Nothing remained to be said except thanks, and Alexis emerged from the cloak, which looked as if it had gone through all his father’s campaigns, took off his gaiters, did his best for his boots, and, though not in evening costume, looked very gentleman-like and remarkably handsome in the drawing-room, with no token of awkward embarrassment save a becoming blush.
Gillian began to tremble inwardly again, but the game had just ended in her favour, owing to Fergus having lost all his advantages in Aunt Jane’s absence, besides signalising himself by capturing Maura’s ‘bury,’ under the impression that an additional R would combine that and straw into a fruit.
So the coast being cleared, Miss Adeline greatly relieved her niece’s mind by begging, as a personal favour, to hear the song whose renown at the concert had reached her; and thus the time was safely spent in singing till the carriage was announced, and good-nights exchanged.
Maura’s eyes grew round with delight, and she jumped for joy at the preferment.
‘Oh!’ she said, as she fervently kissed Valetta, ’it is the most delightful evening I ever spent in the whole course of my life, except at Lady Merrifield’s Christmas-tree! And now to go home in a carriage! I never went in one since I can remember!’
And Kalliope’s ‘Thank you, we have enjoyed ourselves very much,’ was very fervent.
‘Those young people are very superior to what I expected,’ said Aunt Adeline. ’What fine creatures, all so handsome; and that little Maura is a perfect darling.’
‘The Muse herself is very superior,’ said Miss Mohun. ’One of those home heroines who do the work of Atlas without knowing it. I do not wonder that the marble girls speak of her so enthusiastically.’
How Gillian might have enjoyed all this, and yet she could not, except so far that she told herself that thus there could be no reasonable objection made by her aunts to intercourse with those whom they so much admired.
Yet perhaps even then she would have told all, but that, after having bound over Kalliope to secrecy, it would be awkward to confess that she had told all. It would be like owning herself in the wrong, and for that she was not prepared. Besides, where would be the secrecy of her ‘great thing’?
Without exactly practising to deceive, Gillian began to find that concealment involved her in a tangled web; all the more since Aunt Jane had become thoroughly interested in the Whites, and was inquiring right and left about schools and scholarships for the little boys.
She asked their master about them, and heard that they were among his best scholars, and that their home lessons had always been carefully attended to by their elder brother and sister. In fact, he was most anxious to retain Theodore, to be trained for a pupil-teacher, the best testimony to his value! Aunt Jane came home full of the subject, relating what the master said of Alexis White, and that he had begun by working with him at Latin and mathematics; but that they had not had time to go on with what needed so much study and preparation.