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some young Englishman can't show himself in Paris, without having the married women behaving in this way ! It really is perfectly horrible.” “It is no good to fret about it, mamma, in that way,” said Agatha. “We all know that Edward is particularly handsome, and it will be lucky for him if this is the only French woman that attacks him. I believe in my heart that they are one and all capable of it.” “Yes, yes,” returned Mrs. Roberts, in a tone of less profound despair, “we all know but too well, I am afraid, what depraved creatures French women are—nor will I pretend to deny that if one could bring one's mind to say that any man's perfections could be an excuse for such abominable conduct, my son Edward is the man. But I beg you both to observe, my dears, that I don't say this with the least atom of a thought towards meaning that any such thing can be excused. We English know better. But here, to be sure, the case is altogether different. God forbid I should ever be unjust to any woman. And upon the whole, I can't say but what I think it might be, as Maria says, the surest way to stop such a report, if we, that is, without Edward, of course, but if we three were to keep going on to all her balls as long as we do stay here; and perhaps the best thing I could do, after all, would be to get Lady Moreton or Lady Forton to give Madame de Soissonac a hint about it. I am sure I don’t know what use it was to have those last new dresses if we don't go there—for the embassy people still mean to go on in the same impertinent way, that's quite clear. We shall never get there above once in a month at the very most. So that, on the whole, I think we owe it to ourselves not to give up Madame de Soissonac.” “At any rate,” observed Agatha, “the best thing we can do now is, to try and get a good talk with Lady Moreton and her cousin. We shall be sure to find out something, and it is very possible, I think, that it may end by our going without poor Edward to the Soissonac ball on Tuesday. Come, Maria! let us put on our things— the carriage will be here directly.”
On reaching the splendid mansion in the Rue de Rivoli, in which the titled cousins had their very showy apartment, the Robertses had the satisfaction of being in
formed that they were both at home. Nevertheless, on entering the spacious drawingroom, they found no one in it, save a young girl in deep mourning, whom they had never seen before, and who seemed almost lost in its ball-room-like extent. She looked a little frightened, as if unaccustomed to the task of receiving strangers, but she rose, and begged them to sit, in a manner which showed that she considered herself at home, and bound to do the honors of the saloon, till the mistress of it appeared. She was very young for such an office— certainly not more than seventeen, and looked younger still, from the great simplicity of her dress, and the almost childish manner in which her pretty brown hair was combed away from her face, and suffered to hang with its closely curled ends behind her ears. Perhaps it would be impossible to hit upon a less becoming mode of arranging a young head than that exhibited by the dark-eyed stranger. The regular features and delicate complexion, the large and brilliant eyes, nay, even the reddest lips and whitest teeth that ever were seen, could scarcely atone for the look of naked boldness which this merciless exposure of the fair and ample forehead produced. “La what an ugly girl,” whispered Agatha to Maria. “Did you ever see such a fright?” “Never !” was the satisfactory reply. “Never since I was born l’’ “I will go and tell my aunt Moreton,” said the young stranger, leaving the room as soon as the party had seated themselves. The moment her slight young figure had become safely invisible by the closing of the door behind her, the mother and daughters exclaimed in chorus, “Who in the world can this be? I never heard she had a niece.” “Isn't she ugly 7" whispered Maria. “Humph!” returned her mamma, to whom the question was addressed; “I am not quite sure that she is absolutely ugly. She is quite a girl, you know, as yet, perfectly a child; but when she is grown up, I should not wonder if she were to be called handsome. Those eyes will tell, you may depend upon it. They are absolutely magnificent.” “Grown up, ma'am!” returned Maria, “why she is as tall as a house already! She is taller than Agatha, take my word for it.” “Nonsense, Maria!” said the eldest sis
ter. “She is as thin as a whipping-post, but I am positive she is not so tall as I am. I agree with mamma, however, now I have given her a second glance. I don't think she would be so very ugly if her hair were not strained off her forehead so. And I'll tell you what, she has the prettiest foot I ever saw in my life. Did you look at it !” “Yes, I did look at it,” replied her sister, with a sneer. “That is so like you, Agatha. You fancy every foot that is small must be pretty, which, as I often tell you, is the greatest mistake in the world. Any artist would tell you so. I can’t endure those little unmeaning Chinese feet. They always strike me as being much more like a deformity than a beauty. I can see no beauty in her feet, I confess.” Perhaps, as “Bailey junior” would say, Miss Agatha had not rather small feet, and her sister rather the contrary, “Oh, no!” Before the elder Miss Roberts could reply to the artistic observation of the younger, the drawing-room door was re-opened, and Lady Forton entered. “My cousin will be here directly,” said her ladyship, courteously extending first one hand, and then the other to receive the offered salutations of the Roberts family; “but at this moment she is under