful to you," cried Rose; "I could hem all your handkerchiefs, and make you a kettle-holder."

Ermine had never esteemed him more highly than when he refrained from all but a droll look, and uttered not one word of the sportive courtship that is so peculiarly unwholesome and undesirable with children. Perhaps she thought her colonel more a gentleman than she had done before, if that were possible; and she took an odd, quaint pleasure in the idea of this match, often when talking to Alison of her views of life and education, putting them in the form of what would become of Rose as Lady Keith; and Colin kept his promise of making no more references to the future. On moving into his lodgings, the hour for his visits was changed, and unless he went out to dinner, he usually came in the evening, thus attracting less notice, and moreover rendering it less easy to lapse into the tender subject, as Alison was then at home, and the conversation was necessarily more general.

The afternoons were spent in Lady Temple's service. Instead of the orthodox dowager britchska and pair, ruled over by a tyrannical coachman, he had provided her with a herd of little animals for harness or saddle, and a young groom, for whom Coombe was answerable. Mrs. Curtis groaned and feared the establishment would look flighty; but for the first time Rachel became the colonel's ally. "The worst despotism practised in England," she said, "is that of coachmen, and it is well that Fanny should be spared! The coachman who lived here when mamma was married, answered her request to go a little faster, 'I shall drive my horses as I plazes,' and I really think the present one is rather worse in deed, though not in word."

Moreover, Rachel smoothed down a little of Mrs. Curtis's uneasiness at Fanny's change of costume at the end of her first year of widowhood, on the ground that Colonel Keith advised her to ride with her sons, and that this was incompatible with weeds. "And dear Sir Stephen did so dislike the sight of them," she added, in her simple, innocent way, as if she were still dressing to please him.

"On the whole, mother," said Rachel, "unless there is more heart-break than Fanny professes, there's more coquetry in a pretty young thing wearing a cap that says, 'come pity me,' than in going about like other people."

"I only wish she could help looking like a girl of seventeen," sighed Mrs. Curtis. "If that colonel were but married, or the other young man! I'm sure she will fall into some scrape; she does not know how, out of sheer innocence."

"Well, mother, you know I always mean to ride with her, and that will be a protection."

"But, my dear, I am not sure about your riding with these gay officers; you never used to do such things."

"At my age, mother, and to take care of Fanny."

And Mrs. Curtis, in her uncertainty whether to sanction the proceedings and qualify them, or to make a protest-dreadful to herself, and more dreadful to Fanny,-yielded the point when she found herself not backed up by her energetic daughter, and the cavalcade almost daily set forth from Myrtlewood, and was watched with eyes of the greatest vexation, if not by kind Mrs. Curtis, by poor Mr. Touchett, to whom Lady Temple's change of dress had been a grievous shock. He thought her so lovely, so interesting, at first; and now, though it was sacrilege to believe it of so gentle and pensive a face, was not this a return to the world? What had she to do with these officers? How could her aunt permit it? No doubt it was all the work of his great foe, Miss Rachel.

It was true that Rachel heartily enjoyed these rides. Hitherto she had been only allowed to go out under the escort of her tyrant the coachman, who kept her in very strict discipline. She had not anticipated anything much more lively with Fanny, her boys, and ponies; but Colonel Keith had impressed on Conrade and Francis that they were their mother's prime protectors, and they regarded her bridle-rein as their post, keeping watch over her as if her safety depended on them, and ready to quarrel with each other if the roads were too narrow for all three to go abreast. And as soon as the colonel had ascertained that she and they were quite sufficient to themselves, and well guarded by Coombe in the rear, he ceased to regard himself as bound to their company, but he and Rachel extended their rides in search of objects of interest. She liked doing the honours of the county, and achieved expeditions which her coachman had hitherto never permitted to her, in search of ruins, camps, churches, and towers. The colonel had a turn for geology, though a wandering life even with an Indian baggage-train had saved him from incurring her contempt for collectors; but he knew by sight the character of the conformations of rocks, and when they had mounted one of the hills that surrounded Avonmouth, discerned by the outline whether granite, gneiss, limestone, or slate formed the grander height beyond, thus leading to schemes of more distant rides to verify the conjectures, which Rachel accepted with the less argument, because sententious dogmatism was not always possible on the back of a skittish black mare.

