’I hear you have undertaken that part of the arrangement, young ladies,’ said Lady Merton.
‘Yes,’ said Elizabeth; ’but I am afraid we do not know much about the matter.’
’I am sure I cannot tell what I should do if you did not undertake it, my dears,’ said Mrs. Woodbourne.
‘Do not begin thanking us till we have done the deed, Mamma,’ said Elizabeth; ’it may turn out a great deal worse than if we had left it to the unassisted taste of the maids.’
The four girls continued to arrange the flowers: Elizabeth, inquiring after many of the plants at Merton Hall; Anne, telling how the myrtle was prospering, how well the geraniums had flowered, describing a new fuchsia, and triumphing in the prize which the salpiglossis had gained from the Horticultural Society; Helen, comparing the flora of Merton Hall with that of Dykelands; Mrs, Woodbourne, rejoicing in cuttings to be saved from the branches gathered by Anne’s unsparing hand; and Lady Merton, promising to send her seeds and young plants by Rupert, when he should return to Oxford.
When the forest of flowers had been dispersed in the epergne, and in various bowls and glasses, to ornament the drawing-room, the three sisters began to collect the green leaves and pieces of stalks remaining on the table, and as they bent down to sweep them off into a basket, their heads chanced to be almost close together.
‘Why, Lizzie,’ said Lady Merton, ’where are your curls? Have you made yourself look so very different from Kate, to prevent all future mistakes between you? and, Helen, have you really become a Pasha of two tails?’
‘Is it not very silly of Helen to wear them, Aunt Anne?’ said Elizabeth.
‘Indeed, dear Aunt Anne,’ said Helen, ’my hair never will curl well, and Mrs. Staunton always said it made me look like an old woman in the way I wore it before, so what could I do but try it in the way in which Fanny and Jane wore theirs?’
‘Oh! we must all bow before Dykelands,’ said Elizabeth.
‘And I have been wondering what made you look so altered, Lizzie,’ said Lady Merton, ’and now I see it is your hair being straight. I like your curls better.’
‘Ah, so do I,’ said Mrs. Woodbourne; ’but Lizzie docs not like the trouble of curling it.’
‘No,’ said Elizabeth, ’I think it a very useless plague. It used really to take me two hours a day, and now I am ready directly without trouble or fuss. People I care about will not think the worse of me for not looking quite so well.’
‘Perhaps not,’ said Lady Merton, ’but they would think the better of you for a little attention to their taste.’
‘They might for attention to their wishes, Aunt Anne,’ said Elizabeth, ’but hardly to their taste. Taste is such a petty nonsensical thing.’
’I shall leave you and Anne to argue about the fine distinction between taste and wishes,’ said Lady Merton; ’it is more in your line than mine.’