the hands of a mantua-maker, and cannot stir an inch.” Either because Lady Moreton was the widow of a peer, whereas her cousin, Lady Forton, was only the wife of a baronet (from whom she was separated on account of a recently discovered incompatibility of temper), or because the income of the widow was treble that of the wife, the former lady was considered as so much the principal person in the establishment, that all visits were presumed to be made to her in the first instance. But now Mrs. Roberts hastened to assure the elegant Lady Forton, who was always by far the most elaborately dressed person of the two, that she hoped Lady Moreton would not hurry herself on their account, for that the pleasure of seeing Lady Forton made them all much too happy to permit their wishing for any other. And then the weather having, as a matter of course, received its daily offering of observation, Mrs. Roberts, assuming a tone of easy intimacy, said, “Who was that charming young person, Lady Forton, whom we found here when we came in 7 I do not think we ever saw her before, did we ? And, if I mistake not, she called Lady Moreton her aunt.” “No, Mrs. Roberts, I do not believe you
ever saw her before; she has only been with us about a week,” replied Lady Forton. “A niece of Lady Moreton's, is she?” returned the curious visiter. “Yes, she is a niece of my cousin's,” was the reply. “Her sister's daughter.” “Do you not reckon her very handsome, Lady Forton 7 May I ask her name !” resumed the persevering Mrs. Roberts. “Her name is Bertha Harrington,” replied Lady Forton, coldly, and without deeming it necessary, as it seemed, to enter upcn any discussion concerning her beauty. Mrs. Roberts had discernment enough to perceive that whether handsome or ugly, the young lady had not the good fortune to be a favorite with her aunt's cousin, in consequence of which she proceeded to observe (as Lady Forton was rather plump), “that to be sure it was a pity the young lady should be so lamentably thin, a defect which, in her opinion, was quite enough to destroy the effect of any beauty in the world, for that there could be no softness, no roundness of Con 2 x But ere she could finish her speech, Lady Moreton entered, followed by the thin young niece herself. Lady Moreton was not only the nobler and richer lady, but she was also by much the most chatty and conversable, being, in fact, one of the greatest gossips that ever lived, and caring but little, at this period of her career, wh was the listener, provided always that it was some one who thought it worth while to listen patiently. Mrs. and the two Miss Robertses were great favorites with her; for the gossip of a peeress was, in their estimation, so greatly superior in interest to any commoner gossip, that they all three hung upon her accents, as if they flowed from the lips of a Siren. It was not, indeed, uncommon for her ladyship to find among the travelling English a good many who evinced the same species of partiality; but “use lessens marvel,” and it not unfrequently occurred that the halo which her dowager coronet threw round her conversation, evaporated after a few months' acquaintance with her, so that in general, it was her last made friends and intimates that she liked the best. And this flattering pre-eminence the Roberts family had not yet lost. It was therefore with very fascinating cordiality that their visit was welcomed by her. “How d'ye do, Mrs. Roberts How d'ye do, my dears. Pretty bonnets, upon my word. Here, you see, I have got a
young niece come to visit me—Miss Bertha Harrington is her name. I don't know whether your young ladies will like her. She is rather dull by way of a companion just now, that's the truth. She has just lost her mother,” she added in a half whisper to Mrs. Roberts. But if it was intended to be unheard by poor Bertha the purpose failed, which was made evident by the rush of tears which filled her eyes, and by the suddenness with which she rose from the chair in which she had placed herself, and left the room. “There she goes again, Sophy,” continued Lady Moreton, now addressing herself to her cousin. “Upon my honor I shall be worn to death if she goes on so! Her mother was my own sister, the only sister I ever had, and therefore, of course her sudden death has, naturally, almost broken my heart; and then just think, my dear Mrs. Roberts, what it has been for me, in addition to my sufferings as a sister, to have to bear with this poor weak-spirited girl, who positively never passes an hour of the day without shedding tears, more or less; does she, Sophy f" “Most assuredly she does not,” replied Lady Forton with a sneer, which spoke plainly enough the sort of sympathy which she was in the habit of bestowing on the motherless girl. “How long we shall be able to endure it Heaven knows,” resumed Lady Moreton. “Poor Sophy bears it better than I do, for her temper is perfectly angelic; and every one knows, I can't charge myself with being particularly ill-tempered neither. I can assure you, Mrs. Roberts, that I have suffered enough in my time. Poor Lord Moreton, who was old enough to be my father, would certainly have been the death of any woman who had not had a good temper. But from my earliest childhood I have always loved nothing in the world so well as being gay and happy; and, Heaven knows, I managed to have my little private theatre, and my public breakfasts at Richmond, and my pretty balls, kept up constantly through it all. I couldn't have had a bad temper with such a husband as mine, to have managed in this way for years before he died, and never to have disappointed any of my friends of a single fête ; not one, I give you my honor. I could not have had a bad temper, could I?” “Why, no, no!” exclaimed both the