There was no concealing from herself that she was more interested by this frivolous military society than by any she had ever previously met. The want of comprehension of her pursuits in her mother's limited range of acquaintance had greatly conduced both to her over-weening manner and to her general dissatisfaction with the world, and for the first time she was neither succumbed to, giggled at, avoided, nor put down with a grave, prosy reproof. Certainly Alick Keith, as every one called him, nettled her extremely by his murmured irony, but the acuteness of it was diverting in such a mere lad, and showed that if he could only once be roused, he might be capable of better things. There was an excitement in his unexpected manner of seeing things that was engaging as well as provoking; and Rachel never felt content if he were at Myrtlewood without her seeing him, if only because she began to consider him as more dangerous than his elder namesake, and so assured of his position that he did not take any pains to assert it, or to cultivate Lady Temple's good graces; he was simply at home and perfectly at ease with her.

Colonel Keith's tone was different. He was argumentative where his young cousin was sarcastic. He was reading some of the books over which Rachel had strained her capacities without finding any one with whom to discuss them, since all her friends regarded them as poisonous; and even Ermine Williams, without being shaken in her steadfast trust, was so haunted and distressed in her lonely and unvaried life by the echo of these shocks to the faith of others, that absolutely as a medical precaution she abstained from dwelling on them. On the other hand Colin Keith liked to talk and argue out his impressions, and found in Rachel the only person with whom the subject could be safely broached, and thus she for the first time heard the subjects fairly handled. Hitherto she had never thought that justice was done to the argument except by a portion of the press, that drew conclusions which terrified while they allured her, whereas she appreciated the candour that weighed each argument, distinguishing principle from prejudice, and religious faith from conventional construction, and in this measurement of minds sh

e felt the strength, and acuteness of powers superior to her own. He was not one of the men who prefer unintellectual women. Perhaps clever men, of a profession not necessarily requiring constant brain work, are not so much inclined to rest the mind with feminine empty chatter, as are those whose intellect is more on the strain. At any rate, though Colonel Keith was attentive and courteous to every one, and always treated Lady Temple as a prime minister might treat a queen, his tendency to conversation with Rachel was becoming marked, and she grew increasingly prone to consult him. The interest of this new intercourse quite took out the sting of disappointment, when again Curatocult came back, "declined with thanks." Nay, before making a third attempt she hazarded a question on his opinion of female authorship, and much to her gratification, and somewhat to her surprise, heard that he thought it often highly useful and valuable.

"That is great candour. Men generally grudge whatever they think their own privilege."

"Many things can often be felt and expressed by an able woman better than by a man, and there is no reason that the utterance of anything worthy to be said should be denied, provided it is worthy to be said."

"Ah! there comes the hit. I wondered if you would get through without it."

"It was not meant as a hit. Men are as apt to publish what is not worth saying as women can be, and some women are so conscientious as only to put forth what is of weight and value."

"And you are above wanting to silence them by palaver about unfeminine publicity?"

"There is no need of publicity. Much of the best and most wide-spread writing emanates from the most quiet, unsuspected quarters."

"That is the benefit of an anonymous press."

"Yes. The withholding of the name prevents well-mannered people from treating a woman as an authoress, if she does not proclaim herself one; and the difference is great between being known to write, and setting up for an authoress."

"Between fact and pretension. But write or not write, there is an instinctive avoidance of an intellectual woman."

"Not always, for the simple manner that goes with real superiority is generally very attractive. The larger and deeper the mind, the more there would be of the genuine humbleness and gentleness that a shallow nature is incapable of. The very word humility presupposes depth."

