A little pale child was hurriedly put down from the lap of a tall maiden who rose from a low chair by the fire, and stood uncertain.
“I beg your pardon,” he said; “I came to see Mrs. Brownlow.”
“My aunt. She will be here in a moment. Will you run and call her, Lina?”
“You may tell her Cecil Evelyn is here,” said he; “but there is no hurry,” he added, seeing that the child clung to her protector, too shy even to move. “You are John Brownlow’s little sister, eh?” he added, bending towards her; but as she crept round in terror, still clinging, he addressed the elder one: “I am so glad; I thought I had rushed into a strange house, and should have to beat a retreat.”
The young lady gave a little shy laugh which made her sweet oval glowing face and soft brown eyes light up charmingly, and there was a fresh graceful roundness of outline about her tall slender figure, as she stood holding the shy child, which made her a wondrously pleasant sight. “Are you staying here?” he asked.
“Yes; we came for advice for my little sister, who is not strong.”
“I’m so glad. I mean I hope there is only enough amiss to make you stay a long time. Were you ever in town before?”
“Only for a few hours on our way to school.”
Here a voice reached them-
“Fee, fa, fum,
I smell the breath of geranium.”
And through the back drawing-room door came Babie, in walking attire, declaiming-
“’Tis Cecil, by the jingling steel,
’Tis Cecil, by the pawing bay,
’Tis Cecil, by the tall two-wheel,
’Tis Cecil, by the fragrant spray.”
“O Cecil, how lovely! Oh, the maiden-hair. You’ve been making acquaintance with Essie and Lina?”
“I did not know you were out, Babie,” said Essie. “Was my aunt with you?”
“Yes. We just ran over to see Mrs. Lucas, and as we were coming home, a poor woman besought us to buy two toasting-forks and a mouse-trap, by way of ornament to brandish in the streets. She looked so frightfully wretched, that mother let her follow, and is having it out with her at the door. So you are from Fordham, Cecil; I see and I smell. How are they?”
“Duke is rather brisk. I actually got him out shooting yesterday, but he didn’t half like it, and was thankful when I let him go home again. See, Sydney said I was to tell you that passion-flower came from the plant she brought from Algiers.”
“The beauty! It must go into Mrs. Evelyn’s Venice glass,” said Babie, bustling about to collect her vases.
Lina, with a cry of delight, clutched at a spray of butterfly-like mauve and white orchids, in spite of her sister’s gentle “No, no, Lina, you must not touch.”
Babie offered some China asters in its stead, Cecil muttered “Let her have it;” but Esther was firm in making her relinquish it, and when she began to cry, led her away with pretty tender gestures of mingled comfort and reproof.