Miss Robertses in a breath, while Mrs. Roberts, after a moment's meditation, which must have greatly increased the value of her opinion, gravely replied, “I really do think, Lady Moreton, that you too, as well as your cousin, Lady Forton, must have had the temper of an angel, I do indeed.” “Well, to say the truth, that is exactly what I have been very often told; and I leave you to judge, Mrs. Roberts, what a person with my gay, happy temper must suffer from having this poor dismal girl for ever and for ever before my eyes! I do assure you that I believe it is killing me by inches.” “But, my dearest Lady Moreton, this must not be s” exclaimed Mrs. Roberts warmly, and delighted beyond measure at the confidential tone in which the dowager countess addressed her. “All Paris ought to make a remonstrance 1" cried the equally touched Agatha. “O dear me, it is quite shocking,” moaned the sentimental Maria. “It is very bad, isn't it?” resumed her ladyship, looking from one to the other, and seeming greatly inclined to laugh, as if to prove how totally unfit her happy temper was for such dismal companionship. Lady Forton sighed deeply, and pressed her forehead with her delicate hand. “Ah! there it is, you see. Poor Sophy has not the strength of mind to bear it as I do. It will kill her, my good friends, it will positively kill her. And then just think of the utter impossibility of finding what to do with her when we go out ! Though the child is sent here already, my sister has not been dead above a fortnight, so that for the present moment you see I lose nothing, because I have no full dress mourning made; but the dress-maker tells me that every thing will be ready by tomorrow night; and then I should like to know what is to be done with Miss Berthal It is enough to drive one wild !” “Indeed, indeed, my dearest Lady Moreton, I must blame you for inviting her " said Mrs. Roberts, encouraged by this confidential communication to assume the tone of reproving friendship. “Knowing your own charming character and constitution, how could you think of undertaking such a charge 2 “God bless you, my good woman, I never did think of it,” replied the dowager countess, warming in her turn into a forgetfulness of etiquette.
The Miss Robertses were a good deal shocked at hearing their mamma called a “good woman;” this feeling, however, was soon conquered, not by the feigned interest which had hitherto been their usual offering at the dowager's footstool, but, from genuine curiosity, which was thoroughly awakened as she proceeded. “Heaven knows,” said she, “I might have lived a hundred years before I had ever dreamed of such a thing. But by all I can learn from this poor blubbering girl, my sister died very suddenly—very unexpectedly indeed, and Sir Christopher Harrington, that's her husband, you know, was so horribly shocked and frightened at it, that, as well as I can understand, he gave orders to have mourning made for the child (Bertha is his only child) without an hour's delay, and as soon as she was fairly covered with bombazine and crape, he sent her off with his lawyer, and an elderly female servant, who has always waited on her, with orders to bring her to me ! I am sure his grief must have made him mad, poor man, or he never would have thought of doing any thing so distracted.” “Distracted and distracting!” murmured Lady Forton, again applying her hand to her forehead, as if ready to sink. “There it is, you see,” resumed Lady Moreton, “my poor dear cousin Sophy, who has devoted herself to me, and who is the greatest comfort to me, and who sets off all my parties delightfully, looking so divinely handsome as she does when she is dressed—just think what it must be to such a temper as mine to see her overcome in that way ! I must give a fancy ball the week after next. Every body expects it, and I am sure I hope that your daughters will come, Mrs. Roberts, and your son also; he is really a fine-looking young man. Well, as I was saying, just imagine what my cousin Sophy will be fit for, if she is to live with this unlucky girl before her eyes from this time to that. The whole thing will be as flat as ditch-water, I know it will !” “Would that I knew how to help you, my dear lady,” said Mrs. Roberts, mournfully. “Well, you see, that would be bad enough, wouldn't it?” resumed Lady Moreton; “but what's that, I should like to know, compared to what we have got to look forward to afterwards ! It is perfectly clear, from what the lawyer said, that Sir Christopher expects we should keep her here, for he coolly mentioned, just as if it
could be any object to me, you know, that her father had settled five hundred a year on her, four of which was to be paid for her board; as if I should care three straws whether she paid or not. If she were a fine, handsome, lively girl, that could help us on with our parties, she might spend the whole five hundred upon her dress, and welcome, for we should both of us, I am sure, be glad to have her. But such a girl as that I really do feel that she is killing me by inches.” “My poor dear lady I am sure my heart aches for you !” said Mrs. Roberts, wringing her hands together, and looking as dolorous as if all her own family were condemned to death by inches also. “You are a very kind-hearted woman, Mrs. Roberts,” resumed her ladyship, “and it really is a comfort to open one's heart to you; but I can't help laughing either, at the thoughtful slyness of Sir Christopher. What do you think of his ordering his lawyer to tell me that in case he did not marry again (and he is just forty years old, observe), but in case he does not marry again, this girl will have the whole of his unentailed