"I see what you mean," said Rachel. "Gentleness is not feebleness, nor lowness lowliness. There must be something held back."

"I see it daily," said Colonel Keith; and for a moment he seemed about to add something, but checked himself, and took advantage of an interruption to change the conversation.

"Superior natures lowly and gentle!" said Rachel to herself. "Am I so to him, then, or is he deceiving himself? What is to be done? At my age! Such a contravention of my principles! A soldier, an honourable, a title in prospect, Fanny's major! Intolerable! No, no! My property absorbed by a Scotch peerage, when I want it for so many things! Never. I am sorry for him though. It is hard that a man who can forgive a woman for intellect, should be thrown back on poor little Fanny; and it is gratifying-. But I am untouched yet, and I will take care of myself. At my age a woman who loves at all, loves with all the gathered force of her nature, and I certainly feel no such passion. No, certainly not; and I am resolved not to be swept along till I have made up my mind to yield to the force of the torrent. Let us see."

"Grace, my dear," said Mrs. Curtis, in one of her most confidential moments, "is not dear Rachel looking very well? I never saw her dress so well put on."

"Yes, she is looking very handsome," said Grace. "I am glad she has consented to have her hair in that now way, it is very becoming to her."

"I-I don't know that it is all the hair," said the mother, faltering, as if half ashamed of herself; "but it seemed to me that we need not have been so uneasy about dear Fanny. I think, don't you? that there may be another attraction. To be sure, it would be at a terrible distance from us; but so good and kind as he is, it would be such a thing for you and Fanny as well-" Grace gave a great start.

"Yes, my dear," Mrs. Curtis gently prosed on with her speculation, "she would be a dreadful loss to us; but you see, so clever and odd as she is, and with such peculiar ideas, I should be so thankful to see her in the hands of some good, sensible man that would guide her."

"But do you really think it is so, mother?"

"Mind, my dear, it is nothing to build on, but I cannot help being struck, and just thinking to myself. I know you'll not say anything."

Grace felt much distressed after this communication had opened her eyes to certain little touches of softening and consciousness that sat oddly enough on her sister. From the first avowal of Colonel Keith's acquaintance with the Williamses, she had concluded him to be the nameless lover, and had been disappointed that Alison, so far from completing the confidence, had become more reserved than ever, leaving her to wonder whether he were indeed the same, or whether his constancy had survived the change of circumstances. There were no grounds on which to found a caution, yet Grace felt full of discomfort and distrust, a feeling shared by Alison, who had never forgiven herself for her half confidence, and felt that it would be wiser to tell the rest, but was withheld by knowing that her motive would actuate her sister to a contrary course. That Colin should detach himself from her, love again, and marry, was what Ermine schooled herself to think fitting; but Alison alternated between indignant jealousy for her sister, and the desire to warn Rachel that she might at best win only the reversion of his heart. Ermine was happy and content with his evening visits, and would not take umbrage at the daily rides, nor the reports of drawing-room warfare, and Alison often wavered between the desire of preparing her, and the doubt whether it were not cruel to inflict the present pain of want of confidence. If that were a happy summer to some at Avonmouth, it was a very trying one to those two anxious, yet apparently uninterested sisters, who were but lookers-on at the game that affected their other selves.

At length, however, came a new feature into the quiet summer life at Avonmouth. Colin looked in on Ermine one morning to announce, with shrugged shoulders, and a face almost making game of himself, that his brother was coming! Lord Keith had been called to London on business, and would extend his journey to come and see what his brother was doing.

"This comes of being the youngest of the family," observed Colin, meditatively. "One is never supposed capable of taking care of one's self. With Keith I shall be the gay extravagant young officer to the end of my days."

"You are not forgiving to your brother," said Ermine.

"You have it in your power to make me so," he said eagerly.

"Then you would have nothing to forgive," she replied, smiling.

