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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 538 pages of information about Clever Woman of the Family.

“I do not see that,” said Rachel, feeling the need of decision in order to reassure her mother; “it is very sad and distressing in some ways, but no one can look at Miss Williams without seeing that his return has done her a great deal of good; and whether they marry or not, one can only be full of admiration and respect for them.”

“Yes, yes,” faltered Mrs. Curtis; “only I must say I think it was due to us to have mentioned it sooner.”

“Not at all, mother.  Fanny knew it, and it was nobody’s concern but hers.  Pray am I to have Owen’s ’Palaeontology’?”

“No, Colonel Keith bought that, and some more of the solid books.  My dear, he is going to settle here; he tells me he has actually bought that house he and his brother are in.”

“Bought it!”

“Yes; he says, any way, his object is to be near Miss Williams.  Well, I cannot think how it is to end, so near the title as he is, and her sister a governess, and then that dreadful business about her brother, and the little girl upon her hands.  Dear me, I wish Fanny had any one else for a governess.”

“So do not I,” said Rachel.  “I have the greatest possible admiration for Ermine Williams, and I do not know which I esteem most, her for her brave, cheerful, unrepining unselfishness, or him for his constancy and superiority to all those trumpery considerations.  I am glad to have the watching of them.  I honour them both.”

Yes, and Rachel honoured herself still more for being able to speak all this freely and truly out of the innermost depths of her candid heart.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE GOWANBRAE BALL.

              “Your honour’s pardon,
 I’d rather have my wounds to heal again,
 Than hear say how I got them.”—­Coriolanus.

“Yes, I go the week after next.”

“So soon?  I thought you were to stay for our ball.”

“Till this time next year!  No, no, I can’t quite do that, thank you.”

“This very winter.”

“Oh, no—­no such thing!  Why, half the beauty and fashion of the neighbourhood is not come into winter quarters yet.  Besides, the very essence of a military ball is that it should be a parting—­the brightest and the last.  Good morning.”

And Meg’s head, nothing loth, was turned away from the wide view of the broad vale of the Avon, with the Avoncester Cathedral towers in the midst, and the moors rising beyond in purple distance.  The two young lieutenants could only wave their farewells, as Bessie cantered merrily over the soft smooth turf of the racecourse, in company with Lord Keith, the Colonel, and Conrade.

“Do you not like dancing?” inquired Lord Keith, when the canter was over, and they were splashing through a lane with high hedges.

“I’m not so unnatural,” returned Bessie, with a merry smile, “but it would never do to let the Highlanders give one now.  Alick has been telling me that the expense would fall seriously on a good many of them.”

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