property, amounting, the man said, to at least three thousand a year. Now I know perfectly well that this message was sent in order to tempt me to keep her for the pleasure of having an heiress to take about with me, which every body in this country knows is exactly the same thing as having a fine piece of preferment in one's gift. But I am too well off, and stand too well in Paris to care a farthing about it. It was cleverly thought of, too, for most people would give a great deal for it, though I would not give a button.” Hitherto, Mrs. Roberts had continued to listen to her illustrious friend with a wellsustained air of affectionate, yet respectful interest, which really did her great credit, being precisely the aspect most likely to obtain what she wished, namely, the continuation of her ladyship's condescending familiarity, which not only gratified her feelings at the moment, but gave her a treasure of noble anecdotes, which she determined carefully to hoard up for future use. But as Lady Moreton drew near to the conclusion of the speech above quoted, the eyes of Mrs. Roberts began to wander. First, they ceased to meet those of the noble speaker, and then they appeared to avoid her face altogether, till at length they finally settled themselves on the carpet, and she
remained unconsciously a perfect model of meditation, and as silent as a statue. For some time after this alteration took place, the dowager countess continued to harangue, but at length she paused to take breath, a variation which seemed to rouse Mrs. Roberts from her reverie, for she instantly rose, and in rather a hurried manner began to take her leave. Both Agatha and Maria, meanwhile, had been endeavoring in a very praiseworthy manner, to keep on something of a conversation with the elegant Lady Forton, but this, though it was very hard work, had not so completely occupied their attention, as to prevent their keeping their ears on the alert, to learn in what manner their mamma would introduce the subject of Madame de Soissonac's delinquency, and what degree of information she would obtain in return. But when she rose thus suddenly without having alluded to the subject at all, they exchanged glances, knit their brows, and looked exceedingly angry; but perceiving that their negligent parent was actually backing towards the door, they exchanged another glance, and then Agatha said, in rather a louder voice than she usually deemed proper in the presence of a countess, “Stop one moment, mamma! I should so like to ask their ladyships if they are going to Madame de Soissonac's on Tuesday next, because we want so particularly to know.” “On Tuesday next 7” returned Lady Moreton. “Yes, to be sure we are, child; we always go there every Tuesday. She gives some of the best parties in Paris, and I don't care a straw for the looms. What made you ask the question, mademoiselle?” Agatha felt that she had got herself into a scrape. She did not at all like having to say that Madame de Soissonac had warned them off, but she could not now avoid it, and therefore replied with a little scornful laugh, “That Madame de Soissonac appeared to have taken offence at something they had said or done, for that she had distinctly told them the evening before, that she was going to make some alterations in her parties, which would prevent her being able to receive them on Tuesday, and yet it was plain that she had not said the same to other people.” “Really ” said Lady Moreton and Lady Forton in chorus. And the eyebrows of both ladies gradually raised themselves con
siderably higher than usual on their foreheads. Their look and manner altogether, were indeed exceedingly disagreeable to the Robertses. Their two ladyships evidently received it as a fact which admitted of no contradiction, that Madame de Soissonac intended to affront them. “Is it not very strange?” said Agatha, her cheeks glowing with indignation. “I don't know, I'm sure, my dear,” replied Lady Moreton. “Perhaps she did not like the look of your dresses last night? That would be quite enough, I promise you. She never can bear shabby dresses.” “Not like the look of our dresses ''' were the words which most assuredly would have risen to the lips of each of the Robertses, had they not all been too wellbehaved to repeat the words of a countess in her presence. For a moment they were all silent, and then Mrs. Roberts articulated, but with a great deal of gentleness, “I don't think it could have been that.” And the poor lady remembered, not without a disagreeable twinge, that all their dresses were both new and costly, and, alas! that none of them had been paid for. The two young ladies, also, were a good deal disgusted, and very naturally so, at the suggestion, but they only smiled, upon which Lady Moreton rejoined, “Well, I don't know—I am sure I can't tell—it is impossible to say,” concluding these satisfactory remarks with a condescending nod to each of them, adding, “Good by—good by—don't let us keep you standing,” which of course meant, “Don't keep me standing.” A hint sufficiently well understood to induce Mrs. Roberts and her daughters to retreat without further ceremony.
The two young ladies re-entered their carriage with feelings a good deal irritated; but Agatha's first words, which were, “Horrid old woman;” and Maria's first words, which were, “How I do detest that sort of pride and condescension mixed up together, so that it is impossible to tell which one is going to have 1° did not receive so sympathetic a return from their mamma, as they might naturally have expected; but the fact was, that at that moment Mrs. Roberts's faculties were so completely absorbed upon a speculation that concerned the future, that she had little