Lady Temple's first thought was a renewal of her ardent wish that Ermine should be at Myrtlewood; and that Mackarel Lane, and the governesship should be as much as possible kept out of sight. Even Alison was on her side; not that she was ashamed of either, but she wished that Ermine should see and judge with her own eyes of Colin's conduct, and also eagerly hailed all that showed him still committed to her sister. She was proportionably vexed that he did not think it expedient to harass Ermine with further invitations.

"My brother knows the whole," he said, "and I do not wish to attempt to conceal anything."

"I do not mean to conceal," faltered Fanny, "only I thought it might save a shock-appearances-he might think better of it, if-"

"You thought only what was kind," answered the colonel, "and I thank you for it most warmly; but this matter does not depend on my brother's consent, and even if it did, Ermine's own true position is that which is most honourable to her."

Having said this, he was forced to console Fanny in her shame at her own kind attempt at this gentle little feminine subterfuge. He gratified her, however, by not interfering with her hospitable instincts of doing honour to and entertaining his brother, for whose sake her first approach to a dinner party was given; a very small one, but treated by her and her household as a far more natural occurrence than was any sort of entertainment at the Homestead. She even looked surprised, in her quiet way, at Mrs. Curtis's proffers of assistance in the et ceteras, and gratefully answered for Coombe's doing the right thing, without troubling herself further. Mrs. Curtis was less easy in her mind, her housewifely soul questioned the efficiency of her niece's establishment, and she was moreover persuaded that Lord Keith must be bent on inspecting his brother's choice, while even Rachel felt as if the toils of fate were being drawn round her, and let Grace embellish her for the dinner party, in an odd sort of mood, sometimes rejecting her attempts at decoration, sometimes vouchsafing a glance at the glass, chiefly to judge whether her looks were really as repellently practical and intellectual as she had been in the habit of supposing. The wreath of white roses, which she wore for the first time, certainly had a pleasing and softening effect, and she was conscious that she had never looked so well; then was vexed at the solicitude with which her mother looked her over, and fairly blushed with annoyance at the good lady's evident satisfaction.

But, after all, Rachel, at her best, could not have competed with the grace of the quiet little figure that received them, the rich black silk giving dignity to the slender form, and a sort of compromise between veil and cap sheltering the delicate fair face; and with a son on each side, Fanny looked so touchingly proud and well supported, and the boys were so exultant and admiring at seeing her thus dressed, that it was a very pretty sight, and struck the first arrived of her guests, Mr. Touchett, quite dumb with admiration. Colonel Hammond, the two Keiths, and their young kinsman, completed the party. Lord Keith of Gowanbrae was best described by the said young kinsman's words "a long-backed Scotchman." He was so intensely Scottish that he made his brother look and sound the same, whereas ordinarily neither air nor accent would have shown the colonel's nation, and there was no definable likeness between them, except, perhaps, the baldness of the forehead, but the remains of Lord Keith's hair were silvered red, whereas Colin's thick beard and scanty locks were dark brown, and with a far larger admixture of hoar-frost, though he was the younger by twenty years, and his brother's appearance gave the impression of a far greater age than fifty-eight, there was the stoop of rheumatism, and a worn, thin look on the face, with its high cheek bones, narrow lips, and cold eyes, by no means winning. On the other hand, he was the most finished gentleman that Grace and Rachel had ever encountered; he had all the gallant polish of manner that the old Scottish nobility have inherited from the French of the old regime-a manner that, though Colin possessed all its essentials, had been in some degree rubbed off in the frankness of his military life, but which the old nobleman retained in its full perfection. Mrs. Curtis admired it extremely as a specimen of the "old school," for which she had never ceased to mourn; and Rachel felt as if it took her breath away by the likeness to Louis XIV.; but, strange to say, Lady Temple acted as if she were quite in her element. It might be that the old man's courtesy brought back to her something of the tender chivalry of her soldier husband, and that a sort of filial friendliness had become natural to her towards an elderly man, for she responded at once, and devoted herself to pleasing and entertaining him. Their civilities were something quite amusing to watch, and in the evening, with a complete perception of his tastes, she got up a rubber for him.

