‘Oh yes,’ said Elizabeth, ’they seem to have done nothing but sit with their mouths open, admiring her; and she really is very much improved, positively grown a reflective creature, and the most graceful as well as the prettiest of the family. She would be almost a beau ideal of a sister, if she had but a few more home feelings, or, as you say, if she did not like the Stauntons quite so much. I wonder what you will think of her. Now are you ready? Let us come down.’
When the two cousins came into the drawing-room, they found the rest of the ladies already there. Katherine and Helen Woodbourne were busy arranging a quantity of beautiful flowers, which had been brought from Merton Hall, to decorate the Vicarage on this occasion. Mrs. Woodbourne was sitting at her favourite little work-table, engaged, as usual, with her delicate Berlin embroidery. A few of the choicest of the flowers had been instantly chosen out for her, and were placed on her table in a slender coloured glass, which she held up to Elizabeth as she entered the room.
‘Oh, how beautiful!’ cried Elizabeth, advancing to the table, which was strewn with a profusion of flowers. ’What delightful heliotrope and geranium! Oh, Anne! how could you tear off such a branch of Cape jessamine? that must have been your handiwork, you ruthless one.’
‘Anne has been more kind to us than to her greenhouse,’ said Mrs. Woodbourne; ’I am afraid she has displeased Mr. Jenkins; but I hope the plants are not seriously damaged.’
‘Oh no, indeed,’ said Anne, ’you should see the plants before you pity them, Aunt Mildred; we never let Mr. Jenkins scold us for helping ourselves or our friends out of our own garden, for making a great glorious nosegay is a pleasure which I do not know how to forego.’
‘Do you call this a nosegay?’ said Elizabeth, ’I call it a forest of flowers. Really, a Consecration opens people’s hearts;—I do not mean that yours is not open enough on ordinary occasions, Aunt Anne; but when the children took their walk in the alms-house court this morning, they were loaded with flowers from all quarters, beginning with old Mr. Dillon offering Winifred his best variegated dahlia, by name Dod’s Mary.’
‘Mr. Dillon!’ exclaimed Katherine; ’I thought he never gave away his flowers on any account.’
‘I know,’ said Elizabeth; ’but I have also heard him say that he could not refuse little Miss Winifred if she asked him for the very house over his head.’
‘Did she ask him for the dahlia?’ said Mrs. Woodbourne.
‘No,’ said Elizabeth, ’it was a free offer on his part. Dora the discreet tried to make her refuse it, but the dahlia had been gathered long before Winifred could make up her mind to say no; and when the little things came in this morning they looked like walking garlands. Did you see the noble flower-pot in the hall?’
’You must go and look at the fruit which Lady Merton has been so kind as to bring us, Lizzie,’ said Mrs. Woodbourne; ’you never saw such fine grapes and pines.’