It was some minutes before they recovered their self-possession, but Dr. Godfrey and Mr. Belamour began the conversation, and they gradually joined in. It was chiefly full of reminiscences of the lively days when Dr. Godfrey had been a young Cantab visiting his two friends at Bowstead, and Phoebe and Delia were the belles of the village. Aurelia scarcely opened her lips, but she was astonished to find how different the two sisters could be from the censorious, contemptuous beings they had seemed to her. The conversation lasted till supper-time, and Mr. Belamour, as they took their leave, made them promise to come and see him again. Then they were conducted back to the supper-room, Mrs. Phoebe mysteriously asking “Is he always like this?”
The experiment had been a great success, and Aurelia completed it by asking Mrs. Phoebe to take the head of the supper-table.
CHAPTER XVII. THE VICTIM DEMANDED.
And if thou sparest now to
do this thing,
I will destroy thee and thy land also.—MORRIS.
“Well, sir, have you seen my Lady?”
“Not a year older than when I saw her last,” returned Major Delavie, who had just dismounted from his trusty pony at his garden gate, and accepted Betty’s arm; “and what think you?” he added, pausing that Corporal Palmer might hear his news. “She has been at Bowstead, and brings fresh tidings of our Aura. The darling is as fair and sprightly as a May morning, and beloved by all who come near her—bless her!”
Palmer echoed a fervent “Amen!” and Betty asked, “Is this my Lady’s report?”
“Suspicious Betty! You will soon be satisfied,” said the Major in high glee. “Did not Dove meet me at the front door, and Mrs. Dove waylay me in the hall to tell me that the child looked blooming and joyous, and in favour with all, gentle and simple? Come her, Eugene, ay, and Harriet and Arden too. Let us hear what my little maid says for herself. For look here!” and he held aloft Aurelia’s packet, at sight of which Eugene capered high, and all followed into the parlour.
Mr. Arden was constantly about the house. There was no doubt that he would soon be preferred to a Chapter living in Buckinghamshire, and he had thus been emboldened to speak out his wishes. It would have been quite beneath the dignity of a young lady of Miss Harriet’s sensibility to have consented, and she was in the full swing of her game at coyness and reluctance, daily vowing that nothing should induce her to resign her liberty, and that she should be frightened out of her life by Mr. Arden’s experiments; while her father had cordially received the minor Canon’s proposals, and already treated him as one of the family. Simpering had been such a fattening process that Harriet was beginning to resume more of her good looks than had ever been brought back by Maydew.
“Open the letter, Betty. Thanks, Arden,” as the minor Canon began to pull off his boots, “only take care of my knee. My Lady has brought down her little boy, and one of Aurelia’s pupils; I declare they are a perfect pair of Loves. What are you fumbling at, Betty?”