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"Well, he is very clever," continued the other little dear. "What a sweet poet he is! Have you ever read his poems?"
"Only the 'Fisherman and the Diver,' which he translated for us, and his Prize Poem, which didn't get the prize; and, indeed, I thought it very pompous and prosy," Laura said, laughing.
"Has he never written you any poems, then, love?" asked Miss Amory.
"No, my dear," said Miss Bell.
Blanche ran up to her friend, kissed her fondly, called her my dearest Laura at least three times, looked her archly in the face, nodded her head, and said, "Promise to tell no-o-body, and I will show you something."
And tripping across the room daintily to a little motherof-pearl inlaid desk, she opened it with a silver key, and took out two or three papers crumpled and rather stained with green, which she submitted to her friend. Laura took them and read them. They were love-verses sure enough—something about Undine—about a Naiad—about a river. She looked at them for a long time; but in truth the lines were not very distinct before her eyes.
"And you have answered them, Blanche?" she asked, putting them back.
"O no! not for worlds, dearest," the other said: and when her dearest Laura had quite done with the verses, she tripped back, and popped them again into the pretty desk.
Then she went to her piano, and sang two or three songs of Rossini, whose flourishes of music her flexible little voice could execute to perfection, and Laura sate by, vaguely listening, as she performed these pieces. What was Miss Bell thinking about the while? She hardly knew; but sate there silent as the songs rolled by. After this concert the young ladies were summoned to the room where luncheon was served; and whither they of course went with their arms round each other's waists.
And it could not have been jealousy or anger on Laura's part which had made her silent: for, after they had tripped along the corridor and descended the steps, and were about to open the door which leads into the hall, Laura paused, and looking her friend kindly and frankly in the face, kissed her with a sisterly warmth.
Something occurred after this—Master Frank's manner of eating, probably, or mamma's blunders, or Sir Francis smelling of cigars—which vexed Miss Blanche, and she gave way to that series of naughtinesses whereof we have spoken, and which ended in the above little quarrel.
CHAPTER XXV. A HOUSE FULL OF VISITORS.
HE difference between the girls did not last long. Laura was always too eager to forgive and be forgiven, and as for Miss Blanche, her hostilities, never very long or durable, had not been provoked by the above scene. Nobody cares about being accused of wickedness. No vanity is hurt by that sort of charge: Blanche was rather pleased than provoked by her friend's indignation, which never would have been raised but for a cause which both knew,though neither spoke of. And so Laura, with a sigh, was obliged to confess that the romantic part of her first friendship was at an end, and that the object of it was only worthy of a very ordinary sort of regard.
As for Blanche, she instantly composed a copy of touching verses, setting forth her desertion and disenchantment. It was only the old story she wrote, of love meeting with coldness, and fidelity returned by neglect; and some new neighbours arriving from London about this time, in whose family there were daughters, Miss Amory had the advantage of selecting an eternal friend from one of these young ladies, and imparting her sorrows and disappointments to this new sister. The tall footmen came but seldom now with notes to the sweet Laura; the pony carriage was but rarely despatched to Fairoaks to be at the orders of the ladies there. Blanche adopted a sweet look of suffering martyrdom when Laura came to see her. The other laughed at her friend's sentimental mood, and treated it with a good humour that was by no means respectful.
But if Miss Blanche found new female friends to console her, the faithful historian is also bound to say, that she discovered some acquaintances of the other sex who seemed to give her consolation too. If ever this artless young creature met a young man, and had ten minutes' conversation with him in a garden walk, in a drawing-room window, or in the intervals of a waltz, she confided in him, so to speak—made play with her beautiful eyes—spoke in a tone of tender interest, and simple and touching appeal, and left him, to perform the same pretty little drama in behalf of his successor.
When the Claverings first came down to the Park, there were very few audiences before whom Miss Blanche could perform: hence Pen had all the benefits of her glances, and confidences, and the drawing-room window, or the garden walk all to himself. In the town of Clavering, it has been said, there were actually no young men: in the near surrounding country, only a curate or two, or a rustic young squire, with large feet and ill-made clothes. To the dragoons quartered at Chatteris the Baronet made no overtures: it was unluckily his own regiment: he had left it on bad terms with some officers of the corps—an ugly business about a horse bargain—a disputed play account at blind-Hookey—a white feather—who need ask ?—it is not our business to inquire too closely into the bygones of our characters, except in so far as their previous history appertains to the development of this present story.
The autumn, and the end of the Parliamentary Session, and the London season, brought one or two county families down to their houses, and filled tolerably the neighbouring little watering-place of Baymouth, and opened our friend Mr. Bingley's Theatre Royal at Chatteris, and collected the usual company at the Assizes and Race-balls there. Up to this time, the old county families had been rather shy of our friends of Clavering Park. The Fogeys of Drummington; the Squares of Dozley Park; the Welbores of The Barrow, &c. All sorts of stories were current among these folks regarding the family at Clavering;—indeed, nobody ought to say that people in the country have no imagination, who hear them talk about new neighbours. About Sir Francis and his Lady, and her birth and parentage, about Miss Amory, about Captain Strong, there had been endless histories which need not be recapitulated; and the family of the Park had been three months in the county before the great people around began to call.
But at the end of the season, the Earl of Trehawke, Lord Lieutenant of the County, coming to Eyrie Castle, and the Countess Dowager of Rockminster, whose son was also a magnate of the land, to occupy a mansion on the Marine Parade at Baymouth—these great folks came publicly, immediately, and in state, to call upon the family of Clavering Park; and the carriages of the county families speedily followed in the track, which had been left in the avenue by their lordly wheels.
It was then that Mirobolant began to have an opportunity of exercising that skill which he possessed, and of forgetting, in the occupations of his art, the pangs of love. It was then that the large footmen were too much employed at Clavering Park to be able to bring messages, or dally over the cup of small beer with the poor little maids at Fairoaks. It was then that Blanche found other dear friends than Laura, and other places to walk in besides the river-side, where Pen was fishing. He came day after day, and whipped the stream, but the "fish, fish!" wouldn't do their duty, nor the Peri appear. And here, though in strict confidence, and with a request that the matter go no further, we may as well allude to a delicate business, of which previous hint has been given. Mention has been made, in a former page, of a certain hollow tree, at