"Can you bear it? You will not like to play?" murmured the colonel to her, as he rung for the cards, recollecting the many evenings of whist with her mother and Sir Stephen.

"Oh! I don't mind. I like anything like old times, and my aunt does not like playing-"

No, for Mrs. Curtis had grown up in a family where cards were disapproved, and she felt it a sad fall in Fanny to be playing with all the skill of her long training, and receiving grand compliments from Lord Keith on joint victories over the two colonels. It was a distasteful game to all but the players, for Rachel felt slightly hurt at the colonel's defection, and Mr. Touchett, with somewhat of Mrs. Curtis's feeling that it was a backsliding in Lady Temple, suddenly grew absent in a conversation that he was holding with young Mr. Keith upon-of all subjects in the world-lending library books, and finally repaired to the piano, where Grace was playing her mother's favourite music, in hopes of distracting her mind from Fanny's enormity; and there he stood, mechanically thanking Miss Curtis, but all the time turning a melancholy eye upon the game. Alick Keith, meanwhile, sat himself down near Rachel and her mother, close to an open window, for it was so warm that even Mrs. Curtis enjoyed the air; and perhaps because that watching the colonel had made Rachel's discourses somewhat less ready than usual, he actually obtained an interval in which to speak! He was going the next day to Bishops Worthy, there to attend his cousin's wedding, and at the end of a fortnight to bring his sister for her visit to Lady Temple. This sister was evidently his great care, and it needed but little leading to make him tell a good deal about her. She had, it seemed, been sent home from the Cape at about ten years old, when the regiment went to India, and her brother who had been at school, then was with her for a short time before going out to join the regiment.

"Why," said Rachel, recovering her usual manner, "you have not been ten years in the army!"

"I had my commission at sixteen," he answered.

"You are not six-and-twenty!" she exclaimed.

"You are as right as usual," was the reply, with his odd little smile; "at least till the 1st of August."

"My dear!" said her mother, more alive than Rachel to his amusement at her daughter's knowing his age better than he did himself, but adding, politely, "you are hardly come to the time of life for liking to hear that your looks deceived us."

"Boys are tolerated," he said, with a quick glance at Rachel; but at that moment something many-legged and tickling flitted into the light, and dashed over her face. Mrs. Curtis was by no means a strong-minded woman in the matter of moths and crane-flies, disliking almost equally their sudden personal attentions and their suicidal propensities, and Rachel dutifully started up at once to give chase to the father-long-legs, and put it out of window before it had succeeded in deranging her mother's equanimity either by bouncing into her face, or suspending itself by two or three legs in the wax of the candle. Mr. Keith seconded her efforts, but the insect was both lively and cunning, eluding them with a dexterity wonderful in such an apparently over-limbed creature, until at last it kindly rested for a moment with its wooden peg of a body sloping, and most of its thread-like members prone upon a newspaper, where Rachel descended on it with her pocket-handkerchief, and Mr. Keith tried to inclose it with his hands at the same moment. To have crushed the fly would have been melancholy, to have come down on the young soldier's fingers, awkward; but Rachel did what was even more shocking-her hands did descend on, what should have been fingers, but they gave way under her-she felt only the leather of the glove between her and the newspaper. She jumped and very nearly cried out, looking up with an astonishment and horror only half reassured by his extremely amused smile. "I beg your pardon; I'm so sorry-" she gasped confused.

"Inferior animals can dispense with a member more or less," he replied, giving her the other corner of the paper, on which they bore their capture to the window, and shook it till it took wing, with various legs streaming behind it. "That venerable animal is apparently indifferent to having left a third of two legs behind him," and as he spoke he removed the already half drawn-off left-hand glove, and let Rachel see for a moment that it had only covered the thumb, forefinger, two joints of the middle, and one of the third; the little finger was gone, and the whole hand much scarred. She was still so much dismayed that she gasped out the first question she had ever asked him-

"Where-?"

