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wife; but, nevertheless, the two brothers had loved each other always. Many years had now gone by since these things had occurred, but still the same feelings remained. When she had first come down to Allington she had resolved to win the Squire's regard, but she had now long known that any such winning was out of the question; indeed, there was no longer a wish for it. Mrs. Dale was not one of those soft-hearted women who sometimes thank God that they can love any one.
She could once have felt affection for her brother-in-law, – affection, and close, careful, sisterly
, friendship; but she could not do so now. He had been cold to her, and had with perseverance rejected her advances. That was now seven years since; and during those
years Mrs. Dale bad been, at any rate, as cold to him as he had been to her.
But all this was very hard to bear. That her daughters should love their uncle was not only reasonable, but in every way desirable. He was not cold to them. To them he was generous and affectionate. If she were only out of the way, he would have taken them to his house as his own, and they would in all respects have stood before the world as his adopted children. Would it not be better if she were out of the way?
It was only in her most dismal moods that this question would get itself asked within her mind, and then she would recover herself, and answer it stoutly with an indignant protest against her own morbid weakness. It would not be well that she should be away from her girls,
not though their uncle should have been twice a better uncle; not though, by her absence, they might become heiresses of all Allington. Was it
not above everything to them that they should have a mother near them? And as she asked of herself that morbid question, - wickedly asked it, as she declared to herself, did she not know that they loved her better than all the world beside, and would prefer her caresses and her care to the guardianship of any uncle, let his house be ever so great? As yet they loved her better than all the world beside. Of other love, should it come, she would not be jealous. And if it should come, and should be happy, might there not yet be å bright evening of life for herself? If they should marry, and if their lords would accept her love, her friendship, and her homage, she might yet escape from the deathlike coldness of that Great House, and be happy in some tiny cottage, from which she might go forth at times among those who would really welcome her. A certain doctor there was, living not very
far from Allington, at Guestwick, as to whom she had once thought that he might fill that place of son-inlaw, to be well-beloved. Her quiet, beautiful Bell had seemed to like the man; and he had certainly done more than seem to like her. But now, for some weeks past, this hope, or rather this idea, had faded away. Mrs. Dale had never questioned her daughter on the matter; she was not a woman prone to put such questions. But during the month or two last past, she had seen with regret that Bell looked almost coldly on the man whom her mother favoured.
In thinking of all this the long evening passed away, and at eleven o'clock she heard the coming steps across the garden. The young men had, of course, accompanied the girls home; and as she stepped out from the still open window of her own drawing-room,
she saw them all on the centre of the lawn before her.
“There's mamma," said Lily, “Mamma, Mr. Crosbie wants to play croquet by moonlight."
“I don't think there is light enough for that,” said Mrs. Dale.
“There is light enough for him," said Lily, "for he plays quite independently of the hoops; don't you, Mr. Crosbie?"
“There's very pretty croquet light, I should say,' said Mr. Crosbie, looking up at the bright moon; "and then it is so stupid going to bed."
"Yes, it is stupid going to bed," said Lily; "but people in the country are stupid, you know. Billiards, that you can play all night by gas, is much better, isn't it?"
“Your arrows fall terribly astray there, Miss Dale, for I never touch a cue; you should talk to your cousin about billiards.”
“Is Bernard a great billiard player," asked Bell.
"Well, I do play now and again; about as well as Crosbie does croquet. Come, Crosbie, we'll go home and smoke a cigar.”
“Yes," said Lily; "and then, you know, we stupid people can go to bed. Mamma, I wish you had a little smoking-room here for us. I don't like being considered stupid." And then they parted, the ladies going into the house, and the two men 'returning across the lawn.
“Lily, my love," said Mrs. Dale, when they were all together in her bedroom, "it seems to me that you
"She has been going on like that all the evening," said Bell.
“I'm sure we are very good friends," said Lily.
“Now, Bell, you're jealous; you know you are. And then, seeing that her sister was in some slight degree vexed, she went up to her and kissed her. "She shan't be called jealous; shall she, mamma?”
"I don't think she deserves it,” said Mrs. Dale.
think I meant anything," said Lily. As if I cared a buttercup about Mr. Crosbie."
“Or I either, Lily."
“Of course you don't. But I do care for him very much, mamma. He is such a duck of an Apollo. I shall always call him Apollo; Phoebus Apollo! And when I draw his picture he shall have a mallet in his hand instead of a bow. Upon my word I am very much obliged to Bernard for bringing him down here; and I do wish he was not going away the day after tomorrow."
"The day after to-morrow!" said Mrs. Dale. "It was hardly worth coming for two days."
"No, it wasn't, - disturbing us all in our quiet little ways just for such a spell as that, - not giving one time even to count his rays."
"But he says he shall perhaps come again," said Bell.
"There is that hope for us," said Lily. “Uncle Christopher asked him to come down when he gets his long leave of absence. This is only a short sort of leave. He is better off than poor Johnny Eames. Johnny Eames only has a month, but Mr. Crosbie has two months just whenever he likes it; and seems to be pretty much his own master all the year round besides."
“And uncle Christopher asked him to come down for the shooting in September," said Bell.
"And though he didn't say he'd come I think he meant it,” said Lily. “There is that hope for us, mamma."
"Then you'll have to draw Apollo with a gun instead of a mallet."
“That is the worst of it, mamma. We shan't see much of him or of Bernard either. They wouldn't let us go out into the woods as beaters, would they?"
“You'd make too much noise to be of any use."
“Should I? I thought the beaters had to shout at the birds. I should get very tired of shouting at birds, so I think I'll stay at home and look after my
clothes." "I hope he will come, because uncle Christopher seems to like him so much,” said Bell.
"I wonder whether a certain gentleman at Guestwick will like his coming," said Lily. And then, as soon as she had spoken the words, she looked at her sister, and saw that she had grieved her.
"Lily, you let your tongue run too fast," said Mrs. Dale.
"I didn't mean anything, Bell," said Lily. "I beg your pardon.”
"It doesn't signify," said Bell. "Only Lily says things without thinking." And then that conversation came to an end, and nothing more was said among them beyond what appertained to their toilet, and a few last words at parting. But the two girls occupied the same room,
and when their own door was closed