‘It struck me whether you had rendered this Spanish story right.’
‘Of course not. I never stuck to my dictionary.’
A sound dose of criticism ensued, tempered by repetitions of his father’s pleasure, and next came some sympathy and discussion about the farm and Marksedge, in which the ladies took their usual earnest part, and Mary was as happy as ever in hearing of his progress. He said no word of their neighbours; but he could not help colouring when Mary said, as he wished her good-bye, ’We like the party in the House Beautiful so much! Miss Conway is such an acquisition to me! and they are doing all you could ever have wished for Clara.’
Mary was glad that she had said it. Louis was not so glad. He thought it must have been an effort, then derided his vanity for the supposition.
THE FRUIT OF THE CHRISTMAS-TREE
Age, twine thy brows with fresh spring flowers,
And call a train of laughing hours;
And bid them dance, and bid them sing:
And thou, too, mingle in the ring.
The 12th of January was the last day before James and Louis meant to return to Oxford, Jem taking Clara on from thence to school. It was to be the farewell to Christmas—one much enjoyed in Dynevor Terrace. Fitzjocelyn’s absence was almost a relief to Clara; she could not make up her mind to see him till she could hope their last encounter had been forgotten; and in the mean time, her anticipations were fixed on the great 12th. She was aware of what the entertainment would consist, but was in honour bound to conceal her knowledge from Virginia and Louisa, who on their side affected great excitement and curiosity, and made every ostentation of guessing and peeping. Gifts were smuggled into the house from every quarter—some to take their chance, some directed with mottoes droll or affectionate. Clara prepared a few trifles, in which she showed that school had done something for her fingers, and committed her little parcels to her brother’s care; and Miss Mercy was the happiest of all, continually knocking at the locked door of the back drawing-room with gilded fir cones, painted banners, or moss birds’-nests, from Miss Salome.
Miss King and Isabel had undertaken the main business. When roused from her pensive stillness, Isabel could be very eager, active, and animated; and she worked with the exhilaration that she could freely enjoy when unrestrained by perceiving that she was wanted to produce an effect. What woman’s height and hand could not perform fell to the share of James, who, with his step-ladder and dexterous hands, was invaluable. Merrily, merrily did the three work, laughing over their suspended bonbons, their droll contrivances, or predicting the adaptations of their gifts; and more and more gay was the laugh, the tutor more piquant, the governess more keen and clever, the young lady more vivacious, as the twilight darkened, and the tree became more laden, and the streamers and glass balls produced a more brilliant effect.