"Not under the handkerchief," he answered, picking it up as if he thought she wanted convincing. "At Delhi, I imagine."

At that moment, Grace, as an act of general beneficence certainly pleasing to her mother, began to sing. It was a stop to all conversation, for Mrs. Curtis particularly disliked talking during singing, and Rachel had to digest her discoveries at her leisure, as soon as she could collect herself after the unnatural and strangely lasting sensation of the solid giving way. So Grace was right, he was no boy, but really older than Fanny, the companion of her childhood, and who probably would have married her had not the general come in the way! Here was, no doubt, the real enemy, while they had all been thinking of Colonel Keith. A man only now expecting his company! It would sound more absurd. Yet Rachel was not wont to think how things would sound! And this fresh intense dislike provoked her. Was it the unsuitability of the young widow remarrying? "Surely, surely, it must not be that womanhood in its contemptible side is still so strong that I want to keep all for myself! Shame! And this may be the true life love, suppressed, now able to revive! I have no right to be disgusted, I will watch minutely, and judge if he will be a good guide and father to the boys, though it may save the colonel trouble. Pish! what have I to do with either? Why should I think about them? Yet I must care for Fanny, I must dislike to see her lower herself even in the eyes of the world. Would it really be lowering herself? I cannot tell, I must think it out. I wish that game was over, or that Grace would let one speak."

But songs and whist both lasted till the evening was ended by Lady Temple coming up to the curate with her winnings and her pretty smile, "Please, Mr. Touchett, let this go towards some treat for the school children. I should not like to give it in any serious way, you know, but just for some little pleasure for them."

If she had done it on purpose, she could not have better freshly riveted his chains. That pensive simplicity, with the smile of heartfelt satisfaction at giving pleasure to anybody, were more and more engaging as her spirits recovered their tone, and the most unsatisfactory consideration which Rachel carried away that evening was that Alexander Keith being really somewhat the senior, if the improvement in Fanny's spirits were really owing to his presence, the objection on the score of age would not hold. But, thought Rachel, Colonel Keith being her own, what united power they should have over Fanny. Pooh! she had by no means resigned herself to have him, though for Fanny's sake it might be well, and was there not a foolish prejudice in favour of married women, that impeded the usefulness of single ones? However, if the stiff, dry old man approved of her for her fortune's sake, that would be quite reason enough for repugnance.

The stiff old man was the pink of courtesy, and paid his respects in due order to his brother's friends the next day, Colin attending in his old aide-de-camp fashion. It was curious to see them together. The old peer was not at all ungracious to his brother; indeed, Colin had been agreeably surprised by an amount of warmth and brotherliness that he had never experienced from him before, as if old age had brought a disposition to cling to the remnant of the once inconveniently large family, and make much of the last survivor, formerly an undesirable youngest favourite, looked on with jealous eyes and thwarted and retaliated on for former petting, as soon as the reins of government fell from the hands of the aged father. Now, the elder brother was kind almost to patronizing, though evidently persuaded that Colin was a gay careless youth, with no harm in him, but needing to be looked after; and as to the Cape, India, and Australia being a larger portion of the world than Gowanbrae, Edinburgh, and London, his lordship would be incredulous to the day of his death.

He paid his formal and gracious visits at Myrtlewood and the Homestead, and then supposed that his brother would wish him to call upon "these unfortunate ladies." Colin certainly would have been vexed if he had openly slighted them; but Alison, whom the brothers overtook on their way into Mackarel Lane, did not think the colonel looked in the most felicitous frame of mind, and thought the most charitable construction might be that he shared her wishes that she could be a few minutes in advance; to secure that neither Rose's sports nor Colinette's toilette were very prominent.

