Caroline was silent, and Lady Gertrude soon after changed the subject. Had she heard no reports of Caroline’s preference of Lord Alphingham, of the affair which had somewhat hurried Mr. Hamilton’s departure from London, that conversation would have confirmed her suspicions, that her brother was no subject of indifference to Caroline. She longed for her to be candid with her, to hear the whole truth from her own lips. The happiness of the young Earl was so dear to her, that she would have done much, very much to secure it; yet so far she could not force herself to go, particularly as he had given her no charge to do so. She little knew that Caroline would have given worlds, had they been at her disposal, to have confided all to her: her repentance, her folly, her earnest prayers for amendment, to become at length worthy of St. Eval. Caroline loved, truly loved, because she esteemed, Lady Gertrude; her friendship for her differed as much from that she believed she had felt for Annie Grahame, as her regard for St. Eval was unlike that which Lord Alphingham had originated. Once, the superiority of Lady Gertrude’s character would have rendered her an object of almost dislike to Caroline, as possessing virtues she admired but would not imitate. Now those virtues were appreciated, her own inferiority was felt more painfully; and while associating with her, the recollections of the past returned more than ever, embittered by remorse. Sir George Wilmot and Lilla Grahame were also guests at Oakwood. The former declared he had seldom anchored in moorings so congenial to his taste. In Lilla the effects of happiness and judicious treatment were already distinctly visible. The young men spent the Christmas recess at home, and added much to the hilarity of their domestic circle; nor must we forget Arthur Myrvin, who spent as much of his time at Oakwood, as his duties permitted; the friendship of Herbert Hamilton doing much to remove the bitter feelings which often still possessed him. He would at first have shunned the invitation, but vainly he strove to do so; for there was one fair object there who held him with an iron chain, which excited while bound him. He could not break it asunder, though peace he felt was flying from his grasp.
“Gertrude’s letters this morning have brought her some extraordinarily agreeable tidings,” exclaimed Lady Florence Lyle, gaily, as her sister entered the breakfast-room, rather later than usual.
“On my honour, her countenance is rather a clearer index than usual to-day,” observed the Marquis, laughing. “Well, Gertrude, what is it?”
“News from Eugene,” exclaimed Lady Emily and Lord Louis in a breath; “he is going to be married. Either Miss Manvers or Miss Greville have consented to take him for better or worse,” added Lord Louis, laughing. “Gertrude, allow me to congratulate you on the gift of a new sister, who, as the wife of my right honourable brother the Earl of St. Eval, will be dearer to you than any other bearing the same relationship.”