All was right, however; Ermine's taste for the fitness of things had trained Rose into keeping the little parlour never in stiff array, but also never in a state to be ashamed of, and she herself was sitting in the shade in the garden, whither, after the first introduction, Colin and Rose brought seats; and the call, on the whole, went off extremely well. Ermine naver let any one be condescending to her, and conducted the conversation with her usual graceful good breeding, while the colonel, with Rose on his knee, half talked to the child, half listened and watched.

As soon as he had deposited his brother at the hotel, he came back again, and in answer to Ermine's "Well," he demanded, "What she thought of his brother, and if he were what she expected?"

"Very much, only older and feebler. And did he communicate his views of Mackarel Lane? I saw him regarding, me as a species of mermaid or syren, evidently thinking it a great shame that I have not a burnt face. If he had only known about Rose!"

"The worst of it is that he wants me to go home with him, and I am afraid I must do so, for now that he and I are the last in the entail, there is an opportunity of making an arrangement about the property, for which he is very anxious."

"Well, you know, I have long thought it would be very good for you."

"And when I am there I shall have to visit every one in the family;" and he looked into her eyes to see if she would let them show concern, but she kept up their brave sparkle as she still said, "You know you ought."

"Then you deliver me up to Keith's tender mercies till-"

"Till you have done your duty-and forgiven him."

"Remember, Ermine, I can't spend a winter in Scotland. A cold always makes the ball remind me of its presence in my chest, and I was told that if I spent a winter at home, it must be on the Devonshire coast."

"That ball is sufficient justification for ourselves, I allow," she said, that one little word our making up for all that had gone before.

"And meantime you will write to me-about Rose's education."

"To be sure, or what would be the use of growing old?"

Alison felt savage all through this interview. That perfect understanding and the playful fiction about waiting for Rose left him a great deal too free. Ermine might almost be supposed to want to get rid of him, and even when he took leave she only remained for a few minutes leaning her cheek on her hand, and scarcely indulged in a sigh before asking to be wheeled into the house again, nor would she make any remark, save "It has been too bright a summer to last for ever. It would be very wrong to wish him to stay dangling here. Let what will happen, he is himself."

It sounded far too like a deliberate resignation of him, and persuasion that if he went he would not return to be all he had been. However, the departure was not immediate, Lord Keith had taken a fancy to the place and scenery, and wished to see all the lions of the neighbourhood, so that there were various expeditions in the carriages or on horseback, in which he displayed his grand courtesy to Lady Temple, and Rachel enjoyed the colonel's conversation, and would have enjoyed it still more if she had not been tracing a meaning in every attention that he paid her, and considering whether she was committing herself by receiving it. She was glad he was going away that she might have time to face the subject, and make up her mind, for she was convinced that the object of his journey was to make himself certain of his prospects. When he said that he should return for the winter, and that he had too much to leave at Avonmouth to stay long away from it, there must be a meaning in his words.

Ermine had one more visit from Lord Keith, and this time he came alone. He was in his most gracious and courteous mood, and sat talking of indifferent things for some time, of his aunt Lady Alison, and of Beauchamp in the old time, so that Ermine enjoyed the renewal of old associations and names belonging to a world unlike her present one. Then he came to Colin, his looks and his health, and his own desire to see him quit the army.

Ermine assented to his health being hardly fit for the army, and restrained the rising indignation as she recollected what a difference the best surgical advice might have made ten years ago.

And then, Lord Keith said, a man could hardly be expected to settle down without marrying. He wished earnestly to see his brother married, but, unfortunately, charges on his estate would prevent him from doing anything for him; and, in fact, he did not see any possibility of his-of his marrying, except a person with some means.

"I understand," said Ermine, looking straight before her, and her colour mounting.

"I was sure that a person of your great good sense would do so," said Lord Keith. "I assure you no one can be more sensible than myself of the extreme forbearance, discretion, and regard for my brother's true welfare that has been shown here."

Ermine bowed. He did not know that the vivid carmine that made her look so handsome was not caused by gratification at his praise, but by the struggle to brook it patiently.

"And now, knowing the influence over him that, most deservedly, you must always possess, I am induced to hope that, as his sincere friend, you will exert it in favour of the more prudent counsels."

"I have no influence over his judgment," said Ermine, a little proudly.

"I mean," said Lord Keith, forced to much closer quarters, "you will excuse me for speaking thus openly-that in the state of the case, with so much depending on his making a satisfactory choice, I feel convinced, with every regret, that you will feel it to be for his true welfare-as indeed I infer that you have already endeavoured to show him-to make a new beginning, and to look on the past as past."

There was something in the insinuating tone of this speech, increased as it was by the modulation of his Scottish voice, that irritated his hearer unspeakably, all the more because it was the very thing she had been doing.

"Colonel Keith must judge for himself," she said, with a cold manner, but a burning heart.

"I-I understand," said Lord Keith, "that you had most honourably, most consistently, made him aware that-that what once might have been desirable has unhappily become impossible."

"Well," said Ermine.

"And thus," he proceeded, "that the sincere friendship with which you still regard him would prevent any encouragement to continue an attachment, unhappily now hopeless and obstructive to his prospects."

Ermine's eyes flashed at the dictation. "Lord Keith," she said, "I have never sought your brother's visits nor striven to prolong them; but if he finds pleasure in them after a life of disappointment and trouble, I cannot refuse nor discourage them."

"I am aware," said Lord Keith, rising as if to go, "that I have trespassed long on your time, and made a suggestion only warranted by the generosity with which you have hitherto acted."

"One may be generous of one's own, not of other people's," said Ermine.

He looked at her puzzled, then said, "Perhaps it will be best to speak categorically, Miss Williams. Let it be distinctly understood that my brother Colin, in paying his addresses to you, is necessarily without my sanction or future assistance."

"It might not be necessary, my lord. Good morning;" and her courteous bow was an absolute dismissal.

But when Alison came home she found her more depressed than she had allowed herself to be for years, and on asking what was the matter was answered-

"Pride and perverseness, Ailie!" then, in reply to the eager exclamation, "I believe he was justified in all he said. But, Ailie, I have preached to Colin more than I had a right to do about forgiving his brother. I did not know how provoking he can be. I did not think it was still in me to fly out as I did!"

"He had no business to come here interfering and tormenting you," said Alison, hotly.

"I dare say he thought he had! But one could not think of that when it came to threatening me with his giving no help to Colin if-There was no resisting telling him how little we cared!"

"You have not offended him so that he will keep Colin away!"

"The more he tried, the more Colin would come! No, I am not sorry for having offended him. I don't mind him; but Ailie, how little one knows! All the angry and bitter feelings that I thought burnt out for ever when I lay waiting for death, are stirred up as hotly as they were long ago. The old self is here as strong as ever! Ailie, don't tell Colin about this; but to-morrow is a saint's day, and would you see Mr. Touchett, and try to arrange for me to go to the early service? I think then I might better be helped to conquer this."

"But, Ermine, how can you? Eight o'clock, you know."

"Yes, dearest, it will give you a great deal of trouble, but you never mind that, you know; and I am so much stronger than I used to be, that you need not fear. Besides, I want help so much! And it is the day Colin goes away!"

Alison obeyed, as she always obeyed her sister; and Lord Keith, taking his constitutional turn before breakfast on the esplanade, was met by what he so little expected to encounter that he had not time to get out of the way-a Bath chair with Alison walking on one side, his brother on the other. He bowed coldly, but Ermine held out her hand, and he was obliged to come near.

"I am glad to have met you," she said.

"I am glad to see you out so early," he answered, confused.

"This is an exception," she said, smiling and really looking beautiful. "Good-bye, I have thought over what passed yesterday, and I believe we are more agreed than perhaps I gave you reason to think."

There was a queenly air of dignified exchange of pardon in her manner of giving her hand and bending her head as she again said "Good-bye," and signed to her driver to move on.

Lord Keith could only say "Good-bye;" then, looking after her, muttered, "After all, that is a remarkable woman."

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